Tomatoes – peppers – onions – spices! GO! It’s time to make 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:
- USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning Guide 3, Selecting, Preparing and Canning Tomatoes and Tomato Products
- National Center for Home Food Preservation; use the search box to find salsa recipes
- Preserve the Taste of Summer: Salsa, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
- Salsa Recipes for Canning, Pacific Northwest Extension
- Canning Salsa Safely, University of Wisconsin Extension
- Sensational Salsas, University of Georgia
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.
- Play it Safe: Changes and Substitutions to Approved Home Food Processing Recipes, University of Wisconsin Extension
- Canning Salsa, PennState Extension
- What Can You Change in a Canning Recipe? PennState Extension