It’s Salsa Time!

Tomatoes – peppers – onions – spices! GO! It’s time to make salsa! 

jars of home canned salsa
Jars of various kinds of salsa.

Salsa is a great candidate for fresh, frozen, or canned preparations. Any combination of ingredients may be used for fresh or frozen salsa without concern for foodborne illness. Canned salsas, on the other hand, must be made with care to prevent botulism poisoning. Most salsa recipes are a mixture of low-acid foods like onions and peppers and acid foods like tomatoes or fruit. Salsa can only be safely canned in a boiling water bath IF the recipe meets the acidity levels needed to prevent the growth of botulism bacteria.

The following caution about using original salsa recipes is emphasized in the Pacific Northwestern Extension publication, Salsa Recipes for Canning: Because salsas are a mixture of acid and low-acid ingredients, they are an example of an acidified food appropriate for boiling water canning if–and only if–the level of acidity is adequate to prevent the production of the botulism toxin. If the mixture has less acidity, it needs to be treated as a low-acid food, which requires additional laboratory testing to develop the processing recommendations for the elimination of botulism risk. To avoid this serious foodborne illness, follow the directions carefully of tested recipes. Never can salsas that do not follow a tested recipe.

The best way to ensure a safe home-canned salsa is to carefully follow a tested recipe. Below are a few sources for finding a safe canning recipe that suits your taste. A popular recipe is Choice Salsa from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, featuring more flavor from peppers and onions. Links to other recipe sources include:

Corn and black beans are ingredients used in some commercially prepared salsas; currently, there are no research-based recipes for home canned salsas using these ingredients. Add these ingredients and others at the time of use. Tomato-Based Salsas by the University of Minnesota Extension has additional excellent tips for making salsa safely.

While it is important to follow a research-tested recipe, some substitutions or changes can safely be made to tested salsa recipes. Safe substitutions or changes include:

  • Change tomato variety or color. Any color or variety of tomato can be used. Paste tomatoes such as Roma have firmer flesh and produce thicker salsa than slicing tomatoes. Seeds or juice should not be removed unless the recipe specifies such action. Tomato quantity should not change.
  • Substitute sweet peppers for hot peppers, and vice versa, measure for measure when preparing home-canned salsa using a tested recipe. The same is true for onions, as red, white, and yellow onions are interchangeable, measure for measure.
  • Reduce or eliminate the sugar or salt in any tested salsa recipe.
  • Reduce the amount of low-acid ingredients such as onion, celery, or green peppers in a tested salsa recipe. Do not substitute corn, black beans, or any other low-acid ingredients for an ingredient being reduced.
  • Substitute tomatillos for tomatoes as long as the total amount remains the same.
  • Change types and amounts of dried spices and herbs, but do not add extra fresh herbs to recipes.
  • Replace 5% acidity vinegar with bottled lemon or lime juice but not vice versa.

For safety, you may not:

  • Add ingredients such as corn or black beans to any salsa recipe, or substitute corn or black beans for other ingredients such as peppers or onions.
  • Reduce the type or amount of acid, such as lemon or lime juice, or vinegar, in a tested recipe. If it tastes too tart, add a bit of sugar.
  • Increase the amount of fresh herbs or garlic in a tested salsa recipe. Fresh herbs may be added to the salsa just before serving.
  • Do not thicken salsa with any thickening agent. If salsa from a tested recipe is thinner than you prefer, strain the salsa before serving or using it as an ingredient.

Freezing is the only safe long-term option for preserving untested or original salsa recipes. A salsa that has been frozen may be watery when thawed. The excess juice may be drained off or thickened with a starch or tomato paste just before serving. Frozen salsa containers should be opened upon removal from the freezer to create an aerobic (with oxygen) environment to deter the potential growth of Clostridium botulinum.  Fresh salsas may be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Salsa may only be water-bath canned in pint jars; there are no tested recipes for quarts or for pressure canning.

Additional sources

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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Canning tomatoes

tomato sauceIf you are starting to run out of room in the freezer you may want to think about canning some tomatoes this summer. Once you have acidified the tomatoes, it is safe to process them in a boiling water bath canner. You need 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice per pint and 2 tablespoons per quart of tomato product. These same amounts of acid are required regardless of the tomato product you are canning-unless you are making salsa. Salsas have different requirements and you should always use a tested recipe to make them.

There are several different methods you can use to can tomatoes once you have skinned them.

  • Crush and cook them tomatoes; this method will prevent separation in the finished product.
  • Leave the tomatoes whole or halve them and pack them in water.
  • Leave the tomatoes whole or halve them and pack them in tomato juice.
  • Pack whole tomatoes into a jar, pressing them until all the space between the tomatoes is filled with juice.

These methods have slightly different processing times and can be processed in either the boiling water bath canner or in a pressure canner.  Remember that the tomatoes must be acidified to produce a safe product no matter which type of canner you choose.

We also have tested recipes available for stewed tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato sauce, tomato paste, tomato catsup, barbeque sauce, chili sauce, hot sauce, and spaghetti sauce.

Enjoy the taste of your garden tomatoes long into the winter.

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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Always use safe, tested recipes when canning salsa

Just about this time every summer we start getting calls about salsa. Salsa is one of those foods that brings out the creative side of people. It is not uncommon to get questions about how long to process the salsa recipe they just created, or the salsa recipe they got from a friend. Our answer is always the same. It is important to use a tested recipe when canning homemade salsa. The ratio of low acid vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, onion, and garlic) to acid (lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar) has not been calculated in a non-tested recipe. Tested recipes contain enough acid to prevent the growth of the botulism bacteria and provide a safe product that can be enjoyed straight from the canning jar. Non-tested recipes may be safe but there is no real way to know that in advance of eating the salsa. The risk of botulism poisoning is not known but the result of the illness can be death or prolonged illness. NO salsa is worth that risk.

You can safely freeze any salsa recipe you can devise so we advise callers to freeze salsa recipes of their own creation instead of canning. We have a number of tested salsa recipes and we are happy to share them with you.  Contact us at AnswerLine for these recipes.

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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Garden Bounty

This time of year it seems that everyone has a favorite recipe for salsa. Salsa is a fun and easy product to make. Salsas are combinations of acidic and low acid vegetables. The onions, peppers, and garlic are low acid foods. Producing a safe product that can be home canned means you must add enough of the right type of acid to prevent the growth of botulism bacteria. The best way to ensure a safe salsa is to carefully follow a tested recipe. You can find tested recipes in several places. The USDA canning guide, the National Center for Home Food Preservation, and Extension publications like Preserve the Taste of Summer.

Blanching tomatoes.
Blanching tomatoes.

Here are a few helpful tips to remember:

  •  Use high quality tomatoes, peppers, onions, and garlic.  Canning won’t improve the quality of the ingredients.
  •  Remember not to increase the total volume of peppers.  You can substitute one variety of pepper for another—to make a hotter or milder salsa.
  • Use the acid listed in the recipe; bottled lemon juice, vinegar with 5% acidity, or lime juice.
  • Spices may be adjusted to taste flavoring.  It is really the only safe ingredient to change in a tested recipe.
  • Using a tested recipe allows you to process a safe salsa in a boiling water bath canner.  If you choose to use a recipe of your own, remember that you can safely freeze that salsa, but you cannot home can it.
  • Don’t thicken salsa before canning.  As you open jars of your salsa, you can thicken it or pour off excess liquid.

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.

More Posts - Website


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