Canning 101: Why Recipes Call for Bottled Lemon Juice

September 8, 2010(updated on October 3, 2018)

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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83 thoughts on "Canning 101: Why Recipes Call for Bottled Lemon Juice"

  • 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!

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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?


  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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!

    1. 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.

    1. Actually, it is the same acidity (5%), unless you are using a specialty produce, but most people object to the flavor.

  • 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?

    1. My daughter is allergic to citrus. I want to try canning pears & apples for the first time and am having trouble finding jam recipes without citrus. I live in orange county ha he.

  • 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.

  • 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,

  • 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!

  • 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: . 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.

    1. 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.

      1. Citric acid is sometimes made from corn, unless it specifies that it is “naturally derived citric acid”. I checked with a company who stated their product contained “naturally derived citric acid” and they replied their product does not include corn.

        Malic acid is one of the winemaking acids (one I have not used yet for wine). I would be interested to know if you did try malic acid and what the results were.

  • 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.

    1. 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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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.


    1. 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.

      1. Hi Marisa. Thanks for your response! I was following a recipe on a preserving blog here: 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

        1. 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.

  • The scientist in me wonders about the pH of store bought lemon juice. There are reliable pH meters available online for under $20. This could be as essential a tool as a thermometer. If we know the pH of bottled lemon juice, it would be easy enough to see if the juice of a real lemon measured an equivalent pH. A maximum pH could also be specified in a recipe just like a minimum temperature for cooking beef, pork, or fish. Further, since vinegar is usually 5% acid by volume, it would be easy enough to make a more concentrated version simply be boiling off some water. This vinegar concentrate could then be added to a finished recipe prior to canning to assure a safe pH. Tarc mentioned the use of malic or tartaric acid. A teaspoon of each, dissolved in separate cups of water will yield different pH values. Using them would be useful only if the canner knew the safe pH of their finished product. Now that my brain hurts, does anyone know the safe pH value for canned foods?

    1. Your finished product needs to have a pH of 4.6 or below. When I develop new recipes, I prefer to have my tested result come in around 4.2 or lower, just to ensure that I’m not butting right up again the safe limit.

  • So, the lemon juice is added after tomatoes are in the jar and then processed in a hotbath. Yes? Can lime or lemon juice be added while bringing to a boil on stovetop and then jarred? I have never used lemon juice when canning.

    1. You need to add the bottled lemon juice individually to the jars to ensure that the proper amount of acid gets into every one. If you add it to the tomatoes while bringing them to a boil, you don’t know how much each jar gets.

  • Oops I guess I should have read this before canning a bunch of tomato sauce. I was wondering why most recipes called for bottled. I never used bottled for anything and always use fresh. So I searched for a recipe that had fresh lemon juice and finally found one and followed their recommendation. I guess I’ll test it when it’s done and see if it’s ok.

  • I have made 2 large vats of salsa recently and after doing the 2nd I realized it called for bottled lime juice. I however used fresh squeezed lime juice. I did add a little extra lime juice in both recipes because I am new to canning and was nervous. I love lime so figured better safe than sorry, but apparently I still failed. Do you really feel that all 14 pints of salsa are unsafe? I also hot water bathed them for about 10 mins extra because I am neurotic. I think I can get my hands on an acidity tester. If I open a can and its below 4.5 am I correct to call them safe?

    1. Chances are that your salsa is safe. If you can get your hands on a pH tester, you want to puree a portion of a jar of salsa and test the puree. If it has a pH of 4.6 or below, it is just fine.

      1. Hi Marisa,

        Thanks for being such a great resource on all things canning — it seems you’ve almost answered my question with the above but I wanted to double check: I just made the “Chunky Tomatillo Salsa” from your cookbook, but with fresh rather than the bottled juice you called for — I thought if I just used a bit more to account for possible variation it’d be ok but now I’m nervous. I used slightly less than 3/4 c fresh lime+lemon juice, rather than the 1/2 c bottled lime your recipe calls for. Safe, do you think, or should I test with a ph strip to confirm?

        1. I think it should be fine. Sounds like you used half again as much lime juice as the recipe called for. That should cover any inconsistencies in the fresh stuff.

      1. Thank you !!! I just ran out of lemon juice but have a bottle of lime juice.
        I won’t run out of tomatoes for some time. Glad I found this site.

  • My grandfather canned everything and anything when I was younger. Now that he’s gone I’ve found out I love it too. This is my first time canning tomatoes, james, jellies and dilly beans are my usual go to’s. I’ve used Italia Perfectly Lemon, made with organic lemon juice and essential oil not from concentrate. I just realized this may not be the correct product, I grabbed it at my local supermarket above the lemons. Is this something that is fine? Or should I be using these tomatoes asap….

  • I follow the Oregon State Extension Service recommendations on everything regarding preserving, canning, or any other food related issue. They are my bible. They say that 5% acidic vinegar is all right to use as acid in low-acid canning. That, or bottled lemon juice. I trust them implicitly.

  • I have been using fresh squeezed lemon juice ( we have a Meyer lemon tree) in all of my tomatoes…is this going to cause a problem?

    1. Meyer lemons aren’t as high in acid as conventional lemon juice. It’s not a good idea to use them for acidification. Your tomatoes could have issues.

  • Hi, Marisa,
    Thank you for your terrific website. Almost everything I’ve ever canned has been from one of your recipes. This year, I have Sungold tomatoes in my garden and have used two of your recipes to help me use my crop (which has been quite large!). The first batch was your Yellow Tomato and Basil Jam, on this website, which calls for lemon juice, but doesn’t specify fresh or bottled. The Orange Tomato and Smoked Paprika Jam, in your Preserving by the Pint cookbook, specifically calls for bottled lemon juice. I used fresh juice in both of these. Is this going to be a problem?

    I’ve also canned your Amy’s Tomato Jam, from your Food in Jars cookbook, which calls specifically for fresh lime juice. I’m trying to understand why bottled is called for in some tomato recipes but not in others.


    1. Typically, when you use lemon juice to ensure acidity, you use bottled. However, because it plays some a prominent flavor role in some of my preserves, I double the amount necessary for safety and call for fresh instead. That way, I know for certain that there’s plenty of acid in the finished preserve, but you get all the flavor of the fresh stuff.

  • Hi Marisa, I just noticed today that your tomato jam recipe now says to use bottled lime juice. The one I printed and used last summer (last August) just said 8 tablespoons of lime juice. I used fresh squeezed lime juice in the recipe since I didn’t know you shouldn’t use fresh juice. I have opened and eaten several jars months later and haven’t had any issues. I still have a few left that I was thinking about opening, but now I’m wondering if I should just discard them. Any advice? When I make it this summer, I will be sure to use bottled juice!

    1. Your tomato jam is perfectly safe. That recipe includes double the amount of acid it requires to ward off any potential botulism. I changed the recipe to bottled simply because a lot of people were pushing back (saying that it should be bottled, since that’s the standard for home canning) and it was easier to make the change than have the same argument over and over again.

  • This is such a wonderful site. I just canned my first batch of tomatoes from the garden and am worried I messed up. I followed a very basic recipe of tomatoes, garlic cloves, fresh basil leaves, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 2 tablespoons lemon juice (quart jar); however, I used fresh lemon juice. Do I need to toss these? How do you know if they’re good?

    1. Was this basic recipe designed for canning? If so, chances are probable that the jars are safe. However, for maximum peace of mind, know that there is a small risk involved in keeping these jars and that the most conservative approach is to throw them away.

  • I canned 24 quarts of tomatoes with fresh lemon juice not knowing I should use bottled. They sealed and are now 3 weeks old. After discovering my mistake I dumped them all in a pot and boiled them for 20 minutes into sauce then re canned them putting 2 tbl of bottled lemon juice in each jar. I was told this was safe. Your opinion? Thank you

  • when you say “bottle lemon juice” and “bottle lime juice” do you mean only the kind in the large glass bottles? Or could the kind in the plastic squeezy bottle work just as well? I can’t find any information about acidity level on the bottle.

    1. I mean bottled as in commercially produced lemon and lime juice. That most definitely includes the plastic squeeze bottle.

  • As I understand it, bottled lemon juice is required because in the US it is standardized and always have the same pH. I was curious if it was the same in Europe where I live, so I wrote to one of the producers of bottled lemon juice here and asked. The answer I got was that there are no standard for bottled lemon juice in EU and that their lemon juice hade a pH between 2.0 and 2.7. What pH does the bottled Lemon juice in the US have?

  • I make Sourdough Breads. Some recipes say to increase the sour-ness to add “Sour Salt” aka Citric Acid. I’d rather add “bottled” lemon juice. What would the ratio be when it calls for 13grams of Citric Acid?

  • Hello, i want to use an organic lemon juice in my water bath canning recipes however in my search I can’t find what the ph / acidity is on any of the organic lemon or lime juices. I noticed you have Lakewood pictured above. If you have the answer to the safety of using any of the organic juices please let me know. Thank You, Melissa

    1. I have always used organic lemon and lime juice in my canning. I’ve been told by my extension that all bottled products are acceptable for use as an acifier.

  • Mom always caned green beans with lemon juice and salt in a water bath for 30 minutes. But every where I look they say it’s wrong

    1. Times and canning standards have changed since your mom’s day. It is never safe to can unpickled vegetables in a water bath canner. They need to be pressure canned or frozen.

  • Hello ,Is it necessary to re boil the jars with the sauce in them if you already boiled the jars before hand? If you add the sauce right away and seal I don’t see a reason to re boil .

    Thank you !