Calcium Chloride for Crispness

Calcium Chloride is a firming agent that can be used in quick-processed pickles for crispness. It works by firming the natural pectin of the vegetable. It should not be confused with table salt, which is sodium chloride.

Calcium chloride products
Calcium chloride products – Photo: mrgeiger

Currently, calcium chloride is available to consumers as a granular product under the labels of Ball Pickle Crisp® and Mrs. Wages Xtra Crunch®. Regardless of the label, both are pure, certified food-grade calcium chloride. (Non-food-grade calcium chloride should not be used for home canning.) Calcium chloride is a safe, non-toxic food additive that has been tested and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), World Health Organization (WHO), Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Calcium chloride may be used in place of food-grade lime (calcium hydroxide) to firm pickles. However, it does so with less fuss and offers the same great taste and crispness. Firming with lime is traditionally done by soaking fresh cucumbers in a lime-water solution before pickling them; during the soaking, the calcium hydroxide binds with the pectin in the cucumber making it stronger. Excess lime absorbed by the cucumbers must be removed by additional rinsing to make pickles safe; pickling lime raises the pH (more alkaline) and has been linked to botulism. Because calcium chloride does not have the hydroxide component of lime, it does not change the pH (acidity) of pickled food or pose a food safety risk. No soaking and rinsing is involved when calcium chloride is used. Rather, a small amount of the calcium chloride granules is added to each jar of pickles before sealing, following the manufacturer’s directions. (Calcium chloride should not be added to a vat during brining or fermentation of pickles.) 

Calcium chloride will not replace the crispness that is lost from fresh produce. That crispness comes from the vegetable’s natural pectin, so starting with fresh-picked, top-quality produce is best.

There are other uses for calcium chloride beyond pickle crispness. It is used by brewers, cheese- and wine-makers and has been found to improve the texture of canned apple slices, pears, and peaches. Consumers report using it when canning whole tomatoes to hold the tomatoes together. Calcium chloride may impart a bit of a salty taste but adds no sodium. 

Calcium Chloride products have an indefinite shelf life but are sensitive to moisture and will clump and become hard when exposed to humidity, so it is important to keep the granules as dry as possible; store the products tightly sealed in a cool, dry location.


Reference to any commercial product, process, or service, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporate name is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute an endorsement, recommendation, or certification of any kind. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use and should make their own assessment of the information and whether it is suitable for their intended use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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Here’s to Crisp Pickles!

Jars of dill pickles

Pickle making is just around the corner.  With it comes lots of questions regarding pickle crispness, the essence of a good pickle.  There are several factors that determine pickle crispness including variety, freshness, preparation techniques, ingredients, and processing method. 

Variety.  First and foremost, use true pickling cucumbers for pickling.  Salad cucumbers were never intended for pickles as they are too large and contain a thick seed base compared to pickling cucumbers.   Burpless cucumbers are not suitable for fermented pickles because their skins are often tougher and contain an enzyme which will soften pickles during fermentation.   Look for slim, dark green cucumbers with prickly bumps on the skin no more than 2 inches in diameter.

Freshness.  Start with just-picked cucumbers; it is best to prepare pickles within two hours of picking for best quality.  When that isn’t possible, cucumbers should be refrigerated immediately and used as soon as possible as crispness is lost with time.  Some pickle makers like to place cucumbers in an ice bath for 2 hrs before starting the pickling process to assure crispness. However, once crispness has been lost, it cannot be replaced.

Preparation Techniques.  Proper acidity is needed to produce safe pickles.  Use only researched-based recipes like those found with the USDA Complete Guide to Canning, the National Center for Home Preservation, and university extension publications.  Begin by washing the cucumbers and removing at least 1/16th inch from the blossom end; the blossom end harbors enzymes that cause softening.

Pickle crisping products, Pickle Crisp® by Ball and Xtra Crunch by Mrs. Wages
Pickle crisping products: Ball Pickle Crisp® and Mrs Wages Xtra Crunch. Photo – mgeiger

Use of Firming Agents.  Depending upon the quality of the cucumbers, recipe, and pickle maker, firming agents may or may not be part of the process.  Firming agents include alum, food grade lime (calcium hydroxide), grape leaves, or calcium chloride (Ball Pickle Crisp® or Mrs. Wages Xtra-Crunch®).
Alum – at one time alum was added for crispness; however it is no longer recommended by the FDA and most modern, science-based recipes no longer include it.  Scientifically, alum has little effect on quick-process pickles but may add firmness to fermented pickles when used at a rate of ¼ teaspoon per pints.  Using too much alum will actually decrease firmness.
Food Grade Lime – Lime or calcium hydroxide has been used for years for pickle crispness as it improves pickle firmness when cucumbers are soaked in a lime solution for 12 to 24 hrs prior to pickling.  Besides the time for soaking, another draw back of lime is the need to remove excess lime prior to pickling with repeated soaking and rinsing in fresh water to render the cucumbers safe for pickling.  The hydroxide component of lime lowers the acidity (making it more alkaline) of the pickling brine; therefore, it must be thoroughly removed to make pickles safe to can.  Because it reduces the acidity of the vinegar used in pickling, lime has been linked to botulism.
Grape Leaves – Grape leaves have historically been used to add crispness.  Grape leaves contain tannins that inhibit the enzyme that makes pickles soft.  However, if the blossom end of the cucumber is removed, grape leaves really aren’t necessary as their function is eliminated.
Calcium Chloride – Calcium chloride is a generic firming agent that is used in the pickling and canning industry. In recent years calcium chloride has become available commercially as Pickle Crisp® by Ball or Xtra Crunch® by Mrs. Wages. These are both granular products found with the canning supplies; they offer fast results with the same great taste and crispness of lime.  Calcium chloride does not have the hydroxide component of lime and therefore does not lower acidity of pickled food or pose a food safety risk.  A small amount is added to each jar of pickles before sealing following the manufacturer’s directions.  (It should not be added to a vat during brining or fermentation.) 

Ingredients.  Use recommended ingredients—salt, 5% acidic vinegar, sugar, spices, water—in exact recipe proportions; there must be a sufficient level of acid to prevent the growth of botulinum bacteria.

Processing Method.  Pack pickles to allow sufficient room for the pickling solution to surround each piece.  Process all pickles in a boiling water bath or atmospheric steam canner to destroy harmful organisms and to obtain a strong vacuum seal on the jar.

Here’s to crisp pickles!  For additional help with pickles see Avoid Getting into “a Pickle” with Pickling Projects or download (free) Preserve the Taste of Summer:  Canning Pickles from the Iowa State Extension and Outreach Store.

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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5 tips for making your own pickles!

pickle slices
Home canned pickles.

Pickles! It seems like everyone wants to make pickles this time of year. We get so many calls related to pickles; I will highlight just a few of the facts that we share with callers.


  • Use small cucumbers of a variety designed for pickling.
  • Use canning or pickling salt.  Other salts may result in cloudy brine.
  • Use commercially produced vinegar with 5% acidity.  Use white if you are concerned about brine color.
  • Recipes do exist for reduced salt pickles.  Don’t just cut back on the salt in your recipe, the product may be unsafe.  These recipes can be found in the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.
  • Alum is not recommended in current pickle recipes.  Other products and processes are available.  Check with us at AnswerLine for some ideas.

Remember to use tested recipes for your pickles. Tested recipes will always include a boiling water bath processing time.

Liz Meimann

I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Food Science at Iowa State University. I love to quilt, sew, cook, and bake. I spent many years gardening, canning, and preserving food for my family when my children were at home.

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