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Substituting Lime Juice for Lemon Juice in Home Canning Recipes, Like Salsa

A common question in home canning is, may I substitute lime juice for lemon juice in my salsa, tomato sauce, jams, and other home canned foods? Lemon juice, lime juice and vinegar are commonly used as acidifiers in home canning; juices added to increase the acidity (decrease the pH) of canned foods to prevent the growth of pathogens like botulism.

The simple answer is yes, you may use lime juice in place of lemon juice in home canning recipes, as lime juice is slightly more acidic than lemon juice.  Some people prefer lime juice, as they feel it has a milder flavor.

Of course, if a recipe specifies lime juice, it is not necessarily safe to substitute lemon juice.   Realistically, their pH's are so close as to be moot, but I'm just repeating what the food scientists say.

Another question is substituting lemon (or lime) juice for vinegar, and vice versa. Notice in the table farther down this page that vinegar is considerably less acidic than lemon juice, so you can substitute lemon juice (or lime juice) for vinegar in recipes that call for vinegar, but you may not substitute vinegar for lemon juice.  And see this page about substituting lemon or lime juice for vinegar.

pH chart for home canning

PH of common juices and vinegar, in order of decreasing acidity

Item Approximate pH
Lime Juice 2.00 - 2.35
Lemon Juice 2.00 - 2.60
Vinegar 2.40 - 3.40
Grapefruit Juice, canned 2.90 - 3.25
Vinegar, cider 3.10
Apple Juice
3.35 - 4.00
Orange Juice, California 3.30 - 4.19
Orange, Juice Florida 3.30 - 4.15
Pineapple Juice, canned 3.30 - 3.60
Oranges, Florida "color added" 3.60 - 3.90
Oranges, Florida "color added" 3.60 - 3.90
Oranges, Florida 3.69 - 4.34

References:

  • Studies on safe acidification of salsa for home boiling water canning. B. A. Nummer, M. Thacker, E. M. D'Sa, and E. L. Andress, Dept. of Foods & Nutrition, University of Georgia, 328 Hoke Smith Annex, Athens, GA 30602-4356. Paper 33C-9. Presented at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting, Las Vegas, NV, July 14, 2004.See this study comparing all 3. 
  • For those who are curious, the methods and conditions for determining the pH and acidity of foods are also summarized in 21 CFR 114.90. Methodology for pH is generally available from pH meter and electrode manufacturers.

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