Salsa – FAQs and Answers

Homemade salsa and chips

As summer gardens gradually come to an end, salsa is a great way to use up those last tomatoes, peppers/chilies, onions, and herbs. Traditionally, salsa is made from tomatoes, onions, and chili peppers seasoned with cilantro, lime juice and salt. The combination of ingredients make salsa a low-acid food meaning that if it is to be canned and placed on a shelf, it is not a food for one to express culinary imagination.  Creativity may lead to foodborne illness.

As consumer navigate salsa making, some of their frequently asked questions (FAQs) follow with answers.

I made up my own recipe for salsa or got one from a friend. Can you tell me how long to process it? It is important to use a tested or researched based recipe when canning homemade salsa. The reason being, the ratio of low acid vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, onion and garlic) to acid (lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar) has not been tested in a non-research based recipe. Recipes that have been tested will have enough acid to prevent the growth of the botulism bacteria and provide a safe product that everyone can enjoy straight from the canning jar. (Source: Homemade Salsa is a Science, Not an Art, Michigan State University)

Where do I find safe recipes for canning salsa? Creating a safe product that can be processed and stored on a shelf means having the correct proportion of acid to low acid vegetables to prevent the growth of botulism bacteria. The best way to ensure that the salsa is safe is to always follow a tested or researched based recipe. These recipes can be found at the National Center for Home Food Preservation, land grant University publications, The USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning, So Easy to Preserve, 6th Edition, Ball® Blue Book Guide®to Preserving, 37th Edition, or Ball® Complete Book of Home Preserving.

Can I make my own salsa recipe? Creating your own recipe is a possibility. However, instead of guessing at the processing time which may lead to foodborne illness, freeze it or make just enough to be eaten fresh. Another alternative is to follow a tested recipe using the exact ingredients and processing procedure; when ready to use, add the black beans, corn, or any other ingredient that should not be used in a home canned salsa recipe. Choice Salsa offers some options in creating unique salsas.

Can I add more cilantro to my canned salsa than the recipe includes? Cilantro is best added to fresh salsa. It is not usually included in cooked recipes. Cilantro loses its fresh flavor when cooked and becomes dark and soft in the mixture. As mentioned in creating your own salsa, cilantro could be added at the time of using the canned salsa.

Do I have to use canning salt? Canning salt is recommended and should definitely be used with vegetable and pickle canning. However, in a pinch, one could get by with iodized or table salt with salsa. The product will be safe but one may detect a metallic or bitter flavor which may not be disguised by the spices or herbs used in the salsa. Also, table salt usually has an added anti-caking ingredient which may cause a slight cloudiness. Salt is for flavor so it can also be left out.

Can I substitute peppers? One should never increase the total volume of peppers in a recipe. However, substituting one variety of a pepper or chili for another is perfectly fine.

Must I use the suggested spices? Spices are the only safe ingredient you may change in a tested recipe to adjust for flavor.

Does it matter what kind of onion I use? Like peppers, one should not increase the amount of onion specified in a tested recipe. However, red, yellow, or white onions may be substituted for each other.

Is it okay to use a different size jar? The size of the jar can also affect the safety of the product. It is not okay to use a larger jar size. Tested recipes have been developed and tested for a given jar size based upon the jar size, contents, and amount of time needed to reach and maintain the safe temperature during both processing and cool-down time while still maintaining the integrity of the product. Pint jars are specified in all tested salsa recipes. It is possible to use a smaller jar size using the processing time specified for the larger jar.  Doing so will ensure a safe product, but the product will likely be overcooked. 

Do I have to acidify my salsa? Salsas typically combine low acid foods (onions, peppers) and acid foods (tomatoes, fruits).  Adding the recommended amount of acid in the form of vinegar, bottled lemon juice or bottled lime juice is essential to produce salsas that can be safely processed in a boiling water canner.

Most salsa recipes seem to have a lot of liquid. I like thicker salsa. Can I add some thickener? A thickener should not be added unless a tested recipe includes it. Thickeners interfere with heat transfer and penetration which could result in an under-processed, unsafe product. Tomato paste can be added to salsa at time of use to thicken as desired. While any kind of tomato can be used to make salsa, paste (Roma or plum) tomatoes are fleshy , have less juice and fewer seeds than other types of tomatoes making them a best choice for salsa. Beefsteak tomatoes and grape tomatoes (not cherry tomatoes) provide similar meaty, less juice characteristics.

For more information on preserving homemade salsa, adding ingredients or substituting ingredients, check out Play It Safe! Safe changes and Substitutions to Tested Canning Recipes. Getting creative with homemade salsa could lead to foodborne illness – stick to research based recipes when canning. T

Reviewed and updated 4-24, mg.

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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Salsa

Garden Bounty
Peppers

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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