Salsa Q & A

There’s been great growth in home food preservation over the past few years. This is due, in part, to people canning salsa. Learn answers to questions you may have about this tasty and versatile condiment!

Salsa is a mixture of high-acid and low-acid ingredients.  As such, it’s important that research-tested recipes for its preparation be followed in order to create a safe product.

Here are some questions that Michigan State University Extension food safety educators typically receive about this condiment, along with their answers, so that you can create and serve a safe food product.

Q: The Extension recipe I used last time isn’t spicy enough for my family.  Can I add more hot peppers?
A: No.  But you can substitute hotter (ghost, habanero, rocoto, thai, Serrano or jalapeno) peppers for milder peppers (green peppers and other sweet peppers, banana or pepperoncini), measure-for-measure, in salsa recipes to increase the heat. Of course, the opposite is also true:  if you want to stay away from the heat, use sweet green, red, yellow or orange peppers in place of hot peppers, again measure-for-measure. The Scoville Scale is used to measure the heat of peppers.

Q: Can I use vinegar and lemon juice interchangeably in a salsa recipe?
A: Acidity is tightly controlled in salsa recipes. You can substitute vinegar (store-bought has 5 percent acidity) for bottled lemon juice in salsa recipes, but you must use twice as much vinegar as lemon juice.  This often means that the taste of the salsa is altered in a way that may be unpalatable to your family.

Q: I see packets of salsa mixes at the store.  Are they safe?
A: Though Extension has no reason to believe these mixtures are not safe, testing by Extension or National Center for Home Food Preservation staff has not been done.  Therefore we cannot recommend their use for anything other than a refrigerated product.

Q: My Uncle Anthony made great salsa!  Can I use his recipe for canning?
A: Unless the recipe comes from an approved source it hasn’t been tested for safety.  The good news is that you can prepare Uncle Anthony’s recipe and eat it fresh, or store it in the refrigerator or freezer instead.

Q: My family loves salsa.  We go through pint jars very quickly.  How long do I process quart jars?
A: Sorry: There are no approved recipes for canning quarts of salsa.  And no, you cannot just double the processing time of a pint jar.

Q: My family likes a thicker salsa.  Can I thicken my Extension recipe with cornstarch or flour before canning it?
A: No.  If salsa is too thin you can add tomato paste to thicken, even before canning.  But don’t thicken it with cornstarch or flour before canning.  You can thicken with any of these ingredients when you prepare to serve the salsa.  Or, just drain liquid off of the salsa before serving.

For more information on home food preservation or food safety see the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning or visit the websites for Michigan Fresh! or the  National Center for Home Food Preservation.  Visit MSU Extension to contact an educator in your area.

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