Canning without sugar

When I first began reading about canning, I wanted to fully understand the science of safe food preservation, and read several books before I started doing any canning at all.  When I perused the various recipes in every single category, I was dismayed to find that most recipes that were canned in a water bath (ie, didn’t require pressure canning) were full of sugar. Fruits all were covered with a sugar syrup, relishes were filled with sugar, and jams were jam packed (no pun intended) with sugar. 

That usually wouldn’t be a problem for me, because I’m comfortable adapting recipes to fit my needs.  But every book warned about how absolutely forbidden it is to change even a little detail of a recipe, as it might render it unsafe.  That put me off, so I regretfully looked at all the pretty pictures of the relishes and put it out of my mind, because I wasn’t willing to tamper with food safety or my family’s health.

As I was reading yet another book on canning recently, one sentence jumped out at me – that the crucial proportions to maintain are the vinegar/water balance, and that if you did change a recipe, this was the area to be very vigilant about keeping exactly as written.  This made a lot of sense to me, since the concern is about botulism and scientists have determined the right balanced for pickled foods that will prevent bacteria from growing.  Until this point, I was unsure if there was a need for sugar or not.  I knew it was possible to can without sugar, because I read a book on canning without sugar.  But I didn’t know how to safely make the adjustments myself, and after unsuccessfully making the tomato jam from that book, I wasn’t willing to risk more of my time and food supplies with uncertain experiments.   

So, today I used either apple juice concentrate or pineapple juice concentrate in place of sugar in all the recipes but three – for the chutneys I used a combination of mostly sugar with a small addition of concentrate, and the sweet and sour carrots called for honey, which I left as is.  I slightly increased the vinegar content to compensate for the additional liquid in the concentrate, keeping in mind the guidelines of the minimum amount of vinegar necessary per half pint for safety’s sake. 

Since dh, one daughter, and myself don’t eat any sugar, we’ll be able to enjoy these things with the rest of our family now.  All those filled jars on the counter are looking very appetizing (my kids counted them and told me there are 62), so it’s especially nice to know we’ll be able to have them, too!


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