How to safely can peppers to enjoy year-round

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Hopefully, by the end of summer, you’re overwhelmed with a bounty of fresh peppers from your garden — it’s a good problem to have!

Luckily, there are effective ways to make these peppers last year-round. Canning, a method with over 200 years of history, is popular for preserving peppers and their flavors.

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Different methods of canning peppers

First, let’s go over the different methods of canning peppers. Each has its own procedures and safety implications.

Water bath canning for peppers

It’s crucial to know the various methods available when it comes to canning peppers to enjoy throughout the year. Each method has its own procedures and safety considerations. One of the simplest and most cost-effective ways is water bath canning. For this method, you’ll need essential equipment:

  • A large stockpot that can fit your jars and fully submerge them in water.
  • A rack to keep the jars elevated above the pot’s bottom.
  • A jar lifter to easily handle hot jars.
  • A canning funnel to minimize spills during filling.
  • A bubble freer tool to remove air bubbles.
  • Jars with new lids.
  • You can buy kits that contain all of the necessary equipment (other than the jars and lids themselves).

Water bath canning is suitable only for high-acid foods to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria like botulism. Usually, an acidifier like vinegar is used, though some recipes may call for citric acid or citrus juice. Pickled peppers and pepper jellies are examples of recipes that can be water bath canned.

Safety is paramount in water bath canning. It’s crucial to follow tested recipes from reputable sources. A precise balance between fresh ingredients and acidity is vital, and adherence to exact processing times is essential. By ensuring these factors, you guarantee the safety and flavor of your canned peppers for future enjoyment.

Steam canning for peppers

Steam canning is quite similar to water bath canning. It employs a specialized steam pot where your jars are positioned on a rack above the water. The jars are processed using hot steam instead of being submerged in boiling water.

Like water bath canning, steam canning is safe only for recipes with high acidity, with a pH of 4.6 or lower. Sticking to tested recipes is crucial to ensure their safety. Recipes like pickled peppers, pepper jellies, and those containing vinegar or citrus components are appropriate for this method.

Steam canning works well for jars of various sizes, including ¼-pint, ½-pint, pint, or quart jars (Lambert, 2022).

Oven canning for peppers

Oven canning was once a popular method in the early 20th century, and some still practice it. However, it’s crucial to emphasize that oven canning should never be used for peppers or other ingredients due to safety concerns.

While it was favored for its simplicity and absence of steam-related burns found in other methods (USDA National Agricultural Library, n.d.), it falls short in eradicating Clostridium botulinum spores, regardless of the acidity of the foods. This results in a significant risk of botulism (Safe home canning basics, 2021).

Aside from the botulism risk, there’s also the danger of jars exploding due to the dry oven heat, which can cause cuts and burns (Safe home canning basics, 2021).

Pressure canning peppers

Pressure canning might seem intimidating, but it heats the contents of your jars to high enough temperatures to eliminate bacteria and spores. This means you can safely preserve lower-acid foods without relying on vinegar. However, remember that a dedicated pressure canner is a must; using an Instant Pot or non-canning pressure cooker is not safe.

When it comes to safe pressure canning, there are specific requirements to consider, including a list of ingredients that you should avoid pressure canning. As long as you follow the recommended guidelines, you don’t necessarily have to stick to tested recipes. This gives you a lot more flexibility to adapt recipes to the contents of your garden and your personal taste preferences.

Per the United States Department of Agriculture (2015), 

“All low-acid foods canned according to the approved recommendations may be eaten without boiling them when you are sure of all the following: 

  • Food was processed in a pressure canner. 
  • Gauge of the pressure canner was accurate. 
  • Up-to-date researched process times and pressures were used for the size of jar, style of pack, and kind of food being canned. 
  • The process time and pressure recommended for sterilizing the food at your altitude was followed. 
  • Jar lid is firmly sealed and concave. 
  • Nothing has leaked from jar. 
  • No liquid spurts out when jar is opened. 
  • No unnatural or “off” odors can be detected.

Per the USDA, follow these guidelines for pressure canning peppers with a dial-gauge pressure canner

Style of packJar sizeProcess timePSI for 0-2,000 ft altitudePSI for 2,001-4,000 ft altitudePSI for 4,001-6,000 ft altitude6,001-8,000 ft altitude
HotHalf-pints or pints35 minutes11lb12lb13lb15lb
(United States Department of Agriculture, 2015)

Per the USDA, follow these guidelines for pressure canning peppers with a weighted-gauge pressure canner

Style of packJar sizeProcess timePSI for 0-1,000 ft altitudePSI for above 1,000 ft altitude
HotHalf-pints or pints35 minutes10lb15lb
(United States Department of Agriculture, 2015)

How long are canned peppers good for?

It’s generally recommended to consume canned peppers, like other home-canned products, within 1 to 2 years. Note that high-acid foods may have a shorter shelf life than low-acid ones (Storing Canned Goods, 2021). 

Make sure cans are properly sealed and free of rust on the lids. Any cans with faulty seals should be discarded. If there’s any doubt about spoilage, it’s safest to throw it away, especially if there’s a bad smell. While peppers may develop a softer texture and darken due to natural oxidation and chemical changes, these changes are not concerning as long as the cans are sealed, within their expiration date, and don’t emit a foul odor. This means they should still be safe to use (Storing Canned Goods, 2021).

My favorite resources for canning peppers

When seeking reliable resources for canning peppers, exercise caution with blogs lacking proper citations. Tracing information back to credible sources such as universities, scientific research, or authoritative bodies like the USDA is essential. Notably, Ball, a leading manufacturer of mason jars, has invested considerable effort in developing thoroughly researched and tested canning recipes, making their guidance trustworthy.

For a comprehensive guide to home canning, the USDA offers a free 7-part resource encompassing all essential safety information and several usable recipes, including ones for canning peppers. You can access this guide at the following link: USDA Home Canning Guide.

Additionally, your local university’s agricultural extension could be a valuable resource. They might provide no-cost or affordable local canning materials and classes. For instance, the University of Illinois, my local institution, offers a $5 per person salsa canning class. Some university extensions, such as the University of California system, offer master food preserver certifications and volunteer programs that allow you to learn safe canning practices and contribute by teaching others.

How to preserve peppers WITHOUT canning

If canning seems too intimidating, don’t worry – following the canning guidelines ensures safety. But if you’d rather not go that route, there are other safe ways to preserve homegrown chili peppers, including drying, freezing, and fermenting.

Canning offers a reliable solution for preserving your peppers for year-round enjoyment. Remember that safe canning is essential, so stick to established guidelines and trusted sources to ensure both the quality of your peppers and the safety of those who eat them. 

References

Lambert, A. (2022, June 30). Steam canning. https://extension.sdstate.edu/steam-canning

Storing canned goods. Utah State University. (2021, November 5). https://extension.usu.edu/preserve-the-harvest/research/storing-canned-goods

United States Department of Agriculture. (2015). Complete Guide to Home Canning. https://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/usda/INTRO_HomeCanrev0715.pdf

University of Missouri Extension. (2021). Safe home canning basics. https://mospace.umsystem.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10355/85109/GH1451.pdf?sequence=1

USDA National Agricultural Library. (n.d.). How did we can? https://www.nal.usda.gov/exhibits/ipd/canning/exhibits/show/techniques/processing/oven

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