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Pico de Gallo: The Secret to Perfect Salsa

Updated on July 6, 2020
ChristyMarieKent profile image

Christy learned the art and science of cooking from her Southern kin. Her cooking secrets aren't secrets because she shares them freely.

Photo by John Sullivan
Photo by John Sullivan | Source

How To Make Fresh Tomato Salsa (and Trick Your Family into Eating Healthy Food)

Fresh tomato salsa ... Pico de Gallo ... Salsa Fresca ... Call it whatever you want: It's uncooked, undiluted, unadulterated veggies on a chip.

The first time I ever had it, my college roommate chopped up tomatoes, onions, cilantro, limes, and jalapeños and called it salsa. She was from California. I was from Kentucky, where "salsa" was barely more than flavored tomato juice. I looked at hers and said, "That's not salsa."

The next time I had fresh sales was on my honeymoon in Cancun, where every restaurant gave us a bowl of mouth-watering pico de gallo with our chips. I asked for hot, because it's never too hot for me. Except at the local restaurant near the Mayan ruins, where the locals ate. We were the only Americans. We pointed out our choices on the menu and attempted to pronounce them the way we would in the United States.

The waiter, who spoke no English, laughed at our terrible Spanish. I fumbled with the word for hot.

"Ah, caliente," he said, and he brought us the most fiery, scorching, blistering bowl of pico de gallo ever cooked up by the demons of hell.

I ate it anyway, and I got hooked.

When I went back home, I had to go back to the jars of store-bought stuff. No pico de gallo--only the flavored tomato juice that they call salsa.

So I did what anybody else would have. I bought some fresh vegetables and I started chopping. I experimented until I got it just right. Perfect!

(That was three years before the Internet. If only I had waited, I could have looked it up and saved myself all the trouble. Stupid Internet.)

Since I've already figured out the secrets to perfect pico de gallo, I'll graciously share them with you. Because I'm nice and stuff.

Read on for directions and a few fun and interesting salsa facts for your amusement and edification.

Sincerely,

Christy Marie Kent

Writer | Storyteller | Speaker

When I was a toddler, my dad tried to break my thumb-sucking by putting hot sauce on my thumb. It worked out just fine. I licked it off, and held my thumb out for more.

Is There a Difference between Salsa, Pico de Gallo, and Salsa Fresca?

(To-MAY-to, to-MAH-to?)

Yes. Everyone agrees that there is a difference.

Unfortunately, no one agrees on exactly what the difference is.

Salsa is the Spanish word for sauce, which means that you're always right in calling a sauce a salsa, even if it's pico de gallo. However, most Americans think of salsa as the cooked sauce that you dip chips in.

Pico de gallo is what most Americans call the fresh chopped condiment with tomatoes, onions, and peppers. It's not cooked. It's fresh, which is why some people call it salsa fresca, or "fresh salsa."

Other people define salsa fresca as a dish made of chopped tropical fruits.

In this article, we're talking about pico de gallo, the chopped-tomato-and-onion dish, which we'll also call salsa or salsa fresca.

So ... What's It Gonna Be? Fresh or Cooked?

See results

Get Your Utenils

You'll need:

  • A medium knife for chopping.
  • A cutting board.
  • One large bowl.

Here's a secret: use a glass or ceramic bowl. A metal bowl can react with the acids and make the pico de gallo taste metallic.

Get Your Ingredients

You'll need:

  • About 5 Roma (plum) tomatoes. These are better suited than the larger tomatoes, although other types will work if that's all you have available.
  • Half of a large white onion. If it's is on the small side, use a whole onion.
  • Half a batch of cilantro.
  • Two jalapeño peppers. Feel free to adjust this according to your taste. For extra hot, try habaneros.
  • One fresh lime. Substitute bottled lime or lemon juice if you don't have a lime.
  • 1/2 Teaspoon salt.
  • Pinch of black pepper.
  • Pinch of cumin.

And Chop It All Up

Dice the tomatoes and onions in pieces about as big as your fingernail. Drop them in the bowl.

Chop the cilantro. It's better to pull off the larger stems, but don't worry about trying to keep out the smaller stems. Throw it in the bowl.

Chop the jalapeños into finer pieces, so that they spread through the mixture. Toss them in the bowl.

Cut the lime in half. Poke the flesh with your knife and then squeeze the juice into the bowl. Although not required, the lime juice keeps the vegetables fresher and can reduce the risk of e coli.

Add salt, pepper, and cumin to taste.

Mix it thoroughly.

Give it a preliminary taste test. Be aware, however, that the true taste won't come out until the flavors have blended for an hour or two.

Cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator.

Diced tomatoes
Diced tomatoes | Source

I always make a double batch, complete with everything except the peppers. Then I split it into two bowls and add jalapeños and habaneros to one. That bowl is mine. My wimpy family gets the bowl with no peppers.

Its True Colors, Shining Through

Here's the secret to perfect pico de gallo: Balance the colors.

Pico de gallo has the colors of the Mexican flag: red (tomatoes), white (onion), and green (cilantro and jalapeños). If your pico de gallo is too red (too many tomatoes), it will be bland. If it's too green (too much cilantro or too many jalapenos), it will be too hot or too ... well, cilantroey.

I like twice as much red as white, and enough green to make a nice accent color. And maybe orange highlights from habaneros.

It takes a little practice to get it just the way you like it; but once you figure it out, then you'll have your own perfect salsa recipe.

Three Mexican flags in a stiff breeze. Photo by Michael L. Dorn.
Three Mexican flags in a stiff breeze. Photo by Michael L. Dorn. | Source

Today's Featured Use of Pico de Gallo

Fish tacos with fresh garden salsa

Love tacos, but want a healthier alternative? Try this quick and super-easy meal.

Fry fish your favorite way. I prefer tilapia or swai, pan-fried in just a tablespoon of olive oil, no breading required. For extra taste, sprinkle either Old Bay or Emeril’s. (If you choose the latter, Internet rules require you to shout "Bam!")

Crumble the cooked fish, slip it into soft taco shells, and slather it with your homemade pico de gallo. Enjoy!

Fish tacos with pico de gallo
Fish tacos with pico de gallo | Source

Or try these slightly more complex recipes:

The One Trick That Will Save You Time and Effort

You can chop all those vegetables by hand. It might take you a while, especially if you're making a double or triple batch.

To make your job easier, however, try using a good food processor. My Cuisinart makes the job so fast that I can spend less time with my tomatoes and more time with my family.

The Best Place To Get Fresh Vegetables -- Check Out Your Local Farmers' Market

Human vegetables  at the Prior Lake Farmers' Market
Human vegetables at the Prior Lake Farmers' Market

At the farmers' market, of course. If you want only organic local food, you can find a vendor that does that. Get to know your farmer.

On the other hand, in many places it's hard to find all the ingredients in season at the same time. While some farmers' markets allow only local produce, others have a mixture of local and imported. In the Twin Cities, for example, the St. Paul Farmers' Market allows only food grown within 50 miles, while the Minneapolis Farmers' Market, the largest open-air market in the Upper Midwest, allows just about anything--as long as the vendor discloses whether his or her produce is local.

Shoppers at the Prior Lake Farmers' Market
Shoppers at the Prior Lake Farmers' Market

"Nope. That One's Not Hot."

--My father, pastor of a country Baptist church, whenever a local farmer brought him a paper bag of peppers and made him eat one, whole, raw, in front of the congregation.

(He later confessed to me some of the peppers almost made him cry. But he'd never admit it to the farmers.)

What the Rest of the Internet Says

There's more to pico de gallo than I can show here, right? Here are a few of my favorite links to other recipes, info sites, or other interesting stuff.

So Whattaya Think?

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    • profile image

      SquidooPower 

      8 years ago

      Love the tip about using a ceramic bowl instead of a metallic one.

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      8 years ago

      No garlic??

    • profile image

      Srena44 

      8 years ago

      nice lens..

    • profile image

      SororPeregrina 

      9 years ago

      Ahhhhh: pico de gallo! The is the basis of my personal food pyramid, the largest-quantity item on MyPlate, and a food group all by itself. Your intro picture is yummy: I'll eat the whole dish, please (with an extra couple of fresh jalapenos chopped into it, thank you very much), and come back for five or six more servings. Delicious lens!

    • profile image

      JennySui 

      9 years ago

      Congrats on LotD!

    • profile image

      DebMartin 

      9 years ago

      Really well done lens on a perfect summer food. Thanks, d

    • profile image

      julia007 

      9 years ago

      Nice Lens! I love it!

    • profile image

      joykennel 

      9 years ago

      now I'm all inspired!! I might even start growing the cilantro at home! Thanks for the info and inspiration! off to the kitchen!!

    • profile image

      kayla_harris 

      9 years ago

      It make me hungry. Can't wait to try this salsa recipe.

    • alex89 lm profile image

      alex89 lm 

      9 years ago

      I generally make mine without peppers, it started because I am allergic to bell peppers, but a lot of people have said that they really like it that way. Really mine is just tomato, herbs (whatever is fresh and around) garlic and lime juice. I will add some olive oil if I want to make bruscetta.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      9 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Now I'm officially hungry. I love adding avocado to my pico de gallo, mooshing it just a tiny bit and calling it guacamole. Love the freshness! Love this Lens of the Day, too!

    • A Dolores Pepper profile image

      A Dolores Pepper 

      9 years ago

      Great lens, add some small cooked shrimp and a little Clamato and you have a meal!

    • profile image

      MsShari 

      9 years ago

      I like it! I like it! Yummy!

    • Linda BookLady profile image

      Linda Jo Martin 

      9 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

      Sounds delicious! I will make some soon.

    • Kiwisoutback profile image

      Kiwisoutback 

      9 years ago from Massachusetts

      Congrats on LOTD. I've tried making this once before, but I didn't chop the veggies fine enough. Thanks for sharing this recipe, I'm going to give it a try. It sounds like you've done some serious testing! Squid Angel blessed.

    • profile image

      mysweetjane lm 

      9 years ago

      Congrats on LOTD! fresh salsa is the best

    • Gayle Dowell profile image

      Gayle Dowell 

      9 years ago from Kansas

      I think I'm hungry...

    • EEWorkouts profile image

      EEWorkouts 

      9 years ago

      I love pico and always ask for extra. It's a simple and delicious combination, and simple often tastes the best.

    • daniela12 profile image

      daniela12 

      9 years ago

      Your lens is truly amazing! I enjoyed it! Specially how you connected the colors of the ingredients to the flag of Mexico (:

    • profile image

      aquarian_insight 

      9 years ago

      Mmmm I could almost taste the pico de gallo reading this lens. I'll definitely make this. Congratulations on LoTD. *blessed*

    • Cal-gal profile image

      Meredith Davies 

      9 years ago

      My sister had a recipe similar to this but with added tomato puree and garlic. It was a favorite in our house. Every birthday, I gave my children the choice of foods for dinner and my son always picked something with pico de gallo. We didn't know any better and just called it salsa though.

      It is such a healthy way to introduce kids to veg.

      Congratulations on LOTD, it is a choice I wholeheartedly agree with.

    • TheFalconPress profile image

      The Falcon Press 

      9 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      Awesome lens and recipe. I've always made it this way except I never thought to add cumin. I'm going to give it a try! Thanks and congrats on making LOTD!

    • kburns421 lm profile image

      kburns421 lm 

      9 years ago

      I've been on the hunt for a good, fresh salsa (yes, I'm calling it salsa) recipe. Your version sound simple and tasty, and I can't wait to try it!

    • profile image

      NC Shepherd 

      9 years ago

      I love salsa fresca; it's the cilantro that does it for me. Congrats on LOTD.

    • RawBill1 profile image

      Bill 

      9 years ago from Gold Coast, Australia

      Congrats on LOTD. I do like my food a little on the spicy side too. Looks delicious! :-)

    • Heidi Vincent profile image

      Heidi Vincent 

      9 years ago from GRENADA

      Congratulations on winning the Lens of The Day (LOTD)!

    • eilval profile image

      Eileen 

      9 years ago from Western Cape , South Africa

      Congrats on LOTD and thanks for sharing your recipe !

    • writerkath profile image

      writerkath 

      9 years ago

      You're my kind of gal, Christy! We can live on this stuff! Great lens - simple, fun, to the point, well balanced (even if your peppers are a little hotter than I can eat 'em!) :) Hugs to you! Kath

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      9 years ago

      I like my salsa hot! Congratulations on LOTD!

    • profile image

      KittyWrites 

      9 years ago

      I love this lens on salsa. I love salsa but I am one of those people who can't eat it hot. More's the pitty.

    • profile image

      CCTVwebmaster 

      9 years ago

      I love salsa, I like both the cooked and fresh, but the fresh one is probably my favourite. Have it with everything! Especially BBQs!

    • Sky-lab LM profile image

      Sky-lab LM 

      9 years ago

      Really good work! It made me feel hungry! :)

    • profile image

      Spokanewebdesig1 

      9 years ago

      I love this stuff, sometimes I overdo tomatoes in the blender and it makes them look and taste funny.

    • BLemley profile image

      Beverly Lemley 

      9 years ago from Raleigh, NC

      Congratulations on LOTD! Hmmm ~ great tips, it sounds perfect! B : )

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      9 years ago

      Great recipe, looks like fun.

    • bordercollieluvr profile image

      bordercollieluvr 

      9 years ago

      Love your humor - will use the recipe as I have countless dollars down the drain in awful store bought salsa - but it also gives me some great ideas as a newbie on how to write an interesting and fun lens! thank you.

    • profile image

      WriterDave 

      9 years ago

      Awesome lens! I love pico on my chips and tacos.

    • LadyFlashman profile image

      LadyFlashman 

      9 years ago from United Kingdom

      This is a masterpiece of a lens! I love your humor and your tips for the perfect pico recipe are super. I also really love the little story about your father and the hot peppers!

    • tslizzy profile image

      tslizzy 

      9 years ago

      yammmmh

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 

      9 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Very interesting. Thanks for sharing! ;-)

    • profile image

      tjustleft 

      9 years ago

      Thanks for the great lens. I love pico and can easily eat half a pound at a sitting :)

    • Johanna Eisler profile image

      Johanna Eisler 

      9 years ago

      I took your advice and bookmarked this page. :) My husband and I recently planted 9 tomato plants, and we haven't killed any of them yet! We have high hopes for a bumper crop, and this will be the perfect recipe to use! Our local farmers market just opened, too, so I'm sure I'll be trying out your recipe before my tomatoes are ready. :) Thank you so much!

    • profile image

      TK2012 LM 

      9 years ago

      My mouth is honestly watering. Right after work I am heading to the grocery store and making this immediately!

    • profile image

      ideadesigns 

      9 years ago

      Love garden fresh ingredients!

    • LoriBeninger profile image

      LoriBeninger 

      9 years ago

      Great (and tasty) lens -- congratulations on a well-deserved LotD!

    • magictricksdotcom profile image

      magictricksdotcom 

      9 years ago

      Like the tip about using a ceramic bowl. Great lens.

    • Rosaquid profile image

      Rosaquid 

      9 years ago

      Pico de Gallo is a staple at our house. Congratulations on LOTD!

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      9 years ago

      We made fresh tomato salsa for the first time last year. Ate some and canned some. It was awesome all winter, especially during the football games! Thanks for the recipe -- we'll have to try it!

    • profile image

      peggygallyot 

      9 years ago

      I must try this recipe. Thank you.

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      9 years ago

      Thanks for providing us with a lovely, fresh healthy recipe to start the day. Pinned to my Cooking and Food board. Your site is nice, and your book on Kindle: Pecan Pie, Cigars, and the One and Only Secret to Happiness - seems really cute. And for less than a dollar! You are using Squidoo as part of a complete business - good luck on that and Squid Angel Blessed for showing us how it is done.

    • lilymom24 profile image

      lilymom24 

      9 years ago

      Congratulations on LotD!

      I just made salsa the other day and used a little too many hot peppers. Yikes! But its good. lol =)

    • Mickie Gee profile image

      Mickie Gee 

      9 years ago

      Perfect with a great guacamole like mine!

    • profile image

      GoldenRingk 

      9 years ago

      Delicious lens :)

    • jlshernandez profile image

      jlshernandez 

      9 years ago

      Pico de Gallo is one of my favorite salsas. Now I can make them from scratch. Thanks to you.

    • profile image

      purpleslug 

      9 years ago

      Sounds sooooooo good! Congrats on LOTD too!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 

      9 years ago

      Sounds pretty nice to me! Thanks for sharing - blessed by a SquidAngel, and congrats on LotD!

    • XODM profile image

      Joe Amaral 

      9 years ago from Florida

      That is awesome!

    • lbrummer profile image

      Loraine Brummer 

      9 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

      Congratulations on LOTD. Garden fresh!!

    • profile image

      UKGhostwriter 

      9 years ago

      I fancy making some right now!

    • JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 

      9 years ago from Keller, Texas

      I will be making some this afternoon! Congrats on LOTD!

    • vetochemicals profile image

      Cindy 

      9 years ago from Pittsburgh Pa

      I think it sounds delish, easy, similar to mine although yours is hotter! and glad it got LOTD for you:)

    • profile image

      StomachPain LM 

      9 years ago

      I have always been a fan of the fresh salsa. Now I know the name; Pico de gallo.

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 

      9 years ago from USA

      Congratulations! This yummy lens was selected as LOTD today. You can read all about it at SquidooHQ. Here's the link: http://hq.squidoo.com/lotd/pico-de-gallo-the-secre...

    • Coffeebreak9am profile image

      Coffeebreak9am 

      9 years ago

      Great lens thank you!

    • profile image

      sarasentor lm 

      9 years ago

      So beautiful lens, i really enjoyed. It deserve vote up.

    • Keith J Winter profile image

      Keith Winter 

      9 years ago from Spain

      Great lens. I love spicy food but especially fresh salsas.

    • profile image

      sheezie77 

      9 years ago

      Great lens, well done! Squidlike

    • FionaCarroll profile image

      Fiona Carroll 

      9 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Congrats on LOTD. Funny too. Luv luv luv Mexican food.

    • profile image

      blacktulip 

      9 years ago

      So delicious

    • xriotdotbiz lm profile image

      xriotdotbiz lm 

      9 years ago

      Got to have it with chips, but when I have good homemade salsa I spring for the expensive corn chips like white-corn restaurant style or blue corn chips.

    • GabStar profile image

      GabStar 

      9 years ago

      Great information, wonderful page

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 

      9 years ago from Topeka, KS

      Congrats on the feature and the award! A very lovely article. The recipe sounds divine! :)

    • profile image

      Nimsrules LM 

      9 years ago

      Mouth watering lens :)

    • profile image

      soaringsis 

      9 years ago

      Love the recipe and the info. Enjoyable lens. Congratulation on your Lotd and your Purple Star award.Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      soaringsis 

      9 years ago

      Love the recipe and the info. Enjoyable lens. Congratulation on your Lotd and your Purple Star award.Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      cleanyoucar 

      9 years ago

      Love the recipe here, for veggies I prefer fresh over cooked

    • profile image

      anupma lm 

      9 years ago

      It is a mouth-watering dish. I will certainly try to cook at home. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      NoSugarMom 

      9 years ago

      great lens

    • profile image

      Kae Yo 

      9 years ago

      I love the way you write! Congrats on LOTD! Thank you for the tips in making Pico de Gallo. The fresher the better!

    • Anastacia EG profile image

      Anastacia Gutierrez 

      9 years ago

      I thoroughly enjoyed this lens. It brought a wide smile to my face for its personality, humor and deliciousness. Truly well done all around. Thanks for sharing!

    • mindlessnin profile image

      mindlessnin 

      9 years ago

      nice lens!

      i've always liked spicy food and my father, too once did that to my thumb but i kept on sucking it...:)

    • mindlessnin profile image

      mindlessnin 

      9 years ago

      nice lens!

      i've always liked spicy food and my father, too once did that to my thumb but i kept on sucking it...:)

    • biminibahamas profile image

      biminibahamas 

      9 years ago

      Tasty lens!

    • profile image

      SteveKaye 

      9 years ago

      Yum Yum Yum. This is the best tasting lens that I've read today.

    • profile image

      rallo-smith 

      9 years ago

      Can't wait to make me a batch...yummy!

    • Teapixie LM profile image

      Tea Pixie 

      9 years ago

      Uhhhhmmmm - YUM! What a fun and delicious article. I love rhe way you write!

    • profile image

      MauWin 

      9 years ago

      Good recipes. Can't wait to try them out. Congratulations!!

    • karMALZEKE profile image

      karMALZEKE 

      9 years ago

      I think I am off to make this recipe. Nice!

    • profile image

      TravelingRae 

      9 years ago

      Your intro was hilarious and the rest of the lens lived up to its promised. :::blessed:::

    • lilymom24 profile image

      lilymom24 

      9 years ago

      I make fresh salsa often and have some tomatoes and peppers sitting on my sideboard right now waiting to be chopped. I sometimes add a lot of different things like fresh parsley, lemon thyme, fresh oregano, a bit of vinegar.....anything that I think sounds yummy. Nice lens. I'll have to try your recipe. =)

    • Lenskeeper profile image

      Lenskeeper 

      9 years ago

      Looks great, but I'll probably leave out the peppers :)

    • fifta profile image

      fifta 

      9 years ago

      this is really an awesome lens, I could not stop reading. I haven't tried salsa before, but it looks easy to make.

    • SoniaCarew profile image

      SoniaCarew 

      9 years ago

      Simple, yummy,.... so defs worthy of a try!

    • SheilaMilne profile image

      SheilaMilne 

      9 years ago from Kent, UK

      Your recipe sounds deliciously simple!

    • ChristyMarieKent profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Marie Kent 

      9 years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota

      @teristazko: Yum!

    • ChristyMarieKent profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Marie Kent 

      9 years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota

      @Einar A: Yeah, and the cilantro smells so good, too!

    • ChristyMarieKent profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Marie Kent 

      9 years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota

      @artbyrodriguez: Thanks, artbyrodriguez!

    • ChristyMarieKent profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Marie Kent 

      9 years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota

      @sharonbellis: Thanks, sbellis!

    • ChristyMarieKent profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Marie Kent 

      9 years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota

      @gatornic15: It is. You should try it!

    • ChristyMarieKent profile imageAUTHOR

      Christy Marie Kent 

      9 years ago from Minneapolis, Minnesota

      @MermaidDoc: Thanks, MermaidDoc!

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