Testing Pickle Crisp

More than a year ago I wrote here about Pickle Crisp, a granulated form of calcium chloride that Jarden, the company that makes Ball jars, was planning to sell for home canners (after taking a powdered form of the same chemical off the market, because it tended to dissolve in steam). The new Pickle Crisp came out last spring, but it never appeared in stores in my area, despite the nearly universal popularity of home canning hereabouts. In October, I finally gave up looking in stores and ordered a jar of Pickle Crisp directly from Jarden, so I could try it in pickling the last of my jalapeños. The 5.5-ounce jar cost $5.99 plus shipping.

The directions on the container called for adding a rounded ¼ teaspoon to a quart jar or a rounded 1/8 teaspoon to a pint jar, along with the vegetable or fruit pieces and the pickling liquid. Because I was testing Pickle Crisp in just one half-pint jar of jalapeño rings, I used only a good pinch. Then I let the jar of jalapeños sit on the shelf for a few weeks before trying them, to give the calcium chloride plenty of time to do its work.

Old-fashioned pickling lime, most popular in the South, is used in much larger quantities and mixed with water. You soak the fruit or vegetable pieces in the mixture, and then you rinse and soak them repeatedly in fresh water to remove the excess lime. In comparison with pickling lime, Pickle Crisp seemed incredibly easy to use. But it also struck me as being, like lime, an unnecessary additive, however harmless.

I opened two jars of jalapeños at the same time, one with Pickle Crisp and one without. The Pickle Crisp peppers were noticeably firmer, but not brittle in the way that cucumbers treated with lime can be (I’ve never tried treating peppers with lime). I actually liked the firmer texture.

Although I bought the Pickle Crisp just to try it once, I think I’ll experiment with it more in the months to come.

The Scoop on Pickle Crisp

Pickle CrispI’d never heard of Pickle Crisp until a couple of weeks ago, when I was giving a radio interview and a caller mentioned the product. Pickle Crisp, I learned, is a trade name for calcium chloride, a common additive in commercial canning. Calcium chloride is used for several purposes, but in pickles it is mainly a firming agent.

On searching the Web for more information, I learned that Pickle Crisp had been marketed by Jarden, the company that makes Ball jars, but was no longer available.

To find out more, I contacted Lauren Devine at Jarden. The company sold Pickle Crisp for about two years. It was intended to replace pickling lime, which home picklers, particularly in the South, have long used to firm such pickles as bread-and-butters and pickled figs. But lime is troublesome to use: You must first soak the fruit or vegetable pieces in a mixture of lime and water, and then rinse and soak them repeatedly until the water is clear and the lime won’t affect the pickle’s pH much. Calcium chloride is easier to use: You add 1/8 teaspoon along with the fruit or vegetable pieces and the pickling liquid to a pint jar, or 1/4 teaspoon to a quart jar. (Jarden has tested Pickle Crisp only with fresh pickles, not with fermented ones.)

Unfortunately for Jarden, sales of Pickle Crisp were slow, and only upon removing the product from the market did Jarden realize that there was much demand for it. Jarden decided to bring the product back, but in improved form. The old Pickle Crisp was a powder that tended to dissolve into steam. The new version will have bigger grains.

The new Pickle Crisp should be in the home-canning sections of supermarkets and farm-supply stores next March or April.