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.

UPDATE 2022: A 5.5-ounce jar of Pickle Crisp now costs five to ten dollars. As Randal Oulton commented, Pickle Crisp doesn’t take any time to firm pickled vegetables; rather, it preserves firmness already in the vegetables. Also, note that in Canada Pickle Crisp is sold under the Bernardin label, and that Mrs. Wages is also packaging calcium chloride for sales to home canners, under the name Xtra Crunch.

See also “The Scoop on Pickle Crisp.”

35 thoughts on “Testing Pickle Crisp”

  1. I was reading about the Pickle Crisp and found you review on it. I wondered if you have tried it on dill pickles or any other pickled veggies?
    The last time I made dill pickles they were mushy and the family didn’t care for them.

    1. Ann, I think I did try Pickle Crisp on cucumber pickles of some sort last summer, but I haven’t opened the jars yet and will need some time to search for them. I’ll try to post an update this summer.
      Jarden recommends Pickle Crisp for cucumbers in vinegar, but the last I heard the company hadn’t tested the product with brined cucumbers.
      The usual cause of soft cuke pickles is too much heat. Pasteurizing in water heated to 180 to 185 degrees for 30 minutes works best and is an approved USDA method. Other causes of softening are overlong storage and overlong fermentation.

    2. I’ve used this consistently with just about every vegetable that I pickle and it has delivered! Pickled onions are nice and crunchy, okra is great, not mushy, dill and bread and butter pickles have a great crunch but not brittle, like stated. It’s my go- to!

  2. I used it on cucumbers last year for pickles. We just opened up a jar we canned last summer and they were as crisp as ever! We love the pickle crisp.

    1. Calcium chloride has a lot of industrial uses and even some medical uses. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about its uses in food:

      “As an ingredient, it is listed as a permitted food additive in the European Union for use as a sequestrant [a kind of preservative] and firming agent with the E number E509. It is considered as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is on the US National Organic Program’s National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. The average intake of calcium chloride as food additives has been estimated to be 160–345 mg/day for individuals.

      “As a firming agent, calcium chloride is used in canned vegetables, in firming soybean curds into tofu and in producing a caviar substitute from vegetable or fruit juices. It is commonly used as an electrolyte in sports drinks and other beverages, including bottled water. The extremely salty taste of calcium chloride is used to flavor pickles while not increasing the food’s sodium content. Calcium chloride’s freezing-point depression properties are used to slow the freezing of the caramel in caramel-filled chocolate bars.

      “In brewing beer, calcium chloride is sometimes used to correct mineral deficiencies in the brewing water. It affects flavor and chemical reactions during the brewing process, and can also affect yeast function during fermentation. Calcium chloride is sometimes added to processed milk to restore the natural balance between calcium and protein in casein for the purposes of making cheeses, such as brie, Pélardon and Stilton. Also, it is frequently added to sliced apples to maintain texture.”

      I didn’t know that calcium chloride was used to flavor pickles as well as to firm them. So I just ran downstairs to eat a few grains of Pickle Crisp. The stuff does has an intense salty flavor, and also some bitterness. I had to spit it out and rinse my mouth.

      I checked the National Organic Program’s List of Allowed and Prohibited Substance to find out on exactly which list calcium chloride falls. I found out that, in organic farming, the stuff is banned except as a foliar
      spray to treat a physiological disorder associated with calcium uptake. I haven’t been able to figure out for sure whether calcium chloride is permitted in organic food processing, but I think that it is.

  3. Hi Linda,

    I’m a fan. If we lived a bit closer I would have you autograph my copy of The Joy of Pickling with 14 tabs in it showing the recipes of yours I’ve tried. That’s after just a bit over a year of pickling.

    I bought a jar of Pickle Crisp about a year ago when I started pickling. I had one product turn to mush (pickled pears, I think) and one other unpleasantly soft. I don’t remember the second pickle but it was likely a batch of so-called cocktail cucumbers from Costco – mushy cakes are just very unpleasant. I now add pickle crisp almost routinely. All my zucchini pickles (Judy Rogers’ recipe), cucumber pickles, brandied cherries (yours), pickled cherries (yours), and on and on. I find it a very useful aid in making pickles with good texture without resorting to lime.

    I had read that calcium chloride is used by many commercial companies to retain the shape of their products. I just checked our pantry. All my Muir Glen tomatoes in whatever form included calcium chloride and all were “Certified organic by the Washington State Department of Agriculture in accordance with the organic standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.” All my S&W canned beans contained calcium chloride. Of the Muir Glen tomatoes, some stated the calcium chloride was “naturally derived.” And that is how they can pass safely under the “organic” radar.

    Making pasta sauce with calcium chloride treated tomato chunks is interesting. If the recipe reads, as many do, to cook the tomatoes until they reach a “saucy” consistency or until the tomatoes break down – it may not happen; one characteristic of the calcium chloride treatment. I have wondered if the commercial packers use a higher dosage of calcium chloride to help their product hold up under the harsher treatment of commercial canning.

    That’s my experience with Pickle Crisp. As someone else said it is just another salt. And it gives us one more ingredient to help insure our pickles are as tempting as possible.

    Many thanks for your writing,

    1. Bill, thanks for sharing your experience. I was aware that calcium chloride was widely used in commercial canning, but since I don’t buy these products I haven’t noticed the effects of the calcium chloride. I would expect it to improve the texture of canned beans but not, for most purposes, the texture of tomatoes, which are supposed to be mushy. I don’t know what quantities of calcium chloride the commercial packers may be using.

  4. And of course I meant mushy cukes but spell checkers are as determined to “fix” or prose as some of my teachers in grammar school!

    1. The food-grade liquid product sold by Tetrachemicals is 34 to 36 percent calcium chloride. The Pickle Crisp label says simply “calcium chloride,” which I guess means it’s 100 percent. So perhaps you need about three times as much as the liquid product to equal the solid product? I would try asking the manufacturer or just experimenting.

  5. I bought the granules today. I can’t find a recipe on how to use. Should I soak the cucumbers in a brine soak then when I go to process add the granules? Please help!!

    1. Michah, perhaps the instructions are so simple that you missed them on the label. After your jars are filled with both cucumbers and liquid, and before you add lids and rings, add a rounded 1/8 teaspoon Pickle Crisp to each filled pint jar or a rounded 1/4 teaspoon to each quart jar. Then process the jars as usual.

    1. No, Mediagal, your pickles would only get softer with more heating. I advise waiting until you make more pickles to try Pickle Crisp, and then be sure to use the low-temperature pasteurization method. If the pickles you have already made are unappetizingly soft, you might chop them up and serve them as relish.

  6. After reading this article,I decided to experiment with Pickle Crisp by canning a pint of whole jalapenos.I made small slits in the peppers so the liquid could get in.I combined and heated 1 cup of water,1 cup of vinegar, and 1 level tablespoon of pickling salt.I put the recommended 1/8 tsp of Pickle Crisp in the jar with the peppers and filled it with the brine.I processed the pint jar of peppers for 15 minutes.I decided to open the sealed jar after 10 days.WOW! The peppers are nice and crisp and have no weird taste.Thanks for the info!!

  7. Hi. Cannot find anywhere what everyone uses as the pickling liquid. Please could someone advise? I absalorly love crisp pickled cucumbers, peppers etc. What would you advice I use for pickling?

    I’ve never done this before but it’s something I’d love to start doing, I’ve ordered some pickle crisp.

    Hope someone can help, sorry to re open this thread it’s just got some good tips on comments

    Thank you
    Stephie x

    1. You can’t do better than Linda’s book. She is an encyclopedic resource for every kind of pickle. I have 3 or 4 pickling books and use hers more than all the rest put together. I think her book has about 120 post-it flags on recipes I’ve made. She is great. Get her book, “The Joy of Pickling.”

  8. I just bought a jar of pickle crisp to try in place of the liming process. I processed a jar yesterday. Does the pickle crisp make them more crisp over time or is it immediate? I’m wanting to try them to see if they are going to be acceptable ASAP as I will have need to be making more pickles very soon. Thanks!

  9. Pickle Crisp will help preserve what crispness is already in the vegetable going into the canning process — so its effect would be immediately noticeably right after canning. It will have either preserved the existing crispness to your satisfaction, or not. (In fact, when Pickle Crisp first came on the market in 2004, Ball first wanted people to use it as a pre-soak for vegetables, rather than right in the jars.)

    What it won’t do is give crunch where none existed at the start. That is to say, it won’t rescue cucumbers that should have been pickled a week ago. It helps to retain crispness; it won’t create it.

    In commercial canning of tomatoes, calcium chloride is sometimes used to help whole tomatoes stay together better as consumers would expect.

    In Canada, the Ball Pickle Crisp is sold in an identical jar, but labelled as Bernardin Pickle Crisp, as is typically the case with those two product lines. And in spring 2019, Mrs Wages released its own competitor called “Xtra Crunch”, which, like the Ball / Bernardin jars, is just pure generic food-grade calcium chloride sold in branded packaging.

  10. Thanks, Randal! Do you know why Ball dropped the pre-soak idea?
    It’s worth mentioning here, in case Susan and other readers don’t know, that heat softens cucumbers. Low-temperature pasteurization preserves crispness better than a boiling-water bath. Better still is to skip the processing and store the pickles in the refrigerator.

  11. I have a cinnamon red hot recipe that uses big over ripe cucumbers, soak in lime mixture, drain, rinse, drain, rinse, etc. simmer in vinegar & water 2 hours, make syrup, heat, pack and process. Will pickle fresh take the place of Lime?

  12. Hi….I’m surprised that people just don’t buy pure Calcium Chloride. It’s like buying the name brand vs. no name. Pickle Crisp and the like are super expensive but you can buy a 1lb bag of Calcium Chloride in Canada for $20! Maybe it’s a visual thing for people lol! Thanks for your article!

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