COLUMBIA, MO. – No matter how you slice it, it’s hard to use all of the tomatoes that are ripening now.  One of the most flavorful ways is canning salsa, but home canners should use tested recipes and methods, says University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist Vera Massey.

Many home gardeners may be tempted to experiment with their own recipes or modify tested recipes, but Massey warns against this. Modifications may lead to botulism poisoning, so she urges canners to follow the directions and recipes precisely.


Most salsa recipes are a mixture of low-acid foods such as onions and peppers and more acidic foods such as tomatoes. Adding acid, in the form of vinegar that is at least 5 percent acidity or bottled lemon juice, is a necessary addition to ensure safety.

Acid ingredients help preserve canned salsas. Massey said it is critical not to reduce the amount of recommended vinegar or lemon juice. Also, vinegar also cannot be substituted for lemon juice.


Tomato quality also affects safety. Overripe tomatoes or ones from dead or frost-killed vines should not be used, Massey said.

She recommends fleshy tomatoes such as Romas, because they will produce thicker salsa than slicing tomatoes, which produce a watery salsa.

When recipes call for peeled tomatoes, slice a small “X” slit in the tomato bottom, immerse in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds or until the skin splits. Dip immediately in cold water, slip the skins off and remove the cores.


The “heat” factor in salsa comes from the choice of peppers. You may substitute one type of pepper for another, but do not change the total amount of peppers called for in any recipe. Any substitution may change the acidity and result in an unsafe product, Massey said.


Some recipes call for fruit. Do not use overripe or spoiling fruit. If a recipe calls for green or unripe mango, do not use ripe mango, as this may change the acidity also. Also take care in handling green mangoes as they irritate the skin of some people in the same way as poison ivy.

Spices and Herbs

Massey said the amounts of spices and herbs are the only things that can be modified. For a stronger cilantro flavor, she recommends adding fresh cilantro just before serving as the intensity of herbs and spices deteriorates during the canning process and storage.

Other recommendations

Do not be tempted to thicken salsas with starches before canning.

Do not attempt to thicken salsa by adding more vegetables or tomatoes than the recipe states.

Immediately refrigerate opened jars of salsa, or any jars that did not seal properly.

Canned salsas should be of good quality for 12-18 months.

If you want to mix your own combination of ingredients, freezing is a safer option than canning.

One of Massey’s favorite new recipes for gift giving is Peach Apple Salsa from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension website at

For more information on food preservation and safety, contact your local MU Extension office.


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