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Sep 5, 2011 06:59 PM

salsa canning

I need to gather info regarding canning salsa without cooking it first, only doing a warm water bath. 1st off i use mostly diced canned tomatoes but sometimes do add fresh tomatoes. Also i see a lot of recipes calling for lemon juice and or vinegar to help "protect" the salsa will lime juice work just as well? I really dont want to cook the salsa 1st will doing the bath only allow for a good seal and what do you think the minimum amount of bah time should be using 1 pint jars doing 7 jars at a time. Also which part of the recipe is most crucial to keep from spoiling tomatoes/peppers/onions/garlic/cilantro is the one that i should be putting the lime juice on rather than just adding the juice to the whole batch??? sorry for so many Q's thanks for any help.

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  1. (Bottled) lemon juice or vinegar are recommended because they are both standardized acidity vs. fresh lemon or lime juice which would vary in acidity. Only acidic foods are suitable for water bath canning, and tomatoes walk the line, so the recommendation of adding x amount of lemon juice or vinegar is to bump up the acidity to the point where water bath canning is safe. Too low acidity presents the risk of botulism, as the spores are not killed by boiling water processing.
    You should really follow a recipe. The Ball website is reliable:
    as is the USDA

    IME, most pint recipes call for processing in BOILING water for 10-15 minutes, but there are other specifics that you'll want to pay attention to to ensure a safe finished product.

    2 Replies
    1. re: splatgirl

      So bottled lime juice isn't recommended? Just lemon or vinegar or is lime juice ok?

      1. re: salsamaker

        Lime juice is fine, but you will need to test the pH. The recommendation is for foods processed in a boiling (not warm) water both is, if I remember correctly—Google is your friend—a pH of 4.1 to 5.1 (or lower, obviously). You can buy pH test strips in pharmacies and hardware stores, or you can make your own by boiling red cabbage in a little water and then soaking white coffee filters in the liquid.

    2. The phrase "warm water bath" is very scary. You really need to follow an approved recipe and pay attention to the amount and type of acid and the type and time of processing to be safe.

      I don't know if it's even possible to safely can a cold, uncooked salsa.

      1. Excellent tips re: pH. The point being what matters is not the acid used (or the ingredients, for that matter, spices being an exception) but rather the pH of the finished product.

        I am not familiar enough with bottled lime juice to know if it lists the acidity on the bottle like lemon and vinegar, but I would guess it probably does. If it's the same, it would be fine to substitute in a recipe calling for lemon or vinegar.

        What keeps the canned item from spoiling is the heating and vacuum/absence of air it generates, not the actual ingredients. Properly executed water bath canning does kill any bacteria that would cause spoilage, but acid is needed with this technique to address beasties that can't be killed at boiling water temperature, namely botulism spores. This is why any non-acid food needs to be processed using a pressure canner. As the name indicates, this pressurized environment raises the boiling point of water to a level that kills spores.

        There are salsa recipes that just want the mixture heated to boiling for a few minutes, but I have never seen one that wants a completely uncooked or cold mixture. Putting cold anything into jars for processing is usually ill advised. At the very least, the jars are likely to break from thermal shock. Fresh pack pickles are about the closest thing I can think of that goes in raw, and they always call for hot brine ladled over.

        IIRC, there is a technique on the USDA website where the processing temp is held at 180-190F for a longer period of time, but that is for PICKLES in a vinegar brine and thus much lower risk to begin with.

        18 Replies
        1. re: splatgirl

          1st off thanks for al your replies I really appreciate your help and Im finding it useful. My concern with cooking the salsa batch prior to doing the water bath is I dont want stewed tomatoes. Ive read that it isn't really the tomatoes that need the cooking in order to protect from spoiling but rather the other veggies, do you think if I cooked everything other than tomatoes before the water bath, would that still have enough heat inside the jar to get a seal? Also I use a blend of canned diced tomatoes and fresh blanched tomatoes prob 75% canned 25% fresh. Since most of my tomatoes have already been canned does this help in keeping my salsa safe?

          1. re: salsamaker

            The short answer is no. The hot water bath is not only about the seal. You could achieve that with a vacuum machine but that wouldn't make it safe.

            Cold uncooked non-acidic ingredients can be frozen or refrigerated for a short period of time, but not canned.

            You're really playing with fire here. You're likely to make someone very, very sick. I totally get that you don't like the cooked flavor. So don't can. Just make the stuff fresh and eat it. Or refrigerate. Canned stuff must be thoroughly cooked and if it's not acidic enough it must be pressure canned.

            You could Google old recipes for "cold-pack" or "raw-pack" tomatoes but they must be highly acidified and the introduction of other ingredients, like peppers and onions and the like, will mess up the acid levels and make this really iffy. This is really not a time to be improvising with whatever strikes your fancy.

            The problem here is you can't have it both ways: You don't want to add enough acid and you don't want to cook and/or pressure can. You'll have to do at least one of these things, if not both. This is why there is no "uncooked" salsa on the regular grocery shelves -- only in the refrigerated section.

            1. re: acgold7

              Yes I know it is a fine dangerous line, im just trying to learn any ways around cooking the tomatoes if possible. I think cooking the other veggies wouldnt alter the salsa much, but the tomatoes will turn into stew/sauce. So would you think doing a hot water bath with cooked veggies but using fresh uncooked tomatoes and diced store bought canned tomatoes covered in lime juice, would be safe if i got a good seal??? Thanks

              1. re: salsamaker

                No. No, no, no. It has nothing to do with the seal. It has to do with everything reaching a safe temperature and acid level. Adding store bought canned tomatoes won't help anything if the raw tomatoes don't reach a safe temp and the lime juice doesn't acidify the whole mix enough. The store bought tomatoes are safe only until you open the can -- then they are just as susceptible as everything else you put in the jar.

                So, again, no.

                And as I said in my above post, no.

                1. re: salsamaker

                  It isn't like stewed tomatoes or sauce--I've made two kinds of salsa and canned them this summer and while they are not like a fresh raw salsa, they are really great and superior to any canned salsa I have ever had. Try a tested recipe, small batch if you like. That said, the cooking of the tomatoes before canning isn't what's necessary--you can raw pack tomatoes. You do have to boil them in the water bath at the end no matter what, tho.

                  1. re: loraxc

                    At least I think you can raw pack tomatoes, as you can raw pack peppers and other things in brine when pickled. But maybe you would have to actually pickle them.

              2. re: salsamaker

                In order to can properly, hot food goes into hot jars, and then is processed in boiling water. If the ingredients aren't acidic, it has to be processed under pressure to bring the temperature to 240ºF/115ºC, but it still has to be hot foot into hot jars.

                There is no way around this. I cannot emphasize that enough. I'm pretty shoot-from-the-hip when it comes to food temperatures (I love, for example, medium pork) but here's what will happen: you'll do it your way, and nothing will happen, and maybe next year you put up salsa and nothing happens, and then eventually your luck will run out and you will give people botulism.

                You cannot just amp up the acid and hope to get a good seal and everything will be OK. The seal has very little to do with it, because you're just sealing the bacteria in there.

                There's a reason the recommendations have been the same for more than half a century.

                I just put up two gallons of acidified fresh tomatoes. It took nearly an hour to cook down to sauce. Bringing it up to boiling for one minute and then processing hot in a boiling-water canner for fifteen minutes is not going to turn it to mush.

              3. re: splatgirl

                So if I get a good ph level reading am I in the clear as far as it being safe as long as it seals correctly????

                1. re: salsamaker

                  If you can get the whole mix down to below 4.5 or so, you could water bath can the mix if you boil the whole mix first. I think you could only safely "raw-pack" tomatoes if it's pure tomatoes with nothing else. And I think even then you have to process for a long time. Last time I did the raw pack method I ended up with a half jar of tomato pulp and a half jar of water.

                  1. re: acgold7

                    ok sorry Im a newbie at canning. I have been making salsa for a long time and everyone loves it and Im just trying get preserve it at its current state/taste. If the ph level is 4.5 or less why does it still need to be boiled before canning. Sorry if this sounds stupid to you like I said Im new to canning and dont understand why/how the ph level would change once it is properly canned.

                    1. re: salsamaker

                      Boiling is to kill current bacteria. Acid is to prevent new bacteria from growing. Pressure canning is required to kill organisms that are not killed by normal boiling (like the botulinum spore that causes botulism and which requires a temperature of 240F or more to become inactive). The seal is to prevent new organisms from entering the container after this process.

                      So they are all very different parts and all must be in place to assure that you don't kill your family.

                      Get the Ball Blue Book of Canning. It explains everything. Canning is tricky at first but once you understand the rules it is a breeze. Ball's website is helpful too.

                      Here's their "Getting Started Guide":


                      They suggest water-bath method for salsa but don't give a recipe. I'll find it and see how acid and/or boiling they recommend.

                      Here's one of their salsa recipes. It calls for half a cup of lime juice as well as boiling the salsa for five minutes:


                      I don't think there's any safe way around both cooking the mix and adding a lot of acid.

                      1. re: salsamaker

                        There is no way to preserve the "fresh" taste and texture of raw tomatoes by canning.

                        Cooking food before canning it is for texture purposes to release & evaporate some of the water that raw tomatoes contain. If you didn't cook them prior to canning, they would become cooked in the water bath process, release the water into your jar, and then your salsa would become watery.

                        I'm not even sure why you'd want to can salsa made out of mostly store bought canned tomatoes. Just open the can of tomatoes and make it when you need it and add the fresh if you have them.

                        Canning fruits and veggies is usually done to preserve exceptionally good tasting produce that you can only obtain during a short period at the peak of the season either from local farms or from your own garden.

                        Read the website for the National Center for Home Food Preservation:

                        They provide well tested recipes, including salsa recipes:

                        1. re: Jen76

                          if the proper ph level is reached prior to canning why would i need to cook the batch before doing the water bath. Once the batch is sealed in the jars how can the ph level change. It seems like reaching a safe ph evel is the only real key to preventing spoilage. If ph level is good at a cold/warm temp it seems to me that it would still be after canning n a hot water bath, no??? Yes I do have a canning book and also looked around on the Ball site.

                          1. re: salsamaker

                            You need to re-read what acgold7 and I have written above. You should also read the link I provided which is *not* the Ball site.

                            "Boiling [cooking] is to kill current bacteria. Acid is to prevent new bacteria from growing."

                            "The seal is to prevent new organisms from entering the container after this process."

                            "Cooking food before canning it is for texture purposes to release & evaporate some of the water that raw tomatoes contain. If you didn't cook them prior to canning, they would become cooked in the water bath process, release the water into your jar, and then your salsa would become watery. "

                            1. re: Jen76

                              Yes, sorry, when I said boiling I meant cooking prior to canning because that's how the post I was responding to put it. Jen got it right.

                              Salsamaker, you need to follow Jen's advice if you won't follow mine. I completely sympathize with what you're trying to achieve but you just can't argue with the nasty bugs. Splatgirl and I both happened to link to the same recipe and you'll note it specifies you need to cook the salsa, bring up the acid level with a lot of lime juice and then still you have to process to make it pathogen-free.

                              And remember, all the acid does is make it possible for you to can using an open boiling water bath rather than a pressure canner, which would raise the food inside the jar to much higher temperatures for longer periods of time.

                              And Jen and I have both noted that even when you properly can raw tomatoes they don't stay that way for long. The pulp splits out completely from the water.

                            2. re: salsamaker

                              You have to cook the batch because if you put cold salsa into hot jars (jars must be processed in boiling water before anything comes in, in order to sterilise them) you will shatter the jars. And no, heating it up to 120 F or whatever won't do.

                              You seem determined to find a loophole here, and there isn't one. To recap:

                              1. You have to boil the stuff to make it hot enough to put in hot jars, and also to kill current bacteria.

                              2. You have to acidify the stuff to make it inhospitable to botulinum spores, OR you must pressure-can it—and I know very few people with pressure canners.

                              3. You must process acidified food in boiling water to kill anything introduced in the meantime.

                              1. re: salsamaker

                                Also, just because you've sealed off the jars doesn't mean the pH can't change. If you've ever made sauerkraut or fermented chiles for hot sauce, you know that simply placing food in salt water and leaving it to ferment causes lactic acid to form... which changes the pH.

                    2. This is about as close to a fresh pico de gallo type salsa as I've found.

                      IME, the tomatoes and state of ripeness has a lot to do with the texture you'll end up with with home canned salsa. I completely understand about not wanting stewed tomatoes.
                      Fresh tomatoes with a firmer and less ripe texture helps. Using so much pre-canned tomato is counterproductive for what you sound like you are trying to achieve. Remember, those have already been subjected to heat processing once and you're going to do it again. That isn't good for texture. All fresh tomatoes would be a place to start, but you need to heat EVERYTHING before it goes into the jars. Try a small batch of the above recipe using half red ripe tomatoes and half not quite so ripe. It will be watery no matter what, but you can drain the liquid after you open the can if you don't like that.

                      1. It seems to me that, especially if you're new to canning, it may not be wise to jump right in trying to "adapt" a fresh recipe and "make it work," you know? It might be okay, it might just make someone a little queasy, and it could possibly end up worse.

                        Perhaps freezing your fresh salsa is the way to go?

                        Or maybe giving a recipe that's approved for canning a try?