Many canning recipes call for pickling salt, and curious canners want to know: Do you need to use pickling salt? I’ll explain what pickling salt is, when you should use it, when it is okay to skip, and you’ll want to dive into canning immediately because salt is salt, Wildflowers.
Pickling salt is regular salt that has NO anti-caking agent nor any iodine. Salt that you and I buy typically has a few additives in it that make for a cloudy brine.
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The word “additive” has a negative connotation and it shouldn’t because not all additives are bad. An additive simply means it is added. Without those additives the salt in my Morton container would be rock hard. This post aims to clarify the role of those additives when they are in the pickling process.
Do You Need to Use Pickling Salt?
Pickling salt is officially recommended by the USDA because by having a clear brine, a canner can see what their pickles look like. I’ll be the first to admit that cosmetics aren’t a priority to me in my canning pursuits (I rarely strain my juice and I don’t remove seeds from my jam, for example) but cloudy brine isn’t problematic from a visual standpoint.
If you can’t SEE what’s going on inside your jar, you won’t be able to identify if perhaps you’ve forgotten an ingredient or if your jar hasn’t sealed and your pickles have spoiled. True, when you opened the jar, there are lots of clues (odor, texture, color, and more) that would tell you these things but a clear brine helps a canner see what’s going on in the jar. You might enjoy reading my post, What Happens When You Forget the Lemon Juice because I explore in depth some sealed jars absent of the acidifying ingredient. It’s not pretty, but it is really fascinating 🙂
I’ve said many times that one of the wonderful things about canning is that mason jars are clear- literally and metaphorically. You can SEE what is going on inside. So, if you choose to make Pickled Pearl Onions or Carrot Pickles for example and you use regular salt, you won’t really be able to see inside as well as if you used pickling salt.
How cloudy will your brine be? Well, if you don’t use pickling salt, it will vary based on the recipe but it won’t be dramatic. Pickling salt brine will be very clear (hello County Fair entries and Instagram photo ops) and regular salt brine will be just a bit clouded, not completely opaque.
I confess that I rarely use pickling salt for my personal preserving. When I see pickling salt on sale, I buy it, but only when it is as cheap as regular salt. This is a personal choice based on the fact that I’m confident in my ability to discern if something has gone awry inside a jar (almost never) and that my jars almost always seal (truly…I can’t think of the last time I had one fail). I also don’t pickle as often as I jam or make tomato sauce or other sauces. This might be because I don’t have a garden (shocking, I know!) and don’t grow hoards of tiny pickling cucumbers but I DO have access to tons of wild berries and stone fruit on the family ranch, for free. Canning is a practice of penultimate practicality.
As you become more experienced, you might opt for regular salt in a pinch and preserve cloudy pickles but proceed at your own risk. Just like driving with a dirty windshield, it will be harder to see what’s on the other side of the glass.
Flaked salt (like sea salt) varies in density and flake size and shouldn’t be used for pickling. So, avoid using “fancy” salts for canning.
If you’d love to learn more about canning, I want to invite you to my FREE Canning Basics course where I teach beginners all about how to get started with this fun, practical way of cooking quickly in advance! Join me here!Enroll Now!