Canning Salsa – Using Thick Gel and Ultra Gel

For me there is nothing prettier than rows of glass jars filled with preserved fruit and veggies. I suspect it has something to do with genetics.  It’s never been studied, but I think once canning gets in your blood it stays and you tend to share it with your kids.  I remember getting up at what felt like all hours, but was just a bit before dawn and driving over to grandma’s garden. They always had a very large garden and everyone in the family who was local would help with tending the garden and have a share in the harvest.  Beans, tomatoes, peaches, pears, grapes…so many great things, but today let’s talk salsa.

When it comes to salsa you have to be careful to keep a balanced level of acidity.  Most approved recipes will call for between one to four cups of vinegar per ten cups of tomatoes, depending on your area.  Do NOT omit the vinegar, though for flavor you can swap out part of it for lemon juice, or use flavored vinegars.  The reason for the vinegar is to keep the acid level low enough that botulism and other critters can’t exist in your salsa.  Canning is fun, but you want to keep it safe.

As well you’ll work with a variety of peppers, depending on how hot you want your salsa.  Again, the proportion of veggies to tomatoes is important, but the type not so much.  However, please please work with gloves on whenever you’re dealing with a pepper hotter than a bell.   Especially when you’re working a lot of peppers the capsicum builds up on your skin and can leave you with painful burns for days.  If you do start to get burning wash your hands with soap and water first, then rinse with milk or cream.  Further burning can be treated with crushed antacids or ice baths.

Now, traditionally to get thickened salsa the spices, veggies (fruit in the case of the tomatoes) and vinegar are mixed in a large pot and boiled down to a proper consistency.  this means boiling for a looong time and often by the time the liquid has been evaporated out there isn’t much left of the vegetables either.  They’re mostly mush instead of chunks, or they’re chunks but the salsa is thin and watery.  Some people use corn starch to add thickness, but this is not advised by the USDA because cornstarch can thicken inconsistently and change the flavor of the product.  In contrast both Ultra Gel and Thick Gel are approved because they thicken very consistently without changing colors or flavors and remain stable under pressure and in both low and high acid environments.

To use Ultra Gel or Thick Gel in salsa combine all ingredients except for the vinegar and the starch and bring to heat until the onions and peppers are soft but not mushy.

To use Ultra Gel combine Ultra Gel with the vinegar and add to the mix, stirring thoroughly to mix through.  Allow to sit for 3-5 minutes to obtain full thickness.  If you want it thicker sprinkle in additional Ultra Gel and mix well.  Again allow to sit before putting into pint or quart bottles and processing in a bubble bath  (use the Ball Blue book or the US Extension service guidelines for your altitude to determine time).

To use Thick Gel combine the Thick Gel with the vinegar and bring the vegetable mix to a boil.  Add starch and vinegar mix and stir thoroughly to disperse starch through the pot.  Allow 3-5 minutes to come to full thickness, pour into pint or quart bottles and process in a bubble bath as above.

This year I split my batch in half and made two batches of salsa, one with Ultra Gel and one with Thick Gel.  For the Ultra Gel batch I further roasted all of my vegetables and the garlic before chopping it and adding to the pot.

When all was said and done I ended up with a similar number of jars from each batch and both were beautifully thick with a nice medium heat and chunkiness. If I had to choose a favorite between the starches, just for this use, I’d say they were both good, but the Thick Gel saved me a little cash and thickened more smoothly without adding any additional starch after the first.  So I think if I HAD to choose I’d use Thick Gel, but both were very effective.

I did love roasting the vegetables as it took a lot of the chopping out.  I cut my veg in half tossed it all on a cookie sheet and baked it for 20 minutes at 425 degrees, then used tongs to move it into my food processor, pulse and pour.  The flavor is really nice, particularly the roasted garlic.

And it’s gluten free, fat free, vegetarian and highly yummy!

I think we’re set for the year…and my salsa sticks to the chip and not the floor.  How cool is that?

pretty salsa jars

Can you tell which is which?

Cornaby’s Salsa – Using Ultra Gel or Thick Gel

10 c. peeled, cored, chopped tomatoes (about 15 – romas will give you a meatier product, other garden tomatoes will give more juice – Use tomatoes from a farmer’s market or garden for best quality)

6 c. seeded, chopped chili peppers* (2 lb.) Choose varieties for desired spiciness OR 4 6½ oz. cans green chilies)

4 c. chopped onions (about 4)

1 6-oz. can tomato paste

3 t. salt

½ t. black pepper

1 c. vinegar (5%)

1/3 c. Thick Gel (2/3-1 c Ultra Gel)

Combine vegetables in large heavy saucepan.  Add seasonings and tomato paste.  Combine vinegar with Thick Gel and add to vegetables and stir until blended.  Bring ingredients to a boil; simmer 10 minutes.  Season to taste.  Fill jars, leaving ½” headspace.  Adjust lids and process in water bath canner for 30 minutes (sea level).

Yield:  6-8 pints

*Wear plastic gloves while preparing fresh peppers


3 thoughts on “Canning Salsa – Using Thick Gel and Ultra Gel

  1. Hey – what if you reduced down the vinegar to get rid of some of the water before adding the veggies? I’m looking to can for the first time this year, so I’ll look into the ultra gel, but I’d thought I’d ask.

    • You can reduce the vinegar down and it helps a lot, but most of the liquid is actually coming from the tomatoes and the veggies. You can also help this by using roma tomatoes which are meatier, and you can chop your vegetables and then wrap them in cheese cloth and squeeze some of the liquid out. The concern there is a: don’t get pepper juice on your skin and b: it will change the flavor to lose the juice. Also you can cook down the tomatoes before adding the veg to remove their liquid, just be careful not to burn them. So there are lots of methods to remove liquid without Ultra Gel or Thick Gel, but they take more time than I like. 🙂 I love canning, but am always looking for ways to shorten the process and keep it tidy.

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