It’s salsa canning time! The time of year when tomatoes, peppers, and onions are fresh and plentiful. But canning books don’t include many creative salsa recipes. Can you alter a recipe to make your own canned salsa?
September always brings questions about canning salsa. Published recipes for canning salsa don’t often meet our desires. We want a spicier salsa, or a thicker salsa, or more cilantro (or less cilantro!). We want to add corn, or black beans or extra onions. Can we safely do so? The answer is……
No – Not Usually
Here is the short version of why you cannot change an approved recipe:
- Your home recipe most likely has not been tested for safety.
- It may not be acidic enough to be safe.
- The processing period may not be long enough to be safe.
An Acidic Recipe
Water bath canning is for high acid foods. Tomatoes are borderline on the acidity scale, which is why we add lemon juice to canned tomatoes, to increase the acidity.
Other salsa ingredients, like onions and peppers, are low-acid. So, we add vinegar or lemon juice to the salsa mixture to make it acidic; much like turning low acid cucumbers into high acid pickles by adding vinegar.
But, whipping up our very own creative salsa and adding a little vinegar still doesn’t make a safe recipe. Approved recipes have been tested for safety. An approved recipe makes sure that the amount of vinegar or lemon juice added in the recipe acidifies the amount of low acid ingredients in the salsa mixture.
The other part of a tested, approved recipe is assuring that the heat penetrates the salsa in the jar, killing all harmful bacteria. This is done in a testing lab and is why different products have different processing times. For example, tomatoes may be processed for 35 minutes while some pickles are processed for 20 minutes.
You can understand why a recipe made up of chopped tomatoes has a different processing time than a recipe of pureed tomatoes; the thickness of the two products differs. This is why we can’t change the salsa recipe texture, along with not being able to change the salsa ingredients. Frustrating, I know. But better slightly frustrated than ill (or worse) from botulism!
Approved Recipe Alterations
Don’t despair, all is not lost. Luckily there are some ways to alter approved recipes.
- Replace hot peppers with bell peppers. Or replace bell peppers with hot peppers. Or use a combination of hot and bell peppers. Just don’t increase the total amount of peppers in the recipe.
- Of course, you can reduce or eliminate the low-acid ingredients too. Use fewer onions or peppers or herbs than the recipe calls for.
- You can use red onions instead of yellow onions or vice versa.
- Lime juice can be used instead of lemon juice. Lemon or lime juice can be used instead of vinegar. However, vinegar cannot be used instead of lemon or lime juice.
- Use white vinegar instead of apple cider vinegar. Or use apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar. You can also use white wine vinegar instead of either of the above. Just make sure the vinegar is noted as at least 5% acidic.
But Don’t Make These Changes!
- Never increase the total amount of peppers, onions, garlic or other low acid ingredients.
- Do not use fresh lemon or lime juice. You should always use bottled juice as it is calibrated to meet specific acid requirements.
- Vinegar must be at least 5% acidic. Some specialty vinegars don’t specify the acid level. Do not use these vinegars when making canned pickled products of any kind, including salsa.
- Don’t thicken salsa before canning. You can thicken it when you open a jar to serve.
Make the Salsa Recipe Your Own
Think of home canned salsa as a basic product – similar to a cake mix. Follow an approved recipe and use the salsa as is, just like making a basic chocolate cake. Or….. once you open the jar, you can add all kinds of things to your salsa. Turn it into black bean salsa by combining a jar of salsa with a can of black beans. Or make it spicier by adding chopped cilantro just before serving. It’s the salsa equivalent of a chocolate sour cream cake or a chocolate strawberry cake made from a basic chocolate cake mix.
Of course, you can also make any salsa recipe you want, using as many low-acid ingredients as you like, as long as you freeze the end result instead of water bath canning it. I do this with my favorite taco sauce recipe. I don’t use an approved recipe, so I freeze the end result. Freezing does change the texture a little bit from canning, but it’s not a noticeable difference. Sometimes I even freeze salsa made from an approved recipe. I do this if I only make one or two jars at a time. Instead of heating up the water bath canner, I ladle the mixture into small containers and store them in the freezer.
Don’t Fall for These Misconceptions
Home food preservers are a creative bunch, but sometimes we try to overcome the rules. It’s not a good idea so don’t fall for these misconceptions:
- Don’t be fooled into thinking you can pressure can your salsa and it will be safe. To my knowledge, there are no tested pressure canned salsa recipes.
- Sterilizing the jars (instead of using clean jars) doesn’t change the equation either. If the salsa recipe isn’t safe, putting it a sterilized jar won’t fix the problem. All canning jars should be clean of course, but remember, you only need sterilized jars for products that will be processed less than 10 minutes.
- Ditto for heating the salsa mixture to boiling. Again, if the salsa mixture isn’t safe – not an approved recipe – putting it in jars while really hot won’t make it a safe mixture.
- And remember, sealing the jar doesn’t make the product a safe product. A sealed jar keeps a safe product safe. Everything that comes before must be done safely too; no moldy or spoiled ingredients, an approved recipe, clean jars, and a prescribed processing period.
Now it’s time to get to work. I have a big batch of green tomatoes just begging to be turned into salsa. I like the recipe in the Ball Blue Book! I bet you will too.
Did I forget anything? If so, let me know in the comments!