Safe Preserving: Safe Modifications to Canning Recipes

I have been getting a lot of questions around the idea of ‘adapting’ recipes for canning. What changes can be made to tested recipes? Can untested recipes be modified and made safe for home canning?

These are very common questions. We want to preserve the memories of time spent with family or the taste of favorite recipes, while protecting family and friends from foodborne illness. The Golden Rule of home canning is to always follow an up-to-date, research tested recipe.  Any modifications or changes mentioned in this post assume that you are working with a recipe that is based on research and is up to date.

Image courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse.

Image courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse.

Changes that can be safely made

  • Canning vegetables, tomato products, meat or quick-process pickles: the salt may be reduced or eliminated without compromising safety. The quality of these products may suffer, or they may spoil more quickly, but they should not be unsafe. When making sauerkraut or genuine (crock) dill pickles, the exact proportion and type of salt are critical for safety – the salt in these recipes should not be altered.
  • Canning fruits, tomato products, or quick-process pickles: the sugar may be reduced or eliminated without compromising safety. Again, the quality of these products may suffer, or they spoil  more quickly, but they should not be unsafe.  Sugar substitutes such as Splenda may be used in some products. When making jams and jellies, be sure to follow a tested recipe and use pectin designed for low- or no-sugar products.
  • Canning salsa or pickles: these products are mixtures of low-acid ingredients like peppers and onions, and acidic ingredients like tomatoes or acids such as vinegar and lemon juice. When making these products, you may safely reduce the amount of low-acid ingredients, for example by eliminating some, or all, of the peppers in a salsa recipe.  The amount of acid, or acidic ingredients, should not be changed.
  • Canning salsa: you can freely substitute cup-for-cup hot peppers for sweet peppers and vice versa. Do not substitute corn or black beans for other ingredients in an approved salsa recipe, an unsafe product may result.
  • Canning vegetables or meat: you may add a small amount of low-acid ingredients to each jar, such as a clove of garlic, some dry herbs, or a small amount of onion.
  • Canning tomatoes: you may safely substitute yellow tomatoes for red tomatoes, always adding acid to ensure a safe product.

Changes that are not recommended

  •  Making pickles or salsa: do not change the proportion of vinegar  to other ingredients in the recipe. These proportions are critical for safety. If a product is too sour, you may add a small amount of sugar to offset the sour flavor.
  • Canning vegetables: do not attempt to can low-acid foods such as cabbage, summer squash, or wild mushrooms where there are no tested recipes.  Canning these without a tested recipe to follow puts your family at risk of botulism poisoning.
  • Making jam and jelly: do not substitute low-acid vegetables such as carrots or peppers for acidic fruits unless a tested recipe specifically allows for the substitution.

What is a person to do if no tested recipe exists or the recommended changes still aren’t what you want? If no tested recipe exists for safely canning a product, then you have two options:

  1. Prepare your family favorite recipe and store it in the refrigerator or freezer, not on the counter. A recipe that might be unsafe if stored on the counter may be safely stored in the refrigerator or freezer. The cold temperatures will prevent the botulinum toxin from forming.
  2. Consider other methods of food preservation. For example, wild mushrooms can not be safely canned at home, but they can be safely dried in a dehydrator with far superior results.

Safe preserving! Barb