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.
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.
- Getting Crisp Home Pickled Vegetables, Utah State University Extension
- Preparing and Canning Fermented and Pickled Foods, National Center for Home Food Preservation
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