Salsa Secrets: The Best Way to Preserve Your Favorite Recipe

Canning homemade SalsaI love salsa. There is something about it that really flips my tastebuds into high gear. Growing up in the northeast in the early seventies, I didn’t get to experience salsa and corn chips until late in 1981. Yes, I remember the exact year I first tasted the corn crisp goodness dipped in the sweet and spicy red sauce. Sure, we had tacos and taco sauce, but nothing like this chunky nectar. My brother joined the Air Force earlier in the year and was stationed in Texas. On his first trip home he brought a couple bags of Tostitos® and a few little round tins with yellow labels and white plastic lids that said “picante sauce”. We plowed through that stuff in the first two days he was home and sent him back with orders to send more when he got there. Such exotic delicacies were not available at the Super-Duper in town.

In the time between that fateful day and the day when our little town finally did become a part of America and get salsa my mother tried her hand at canning salsa at home. She tried. None of her recipes ever quite matched the flavors that spilled from that little yellow can.

Flash forward thirty+ years there is no lack of salsa. There must be fifteen different brands on the shelves in the salsa section, five more in the Hispanic food section and three in the refrigerated deli section and four with the chips. Salsa is one of the most popular dips and condiments in the country.

A few years back, my wife and I were out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. They brought us chips and salsa in one of those awesome stone bowls as we took out seat. There was something about that salsa. It was so fresh tasting. We gobbled down the first batch and had them bring two more. As we sat and ate chips and waited for our main courses, which we were too full to eat by the time they brought it out to us, we discussed the salsa and the ingredients we could taste.

Over the next few months I set to work perfecting my own recipe for salsa that had the same fresh taste, the authentic consistency, and the snappy bite that rivaled the salsa we had in that little restaurant. With each iteration I would present it to my wife and wait for the verdict. She would let me know what she thought needed to be added or what I had too much of. I headed back into the kitchen to try again until I finally came up with a recipe that we both agree is just as good as the salsa you would get in a ristorante. Not bad for a chubby Irish guy from central Pennsylvania.

What is the best canning method for salsa?

Now that I have my perfect recipe, how do I preserve it so that I can enjoy it year round just by opening a jar? For me the answer is simple. I don’t. Now, I know a lot of you are saying you went through all that time and trouble to make a great salsa, why wouldn’t you try to can it? The answer is safety. My salsa has never been tested for canning.

The problem comes with the acidity of the recipe. A high-acid recipe is safe to be canned with a conventional water bath. Heat the salsa, pour into sanitized jars, lid them up and process them in a water bath for twenty minutes or so. Simple. If I am wrong on the acid, though, I could be messing with my life and the life of my family by giving them salsa tainted with the botulism bacteria because I thought I could can my salsa.

If you want to be safe, Salsa should be canned using the pressure method. The downside here is the higher temperatures required which could change the flavors significantly.

Does Canning Salsa change the flavor?

How to can salsa at home

Cooked salsa will never taste as fresh as fresh salsa. Never. I have not come across a recipe that really kicks out the flavor of fresh salsa. The problem here is that even if you do not have to boil the salsa before placing it into jars, you still have to process it in the water bath at 212º Fahrenheit for at least 20 minutes and that will cook it a little bit. The other issue is the acidity. If you are wanting to use the water bath method of canning, you need to have a high pH level. That may mean altering your salsa to adjust the acid level. If you don’t then you will be using the pressure canning method which means cooking at an even higher temp for a longer period of time. Bottom line, if you are trying to can a fresh salsa, chances are, it will not come out the other side tasting like the salsa you were hoping for. If you are looking to preserve your salsa without cooking, You may want to try freezing it instead.

So I can never can Salsa using a water bath?

I didn’t say that. You can can salsa using the water bath method, but you will want to use a salsa recipe that has been tested and proven to be safe for water bath canning. When you mix a high acid food like tomatoes with a low-acid food like peppers, the result is low-acid. You need to increase the amount of vinegar, lemon, or lime juice to make it safe. How much? Without a pH tester or litmus strips, it’s hard to tell. Even with these items, you are dealing with solids and liquids, so while the liquid may be at the right acidity level, the solids may not and could potentially harbor the bad bacteria.

Canning Salsa without processing

This refers to the inversion method of canning. Inversion canning is filling jars with hot food and turning the jars upside down for a few minutes before turning them right side up again to cool. The thought is that the hot liquid inside will be enough to kill off any bacteria that is still living inside the air space of your canning jars or on the lids themselves. The truth is, this doesn’t work. The jars may seal, but the seal will not be as strong as if you processed them in a hot water bath or pressure canner. This means the food will not last as long and without refrigeration, could still spoil or cause food-born illness. Combine the riskiness of this process with an untested salsa recipe and you are just asking for trouble.

Canned Salsa Recipe

If you must can salsa, here is a tested recipe that is safe to use for water bath canning. please be sure to read the precautions at the bottom before making any adjustments. This recipe is directly from the Ball Website. These folks know canning. They have been doing it for over 135 years

This recipe will make 4 pints (16oz. Jars) or 8 ½ pints (8oz Jars)

7 cups diced, seeded, peeled and cored tomatoes (about 5 lb or 15 medium)
6 green onions, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup vinegar
2 Tbsp lime juice (Bottled)
4 drops hot pepper sauce
2 Tbsp minced cilantro
2 tsp salt

Directions

1. Prepare water bath canner. Heat jars in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil yet. Wash lids in warm soapy water, rinse and place in simmering water bath in smaller saucepan. Set bands aside.
2. Combine all cleaned and prepared ingredients in a large saucepan.
3. Heat salsa to a boil. Stir occasionally to keep food from burning to the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes.
4. Using a large spoon and canning funnel, transfer the hot salsa into sterilized jars leaving ½ inch head space. Remove air bubbles. Wipe the rim to remove any spilled food from filling the jars. Center hot lid on jar using a lid puller. Apply band and hand tighten.
5. Bring water in canner to a rolling boil. Lower filled jars into a boiling water canner. Make sure the boiling water covers the lids by at least one inch. Cover and process for 15 minutes. Adjust processing time for altitude. Remove jars and place on a tea towel at least an inch apart to cool. Check the lids for a seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.

Canning SalsaImportant precautions for any tested salsa recipe

  • Do not change the recipe.
  • do not change the amount of peppers you can change the variety
  • spices are the only adjustments that should be made prior to canning
  • Untested recipes should be frozen rather than canning
  • Use bottled lemon and lime juice
  • Always use gloves for handling and cutting hot peppers

How long before canned salsa goes bad?

Properly canned salsa at home will last for 12 to 18 months. As long as the seal is in tact and the jar is in good condition there shouldn’t be a problem with eating it after that, but it may lose some of the quality.

My salsa is good. I want it tested.

If you still want to can your own salsa recipe and you want to be 100% certain, you can check out a food laboratory that offers this service. One such lab is RL Food Testing Laboratories https://rlfoodtestinglaboratory.com/ They will test your recipe for:

Staph. Aureus
Salmonella
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
Listeria
Mold

Expect the testing results to come back to you in approximately 10 days. You can also expect to shell out about $250 to have the testing done.

Canning Mango salsa

Mango salsa is gaining in popularity. The sweet and spicy mixture is a perfect compliment to fish tacos, regular tacos or any Mexican dish. It is certainly right at home being dipped into alongside regular salsa, guacamole and black bean dip. The nice thing about mango salsa is that the sugar and acid content make it a contender for water bath canning.

Canning Corn Salsa

Corn salsa s delicious especially when the corn is fresh off of the cob. Nothing beats the crunch of the fresh kernels and the other garden sidekicks that give this salsa it’s delicious flavor. Corn salsa, however, should not be canned using a water bath. Most recipes I have seen call for added sugar. The added sugar helps offset the alkaline in the salsa so it can be processed in a water bath canner, but the flavor leaves much to be desired. If you are going to preserve a fresh corn or black bean salsa you will probably want to freeze it as opposed to canning it in Jars.

Canning salsa using canned tomatoes

My recipe I talked about earlier, the one I made for my wife, uses canned tomatoes. I know, blasphemy. But it tastes so good. This salsa has the same problem as the other fresh made salsas. You cannot accurately know the pH level of your recipe unless you have it tested. Therefore, if you are going to use canned tomatoes to make canned salsa, you need to either get your recipe tested, or use a recipe that is already tested.

My super easy Ristorante style Salsa

1 Can (16oz) diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 small onion quartered
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbs white vinegar
1Tbs Lime juice
¼ tsp cumin
¼ tsp minced garlic

Directions

Place all ingredients into your food processor and pulse until the desired consistency. I usually do mine for 20 – 30 seconds. This gives it a thinner consistency that you find in most authentic Mexican restaurants.

To store long term, (if you have any left over) place in plastic containers with enough room for expansion and freeze. Will last for up to 6 months without loss of flavor.

If you have any questions about canning salsa that I didn’t cover here, please drop me a line in the comments section below.

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