Canning 101: Why Recipes Call for Bottled Lemon Juice

bottled lemon juice

If you’ve been paying careful attention to my recipes, you may have noticed that in most my jam recipes I’ll indicate lemon juice amounts in the number of lemons, whereas when it comes to recipes that involve tomatoes or other moderately acidic ingredients, I specify bottled lemon juice.

The reason for this is that bottled lemon (or lime) juice has been uniformly acidified so that it has a consistent and dependable acid level. When you’re canning things like tomatoes (or watermelon jelly) and you need to reliably get those foods into a safe pH zone, that consistency is important.

I don’t make this recommendation because I prefer the flavor of the bottled stuff or because I’m lazy (although, some days I do appreciate the ease of just opening a bottle). It’s what the USDA recommends for canning and since I do my best to adhere to their rules, I follow suit.

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32 Responses to Canning 101: Why Recipes Call for Bottled Lemon Juice

  1. 1
    Sofia says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I can now find a similar product (bottled lemon juice) here in Portugal and start canning! I love your blog, and have been reading for a while although I haven’t started with the actual canning… still trying to decide which pressure cooker/canner to go for, which thermometer… I’ve been checking your posts about equipment, but I feel I needed a list of essentials (I’m a bit of a freak about lists). Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and recipes!

  2. 2
    lynnann says:

    Does anyone have info on canning veggies that are currently frozen? As a few/handful of beans are ready, I’ve been picking and putting them in a bag in the freezer to store “until I have enough”. Now I’m wondering if I could defrost them and can them?? thanks and love and peace…lynnann

  3. 3
    Dawn F says:

    I just wanted to thank you. i made the watermelon jelly last weekend and its wonderful. What a great recipe.

  4. 4
    Malva says:

    I use lemon juice from a bottle almost all the time.

    I live nowhere near lemon tree so bottling juice right next to where the lemons are picked and shipping it is probably better for the environment than shipping bulky lemons while keeping them at a constant temperature.

  5. 5
    Marie says:

    Canning 101 question for you (I couldn’t find a way to contact you on this site, so I apologize that this question is unrelated to your post):

    Is there any reason why I can’t let jars sit for a few hours after filling them and putting the lid on, before the water bath or pressure canner? I got interrupted the other day in the middle of canning mango chutney… The jars were sterilized, filled with chutney, lids closed, then left for about three hours before I came back to put them into the water bath. All good? Or should I be terribly scared of botulism or other deathly chutney disease?
    :)

  6. 6
    Cat K. says:

    Is the lemon juice in the little yellow squeeze bottles just as safe as the stuff in the bigger bottles? I’m making Ashley English’s tomato sauce this weekend for my first-ever canning project. So excited!

  7. 7

    Thank you for your generous, important info.
    And also, big thanks for e-mailing me back about my vinegar to water ratio question, re:pickles.
    I re-did the whole lot, and now I will sleep better.

  8. 8
    Rebecca says:

    We made watermelon jam this weekend. It came out really sweet. Is there a way to make it that it is not so overly sweet the next time? We have another melon to use, but want to cut the sweetness a bit. Thank you!

    • 8.1
      Marisa says:

      Rebecca, if you switched to using a low sugar pectin like Pomona’s, you could cut the sugar. The reason the recipe calls for so much sugar is that it’s necessary for achieving a gelled set when you use conventional pectin.

  9. 9
    audra wolfe says:

    i’ve been stealing from this site for years, ha!

  10. 10
    Emily says:

    Also note that you can’t use vinegar in place of lemon juice. It’s not nearly so acidic.

  11. 11
    Kaytee says:

    How come you use fresh lemon juice in your jams? I thought that if a canning recipe called for lemon juice, it had to be bottled. Is it because the fruit in your jams are already slightly acidic?

  12. 12
    Marisa says:

    Kaytee, the lemon juice in my jams are typically there as a way to balance the sweetness of the jam, not for safety. The only times I use bottled lemon juice in jams is when I’m working with low acid fruits and need to make sure that there’s enough acid for safe canning. The most common low acid fruits that need acidification are white peaches, figs and watermelon.

  13. 13
    Kathleen says:

    Kudos for posting this.. again, thanks for maintaining and forwarding science-based information regarding canning.. so much misinformation out there. And way to go Emily, above, for reminding that substituting vinegar for lemon or other way around is not acceptable. Use what is called for in the Blue Book or So Easy to Preserve or (Colordo State University) Extension Fact Sheets,

  14. 14
    jyll says:

    I always wondered why the bottled juice. The uptight foodie in me cringed at the thought of Real Lemon tainting my beloved canning creations. Why not the actual fruit juice? And then your post. I gain a wealth of knowledge and some kick-butt recipes here and I thank you for that. I will go forth and purchase bottled citrus juice with abandon! Thanks again!

  15. 15
    Tarc says:

    Actually, Emily, you CAN substitute vinegar (or any of a number of other weak organic acids) when canning tomatoes, just not at the same volume. If you don’t like bottled lemon, you can use any of a variety of commercial vinegars (with known acidity, most being 5%), citric acid (sour salt) which has less lemony-ness but the same tang (and it’s available at many grocery stores), or malic acid from apples, or tartaric acid from grapes (the latter two can be found at any wine or beer making shop). The USDA guidelines for 5% vinegar and citric acid substitutions can be found here: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/how/can_03/tomato_intro.html . Just be aware that changing acids can affect the taste of the final product, which might be a good or a bad thing. Personally, I love the inexpensive Traders Joe’s balsamic with my red and green sauce tomatoes because it’s fruit and has the full 5% acid, but I go with real lemon (peel & juice) and some citric acid for my Lemon Boy/yellow Roma sauce.

    • 15.1
      Elisabeth says:

      Thank you! Thank You! My daughter gets asthma symptoms from consuming citrus fruits (pure citric acid seems to not be a problem, it’s probably made in a lab, but I might try malic acid just to be on the safe side) and I was just trying to figure out what to do for low acid fruits.

  16. 16

    [...] Marisa, canning guru who writes at Food In Jars, posted a great piece about the importance of using bottled lemon juice in canning. [...]

  17. 17

    Oh man. I just canned about 50 jars of various preserves, including fig, mango, blueberry, apple, raspberry, plum and peach. I did not use lemon juice in any of them, but processed them in a water bath for 15 minutes. Do I need to start over and add lemon juice? My heart is sinking at the thought, but I don’t want to poison anyone.

    • 17.1
      Marisa says:

      You definitely will need to add acid to the lower acid jams that you made. Those include fig, mango and possibly peach (if you used white peaches, they need to be acidified). Otherwise they will be unsafe.

  18. 18

    If I mixed the mango with peach (not white peach), does it have to be re-done?

  19. 19
    Marisa says:

    Class factotum, probably not. But I can’t say for sure.

  20. 20
    Lanse says:

    Can you interchange lemon and lime juice? In salsa I would much rather use lime than lemon. Also, I have some freeze dried lemon powder that makes full strength lemon juice when reconstituted. Would that work? It just has lemons in it, that’s all. Thanks.

  21. 21
    Ruchiccio says:

    Hi, Marisa if you can answer this question, it would be great. I made a tomato/marinara sauce out of 15 lbs tomatoes, 1 onion and 6 cloves garlic. After my mixture was done, it was VERY sour (my sister said they were “wince-worthy”!) so I added some sugar and spices (italian seasoning, black pepper, salt) and it tasted much better. So when I was told to add lemon juice, I figured I’ll only do 3/4 of the amount. (It called for 1 Tbsp for pint jars, and I used half-pint jars so I put in almost a full 1/2-tbsp measuring spoon). I didn’t want my sauce to come out too sour! I just want to know if they’re ok? Or did I need to use the full 1 Tbsp?

  22. 22
    Holly says:

    You can always change the seasonings of your preserves/tomatoes after you open your jars, but you shouldn’t compromise your safety by changing recipes before you can.

  23. 23
    Amy says:

    You mention your watermelon jelly in this post and I know that I saw it on your site. What happened to the recipe? I was hoping to make it sometime soon…

  24. 24
    Sue says:

    Why does one have to place lemon juice or citric acid in prepared tomato sauce on stove readying it for hot water bath

  25. 25
    Annette Osborne says:

    I also would love your watermelon jam!

  26. 26

    Hi all, looking for some advice! I just canned some tomato soup (with onion and garlic) and added one Tbsp fresh lemon juice per pint (500ml). The recipe didn’t call for bottled and I didn’t find this blog until after. Do you think my soup will be OK? Also, I didn’t keep the lid on the pot while it was processing (first time canning!) and am wondering about that too.

    Thanks,
    Bonnie

    • 26.1
      Marisa says:

      Bonnie, were you following a tested recipe for the tomato soup? If so, the fresh lemon juice probably offered enough acid to be safe. However, if you invented the recipe, I would be concerned about the acid level in those jars. And it doesn’t matter whether the lid is on the pot or not, as long as the water remains at a boil.

      • Hi Marisa. Thanks for your response! I was following a recipe on a preserving blog here: http://serendipitydiary.wordpress.com/2010/08/08/summer-tomato-soup/. They used quart jars and I used pint sized jars, so I halved the amount of lemon juice. And whew on the water, although I’ve learned. Normally I would ask my Mom and Sister for advice, but these are gifts for them! First time I have canned anything and I wish I found your blog first. Next up, mustard! Cheers, Bonnie

        • Marisa says:

          Judging from the ingredients, I unfortunately think that recipe is probably too low in acid for safe canning. There is just way too much onion for the amount of additional acid. The standard is to add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice per pint to tomato products that have no extra low acid ingredients. Three onions will have definitely pushed that recipe into an unsafe zone. You should refrigerate those jars immediately.

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    [...] Marisa, canning guru who writes at Food In Jars, posted a great piece about the importance of using bottled lemon juice in canning. [...]

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