Safely canning tomatoes
When your grandma canned tomatoes, she probably didn’t need to add anything else in the jar to keep the food safe. Tomatoes were more acidic then than they are now, which naturally killed any harmful bacteria. Today, many of the tomatoes we grow don’t have as high of acid. To be safe, it’s recommended that you add acid when processing tomatoes regardless of whether you use a hot water bath or pressure canning.
Kathy Riggs is a family and consumer sciences professor at Utah State University. She says pH levels can widely vary due to a range of factors. The precautions are needed to take away the guesswork.
"For example in the western states, we still have high acid tomatoes, but research has shown that even though it’s kind of been a delayed reaction, we do have the higher pH tomatoes in our state in the West also," says Riggs. "So what they do in the recommendations that come out from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, is that they try to protect people with the worst-case scenario. That’s where the guidelines come from."
Riggs says there are a couple of options for adding acid.
"The most popular addition is bottled lemon juice. Two tablespoons of bottle lemon juice per-quart, or one tablespoon per-pint. And then people can add either a teaspoon of sugar or salt to counter the tartness," says Riggs. "Citric acid can also be used, but that has such a tart taste. The lemon juice at least has some flavoring to it."
The canning recommendations also include your favorite recipes that include tomatoes such as spaghetti sauce, soup, and salsas. Also pay close attention to processing times, which are based on the type of liquid used to pack or fill the jar.
Learn more about proper tomato canning techniques and equipment
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