How to safely can salsa

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tomatoes

If your vegetable garden has produced plenty of fresh tomatoes and peppers over the last few weeks, making homemade salsa is just the ticket to preserve them.

Salsa recipes typically combine low-acid foods (onions and peppers) with high-acid foods (tomatoes) to create a mixture that is safe for canning. However, the type and amount of ingredients used to make salsa and the preparation methods are important considerations to ensure safety when canning salsa.

Learn how to ensure food safety by using research-tested recipes, following directions carefully and using the right amounts of ingredients to maintain acidity when canning salsa.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are an important ingredient in salsa. They affect the flavor, texture and thickness of salsa. And they are doubly important when canning salsa because they help ensure a safe level of acidity.

The type of tomato used will impact on your final product. Both slicing and paste tomatoes can be used to make salsa. Paste tomatoes have a firmer flesh and will produce a thicker salsa. Slicing tomatoes are more watery and will produce a thinner salsa. 

Regardless of what type of tomatoes you use, the amount called for in the recipe you’re using should always be maintained. Green tomatoes may be substituted.

The quality of tomatoes used will also impact your end result. Overripe, spoiled or tomatoes picked from frost-killed vines will yield a poor-quality salsa and may cause spoilage.

Peppers

Peppers are another important salsa ingredient. They have a major impact on the taste of salsa, ranging from mild to fiery.

Mild peppers range in size from 4 to 10 inches long. Common varieties include Anaheim, Ancho, College, Colorado and Hungarian yellow wax.

Hot peppers range in size from 1 to 3 inches long. Common varieties include Jalapeno, Serrano, Cayenne, Habanero and Tabasco.

Like tomatoes, only high-quality peppers free of signs of spoilage should be used to make salsa you’re planning on preserving.

Different types of peppers can be substituted in recipes, but the amounts called for in the recipes should be maintained to ensure a safe level of acidity.

Acids

As I have mentioned, ensuring the right amount of acid is crucial to food safety when canning vegetables. The natural acidity of the ingredients in your salsa might not be high enough on its own, so you may have to add vinegar or lemon juice.

Lemon juice is more acidic than vinegar and impacts the product’s flavor less. An equal amount of lemon juice can be substituted in recipes that call for vinegar. You should only use bottled lemon juice in canning recipes.

Vinegar that is at least 5% acid may also be used to increase acidity, however, it is less acidic than lemon juice and will affect flavor more. Do not substitute vinegar in recipes that call for lemon juice because it will result in a less acidic, potentially unsafe salsa.

Spices

Although the amounts of all other ingredients should be maintained when following a salsa recipe, the amounts of spices and herbs can be altered.

Cilantro and cumin are commonly used in spicier salsas but can be left out when a milder taste is desired.

Additionally, if a strong cilantro taste is desired, fresh cilantro can be added to canned salsa just before serving.

Canning salsa in a boiling water bath canner

  1. Use a rack to keep jars from touching the bottom of the canner and to allow heat to circulate to all sides of jars.
  2. Make sure water in canner is simmering hot when placing jars inside.
  3. Add boiling water to bring water 1 to 2 inches above the tops of the jars. Don’t pour water directly on jars.
  4. Place a tight-fitting cover on the canner. Leave the cover unfastened and the petcock open to prevent pressure buildup if you’re using a pressure canner for water bath canning.
  5. Bring water to a rolling boil and process for the recommended time. Add boiling water to keep jars covered during processing.
  6. Remove jars from canner immediately when time is up.
  7. Cool jars on a rack or cloth, allowing air to circulate around them, but avoid fans and cold drafts.
  8. After jars have cooled, test lids to make sure each jar has been sealed. Unsealed jars should be refrigerated and consumed within a week or reprocessed within 24 hours.
  9. Label and date salsa and remove screw bands to prepare for storage. Then store it in a cool, dark place to maintain quality. Use salsa within one year to ensure the best quality and nutritional value.
  10. Before using salsa, inspect each jar for bulging lids, leaks or unusual appearance of its contents. After opening odor, mold and foam are signs of spoilage and when present salsa should be discarded.

Research-tested recipes from Ohio State Extension

Tomatillo Green Salsa
Yields 5 pints

Ingredients

  • 5 cups tomatillos, chopped (green tomatoes can be substituted)
  • 1½ cups long green chilies, seeded and chopped
  • ½ cup Jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
  • 4 cups onions, chopped
  • 1 cup bottled lemon juice
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons oregano leaves (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
Steps
  1. Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan, stirring frequently over high heat until the mixture begins to boil.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Ladle hot salsa into pint jars, leaving ½ inch of headspace.
  4. Adjust lids and process in a boiling water canner for 15-20 minutes.
Chile Salsa (Hot Tomato-Pepper Sauce)
Yields 6 to 8 pints

Ingredients

  • 5 pounds tomatoes
  • 1 cup vinegar (5 percent)
  • 2 pounds chile peppers
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1 pound onions
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
Steps
  1. Wash and rinse pint jars; keep hot until ready to use. Prepare lids according to the manufacturer’s directions.
  2. Wearing gloves, wash and dry chilies; slit each pepper along the side to allow steam to escape, while blistering skins to peel.
  3. Peel, wash and dice onions.
  4. Wash tomatoes and dip in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds or until skins split. Dip in cold water, slip off skins and remove cores. Coarsely chop tomatoes.
  5. Combine prepared peppers, onions, tomatoes and remaining ingredients in a large saucepan. Heat to boiling, then simmer 10 minutes.
  6. Fill hot jars, leaving ½ inch of headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed.
  7. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened, clean paper towel. Apply two-piece metal canning lids.
  8. Process in a boiling water canner for 15-20 minutes.

Resources

Ohio State Extension

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Sara is Farm and Dairy’s online content producer. Raised in Portage County, Ohio, she earned a magazine journalism degree from Kent State University. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling, writing, reading and outdoor recreation.

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