Preserving safe salsa

Capture the taste of summer in homemade salsa.

Salsa is one of the most popular foods used in the United States, and is a great way to preserve the summer flavor of homegrown tomatoes. Salsa Recipes for Canning and North Carolina State Cooperative Extension, Celebrate with Safe Salsa suggests the following when preserving salsa.

Choosing the right tomatoes is an important step in the salsa preservation process. The type of tomato can affect the quality of salsa. Paste tomatoes, such as Roma are firmer and produce a thicker salsa. Sliced tomatoes usually make a thinner, more watery salsa. Use only high quality tomatoes for preserving salsa, avoiding over-ripe or spoiled tomatoes for canning, as the quality will turn out poor. Do not use tomatoes from dead or frost-killed vines. This could yield a very poor salsa and may spoil.

Because of its popularity and versatility, many home food preservers experiment with preserving their own salsa. If you do not use a research based salsa recipe and processing recommendations, the salsa could be unsafe to eat. There are some important guidelines to follow when preserving salsas. The majority of salsa recipes combine onions, peppers and tomatoes, with either vinegar or lemon juice (acetic acid). The amount of acetic acid is very important to the safety of home preserved salsa. It is important to use tested recipes when canning foods at home as food scientists have evaluated and tested these recipes to ensure the acetic acid, in combination with the other ingredients are safe. The processing times are also tested to ensure that any harmful microorganisms are destroyed.

Michigan State University Extension recommends using only bottled lemon juice or at least a five percent solution of vinegar. It is not recommended to use fresh squeezed lemon juice or homemade vinegar because of the inconsistencies of the acid levels. Lemon juice has the least effect on the overall flavor of the product. Equal amounts of bottled lemon juice can be substituted for vinegar in recipes that requires vinegar. However, vinegar should not be used when a recipe calls for lemon juice. If a salsa recipe does not call for bottled vinegar or lemon juice, it should be eaten immediately or stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.

The only modifications that can be made to a salsa recipe without the risk of it being unsafe are the amounts of spices used. Cilantro and cumin are often used in spicy salsas. You may leave them out if you prefer a milder salsa. For a stronger cilantro flavor, add fresh cilantro just before serving the salsa.

It is recommended to store home-canned salsa in a clean, dry, dark area between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Date and label the jars and store up to 12 to 18 months.

For more information on preserving foods at home, contact your local MSU Extension office.

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