Canning 101: How to Swap Citric Acid for Lemon Juice and Vice Versa

One tablespoon bottled lemon juice = 1/4 teaspoon citric acid

When one is canning something in a boiling water bath, it is vital that that product be high in acid. The reason is that the presence of a concentrated amount of acid is what inhibits botulism spores from germinating into toxin. Many of the fruits we turn into jam are already high enough in acid on their own to be safe for canning, but on occasion we work with items that need some help in the acid department.

Tomatoes are a prime example of a fruit that is needs to be acidified. Depending on the variety of tomato, they can sometimes have a pH (how we judge acid content) that is too high (the pH of the product need to below 4.6) and so that tomato product needs additional acid. Because most home canners aren’t working with a pH meter, it’s recommended that all tomatoes receive additional acid, because it’s impossible to judge acid content based on taste or appearance.

This is why tomato recipes typically call for the addition of either bottled lemon juice or citric acid. Both products deliver a reliable dose of acid that, when added in the recommended amount, ensures that the product is safe for a trip through the boiling water bath canner.

When I write recipes that need acidification, I typically default to bottled lemon juice because I believe it to be a more readily available product (and if you’re curious why it’s bottled lemon juice and not fresh, read this post). However, when I’m making a product that has spent a goodly amount of time cooking down, I will often use citric acid. It comes in powdered form and so doesn’t introduce more liquid that I will then need to reduce.

However, either can be used and they can easily be exchanged one for another. One tablespoon of bottled lemon juice is equal to 1/4 teaspoon citric acid. This means that if a recipe instructs you to add 2 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice to each quart jar before canning, you can easily swap in 1/2 teaspoon of citric acid.

One tablespoon bottled lemon juice = 1/4 teaspoon citric acid

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26 responses to “Canning 101: How to Swap Citric Acid for Lemon Juice and Vice Versa”

  1. Thanks for this! My hubby reacts to most citrus foods so I frequently use citric acid in the jams I know he will eat. We can’t be the only family out there with food issues. Thanks again.

  2. Marisa, would you please provide the weight (in grams) for 1/4 tsp of citric acid? My citric acid is comprised of larger crystals, and experience with different salts (Kosher vs. sea vs. table) has shown me that volume does not necessarily translate to mass.

    Thanks for keeping us home canners safe!

    • I’m away from home at the moment, so I’m not able to measure citric acid at the moment. However, industry standard is simply 1/4 teaspoon for each pint of product. If you’re concerned, use a rounded 1/4 teaspoon.

  3. Does Citric Acid go bad over time? I have a bottle of it in my cubbard that I’ve never used. I don’t even remember why, much less when, I bought it. Just wondering if you know. Thanks.

  4. Hello, Is it necessary to stir the citric acid or lemon juice around at all to make sure it’s distributed throughout the jar? The recipes I’ve read say just put it directly in the jar, then pour in the tomatoes (or whatever). And for those of us who are new to canning and a bit paranoid, is there any reason not to just double the amount of citric acid to make it feel extra safe (I guess you would not want to do that with lemon juice)? Does it change the flavor or mess anything up? Thanks!

    • You don’t need to stir. It’s enough that it is present in the jar. And you really don’t need to double the amount. It will definitely impact the flavor.

  5. Hello Marisa I’m new to canning and have a load of potatoes coming soon but dont have a pressure canner in uk is it possible to use citric acid powder in the cans of potatoes and then to water bath them ?
    Thanks Ruth

    • There is no way to safely can potatoes without a pressure canner. There’s no way to acidify them enough to make them safe.

  6. I canned 7 quarts of tomatoes today and forgot to put lemon juice or citric acid it them. I did add 1 tsp of Ball canning salt. Are they still safe to eat? Thank you for your help!

  7. I canned 6 quarts of tomatoes. I used both citric acid 1 teaspoon and also 1 teaspoon of lemon juice is this safe to eat or to much of both.

  8. I’ve been canning for years but always learning new things to stay safe, attend canning workshops, etc. I want to know why books/recipes tell you not to use metal utensils that might ?? interact or whatever the word is, with acid in canning products? Stainless steel appears to be okay.

    • Reactive metals like aluminum and cast iron can react with acid and impart a metallic flavor into your preserves. But I think what you might actually be referencing is the warning not to use metal implements to remove bubbles from jars. The reason for that warning is that metal utensils can leave small scratches on the inside of the jars, making the jars more prone to breakage.

  9. Is it safe to substitute lemon juice for citric acid when its being put directly into the recipe, not the jar? I am following a recipe from NCHFP for tomato paste, and I get the reasoning behind citric acid instead of lemon juice, however I can’t find any in my local stores and I think this batch of tomatoes won’t wait until I get a delivery from Amazon. Trying to decide if its best to just make sauce with these and try paste another time. Thank you so much!

  10. I am canning salsa. The recipe calls for apple cider vinegar. Do I substitute the citric acid (Ball brand) directly or do I need to make a solution with water. I have seen conversions for the acidic powder for lemon juice and vinegar, but also conversions with the citric acid mixed in water. I would prefer to use the citric acid powder directly for a thicker salsa. Thank You

    • You cannot swap citric acid for vinegar. Only citric acid and lemon/lime juice are interchangeable. The thing to do is look for a salsa recipe that uses citrus juice rather than vinegar.

  11. I’m making prickly pear jelly and want to use citric acid. Normally recipe calls for 1/2 cup of lemon juice for every cup of prickly pear juice, which seems like a lot to me ..Anyway, If I have 4 cups of prickly pear juice, how much citric acid would I use?

    Is it 8 tsp?

    Thank you

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