Summer and salt go hand in hand.
But we’re not talking beaches, we’re talking canning.
Summer is kicking off here in Australia and many of us across the country are braving hot kitchens to preserve all sorts of yummy foods for Christmas gifts, as well as for the year ahead. And in virtually every recipe you find, you will find SALT.
Specifically, ‘Canning salt’. Or you might find it listed as ‘ Preserving Salt’, ‘Bottling Salt’ or ‘Pickling Salt’. All of these are just names for the same thing. Pure salt, nothing added, fine ground. Simple enough, right.
Well, not if you’re in Australia. It’s not just hanging out on the shelf in Woolies here. Sure, you could order it for a small fortune online. But do you really need to?
Canning salt is just pure salt in fine granules. Nothing added. The salt you find in the supermarket is table salt. In Australia that means salt with an anti-caking agent added. Basically, the anti-caking agent just makes the salt easy to pour. Without it, the moisture in the air causes the salt to clump which makes it harder to use.
Table salt comes iodised or non-iodised. Non-iodised table salt is just salt and anti-caking agent. Iodised salt is salt, anti-caking agent and added iodine. Iodine is added to salt for health reasons. Iodine is a micronutrient that we all need but it’s not always present in our diet. Low iodine can lead to problems such as goiter, or enlarged thyroid gland, so health authorities have recommended it be added to salt as a public health service. In fact, in Australia, bakers are required by law to add iodine to their bread for just this reason. But we can choose to buy salt without iodine.
Why does it matter? If you are pickling food the anti-caking agent may make the liquid look cloudy or it might settle into the bottom of the jar. The iodine can cause some pretty funky colour changes to the food. Pink cauliflower anyone?
But guess what?! It doesn’t actually make any difference to the safety of the food. It might not look as pretty but it will taste the same and be just as safe to eat. Handy, right.
Canning salt is pretty difficult to find in Australia. If you ask around on American canning sites and groups, the usual advice is to use Kosher salt instead. But, you guessed it, that’s not really a thing here either. Sure, you can order it online or perhaps get it from a specialty store, but you’ll be paying specialty prices for it. So it’s probably not going to be the first choice for most Aussie canners.
Another option widely recommended is to use pure sea salt. A couple of issues you may run into with this one. Firstly, pure sea salt usually comes in flakes or sometimes in large chunks. This makes it a little more difficult to measure. The flakes stack on each other so more fits into a cup than it would if you were using granulated salt. Solution? Measure by weight and not by volume 😉 If you’re buying your salt in chunks (i.e rock salt), then grind it in a coffee grinder before using. Large granules take a lot longer to dissolve which will upset your cooking times. The other issue with sea salt is that it may have trace minerals that will cause colour changes in your food. Again, not a health issue.
What do I do? I just use non-iodised table salt. I’m cool with a little murkiness in my brine, but weirdly coloured vegetables…not so much.
This came as a shock to me when I was researching, but for most of the food we are canning at home, we don’t need to add salt anyway! It’s in there for flavour, not for its preservation qualities. For bottling condiments, pressure canning vegetables, etc. we aren’t adding anywhere near the volume required to preserve food. So if you don’t want to use it, go ahead and leave it out. Or cut the amount used if you are on a low-salt diet or just don’t like the taste of salt. Who knew?
For pickles, it depends on how we are making them. A fermented pickle? Yes, you need to use salt in the amount the recipe calls for. A quick pickle? The salt and sugar here are used for flavour. It’s the vinegar that is doing the preserving. So keep the vinegar at the volume listed in the recipe. You will know it’s a safe volume if there is more vinegar than any other liquid used (it’s also cool if vinegar is the only liquid used).
Now salt really comes into its own when brining or fermenting food. In this case, the salt is most definitely in there to prevent spoilage and to stop the growth of nasty bugs in our food. So if you’re planning sauerkraut or pickles in brine, do NOT touch those salt ratios.
And there you have it. Everything you need to know about salt and home canning 🙂
But if you want to fact check or research further yourself, here is where to start:
Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake; Henney JE, Taylor CL, Boon CS, eds., ‘Preservation and Physical Property Roles of Sodium in Foods’, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK50952/
Oregon State University Extension Service, ‘Food Safety & Preservation: Low Salt Pickles’, http://extension.oregonstate.edu/fch/sites/default/files/documents/sp_50_533_lowsaltpickles.pdf
National Center for Home Food Preservation. Preparing and Canning Fermented and Pickled Foods. http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/prep_foods.html
Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, ‘Types of Salt and Salt Substitutes in Canning’, http://extension.psu.edu/food/preservation/news/2012/types-of-salt-and-salt-substitutes-in-canning