Why do canning recipes call for bottled lemon juice instead of fresh? This is one of the frequently asked questions for new home canners. Isn’t fresh lemon juice, well, fresher, and isn’t that part of the reason we’re canning, to preserve the best, most natural, most fresh food possible to provide for our families?
The USDA recommends bottled lemon juice because of the consistency of the pH in the standardized production process. Fresh lemons may vary in pH. This is particularly important when canning low acid vegetables such as tomatoes, but not as important when canning fruits. This is why if you look in the Ball Blue Book at a stewed tomato recipe, it calls for bottled lemon juice specifically, but if you look at strawberry jam, it simply calls for lemon juice. Sometimes a recipe you find posted on the web or a hand-scrawled recipe given to you by a friend may not be as specific, so it’s important to know the difference. In a jam recipe, the lemon juice is there to help with the set while in a low acid vegetable or tomato recipe (or a recipe with a mix of ingredients that includes low acid items), the lemon juice is there to lower the pH. So go ahead, use the fresh-squeezed lemon in your fruits, but don’t forget to have the bottle on-hand for other recipes where it’s required. (You can also use 1/4 teaspoon citric acid in place of every 1 tablespoon bottled lemon juice called for in a recipe, if you prefer.)
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