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Canning is an old art that was once a way of life for many. Until recent years, it became a more recreational activity. There’s been a resurgence in canning and other forms of food preservation, as people have become more concerned about food shortages. Other aspects of the economy that make people’s futures more uncertain has also led to more people taking up canning.
While there were many methods used to preserve the fruits or vegetables being canned, modern technology has allowed for easier, albeit more chemically processed, methods. One of those easier ways comes in the form of Pickle Crisp, a product used in the pickling process.
Pickle Crisp is a product that is made from pure calcium chloride that is packed into a small jar for more convenient use. Adding a small amount of this product into the brine at any point in the pickling process ensures that the pickles stay crisp and firm after the jars seal.
It may sound simple enough to pick up a jar of Pickle Crisp at the store and start canning. But it is important to understand how the chemicals work and how the structure of the pickle changes when using any firming agent in the canning process.
Pro Tip: Before I get into all of the ins and outs of Pickle Crisp, I want to make one thing clear: starting with good quality produce is the first step in ensuring crisp pickles. Read my article, The Best Cucumbers for Pickling to learn more.
What are Pickle Crisp Granules?
Pickle crisp granules are a type of food additive that helps to create a crisp texture in pickled foods. The granules are typically made from calcium chloride, which is a salt that is commonly used in food preservation.
When added to pickling solutions, the calcium chloride helps to draw out moisture from the cucumbers, resulting in a crunchier pickle. In addition to providing a crisp texture, pickle crisp granules also help to enhance the flavor of the cucumbers by drawing out their natural sweetness.
As a result, pickle lovers often find that foods that are preserved with pickle crisp granules are more flavorful and satisfying than those that are not.
Pickle Crisp History
Pickle Crisp was originally produced by Ball Canning in 2004, but production stopped in 2007 due to low sales. However, it hit the stores again in 2013 and sales have been going through the roof since then.
Several other brands contain the same ingredient (pure calcium chloride), but Ball Canning is the original producer. Competitors of Pickle Crisp include Earthborn Elements Calcium Chloride and Mrs. Wages Pickle Mix.
How Pickle Crisp Works
Pickle Crisp works by interacting with the outer shell of the fruit or vegetable and helping firm it up. It has a salty taste that is overwhelming and taste like ocean water if overused. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has deemed calcium chloride as “generally recognized as safe,” or, GRAS.
Of course, it is important to make sure you use food-grade calcium chloride rather than a bag sold at your local garden center. Other forms of calcium chloride made for things such as melting ice, are not meant for human consumption.
Where to Buy Pickle Crisp
Interestingly enough, you can buy Pickle Crisp at both grocery and hardware stores. You can also buy it at your local Walmart, or online from Amazon. (Here’s a link to Pickle Crisp on Amazon, and here’s a link to Mrs. Wages Pickle Mix.)
It is a decently priced product that lasts a long time because not much is needed per jar that is canned, but if you live in New Zealand, you are out of luck, as Pickle Crisp sells for at least $40.00 for a small jar.
Pickle Crisp Uses
Pickle Crisp is not a product solely for pickles. Any home-canned vegetable benefits when you add it to maintain firmness and freshness.
A few different foods that homemakers recommend using Pickle Crisp with include apples, peaches, pears, as well as whole tomatoes. Experts have backed this up by stating that water that has a high amount of calcium in it is the key to a firm canned good. (Source)
Non-Canning Uses of Pickle Crisp
Calcium chloride is not only used in the food industry as a firming agent but also as an electrolyte in sports drinks. It’s also used as a salt replacement in low-sodium foods. It is also used in the production of both beer and cheese. In beer, it helps correct any mineral deficiencies as well as helps the brew stay hard. It is used in cheese production to help with rennet coagulation, as calcium chloride works as a glue in holding together protein structures.
Non-Food Uses of Pickle Crisp
Other uses for this chemical include using it as a water hardening agent, in medicine, and in road work. It is often used in below-ground pools as the calcium leeches into the concrete and help prevent erosion. Its medicinal abilities include lowering blood pressure and soothing acid burns.
It is also used in the production of medication because of its anti-moisture characteristic. Because of its ability to function well in low temperatures, it is more useful in melting ice on roadways than regular salt and also is used to help settle the dust on the road. (Source)
Now that you know the content of that little green Pickle Crisp jar, you can start safely using it in your canning and pickling adventures. To reiterate, you must make sure you buy food-grade calcium chloride, preferably from the Pickle Crisp or Mrs. Wages brands because you can’t confuse that with a big bag that is used for de-icing the road.
Pickle Crisp Alternatives
Although adding different chemicals to your pickles has been shown to be an effective way of keeping them crispy, some home cooks don’t like having anything unnatural in their food. Fortunately, there are several other effective additive-free ways to keep pickles firm.
Obviously, using the correct pickling cucumbers plays a huge part in whether the pickle ends up being crispy.
Ice Baths, Grape Leaves, and Black Tea for Crisp Pickles
Assuming you use all the proper ingredients, soaking the cukes in an ice bath for four to five hours helps keep them firm and crisp even after you can them. Homemakers also swear by grape leaves and black tea, to keep cucumbers crispy.
Grape leaves and black tea don’t turn pickles crispy. Instead, they help keep the cucumbers firm. This is why it is important to start with good cucumbers. To use these alternatives, put a couple of grape leaves or add a couple of teaspoons of loose black tea in each jar.
Pro tip: A less messy alternative to loose black tea is putting a tea bag with black tea at the bottom of the jar.
Pickling Lime for Crisp Pickles
One of the most widely used forming agents was pickling lime, which is pure calcium hydroxide. After mixing with water it was then used to soak the cucumbers in for 12-24 hours.
After that, it was crucial to completely rinse the cucumbers and ensure that there was no lime left on them. Ingestion of lime could lead to botulism, a nerve toxin that can lead to paralysis and even death. Because of the health risks, homemakers have turned to safer options. Pickling lime is no longer a common household item.
Another commonly used ingredient before Pickle Crisp rolled around was alum, or potassium aluminum sulfate. Although safe to use with fermented pickles, it is not ideal because of the bitter taste and potential digestive issues that can come from using it.
Here are Some of My Favorite Pickling Books
Check out the following pickling and fermenting books on Amazon.
- DIY Pickling: Step-By-Step Recipes for Fermented, Fresh, and Quick Pickles
- The Complete Guide to Pickling: Pickle and Ferment Everything Your Garden or Market Has to Offer
- The Complete Book of Pickling: 250 Recipes for Pickling, Fermentation and More
- Asian Pickles at Home: 75 Easy Recipes for Quick, Fermented, and Canned Pickles