When you use a lab-tested home canning recipe from a reputable source, you know it’s safe for you. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you.
Only one source of lab-tested recipes — Canadian Living — provides nutritional information for its home canning recipes. None of the others do: not Ball, not Bernardin, not even the USDA.
Given that we are told there is thorough lab-testing going on anyway, it’s pretty surprising that nutritional information doesn’t appear in print alongside the resulting recipes.
If it did, we might not make them: a lot of those recipes end up with more sugar and sodium in them than savvy shoppers would accept today in commercial products.
- 1 You’re on your own for deciding if home canning recipes are actually healthy
- 2 Update 2017
- 3 Estimating nutritional values for yourself
You’re on your own for deciding if home canning recipes are actually healthy
Those tested canning recipes might not kill you tomorrow, because they are safe in that regard, but what are they doing to your long-term health?
The USDA’s home canning division is charged with looking after the immediate safety of your home canned goods: the department concerned with health is located thousands of miles away in a whole ‘nother state. One department brings you home canned chili that is 1697 mg sodium a bowl for lunch; the other department says don’t eat any more than 1500 mg of sodium in an entire day.
Reputable home canning authorities are always reminding us that canning is a science, of which our understanding is always evolving, so that it’s important to keep current and apply the latest scientific knowledge to what we do.
It’s therefore natural to think that they would be eager to ensure that their recipes meet contemporary nutritional standards.
But they don’t. While it’s true that they are charged with ensuring the immediate safety of home-canned goods, and that they do a good job of that, the long-term impact on your health, on the other hand, is just not part of their remit.
So, in terms of that long-term health, we’re on our own here.
When you see a great new recipe from Ball, or Bernardin, or the NCHFP, you’ll know it’s safe, because it will have been lab-tested. But why not take a minute to put it to the test, to see actually just how good it is, or isn’t, for you?
It’s actually quite easy now, thanks to the Internet. We’ll show you how in the next section.
Caloriecount.com is the example tool used below.
It went out of business in March 2017.
We have yet to find a substitute as good that we are happy with. When we do, we will update the information below.
Estimating nutritional values for yourself
Nothing replaces lab testing by trained professionals, of course, for complete accuracy, but you can still get a gauge good enough for household use by using nutritional tools now available for free on the Internet.
There are many such tools, we’re going to use the one at caloriecount as an example.
1. Create a free account for yourself, and log in.
2. Choose to create a recipe
3. Grab the ingredient list
Go to where the recipe of interest is on the Internet, and COPY the ingredient list of that recipe.
Then PASTE (or TYPE if you need to) the ingredient list in. If the calculator needs any adjustments to help it understand, it will tell you.
In this instance, we are going to take that Ball jam recipe mentioned above with 7 cups of sugar to 5 cups fruit.
4. Figure out the servings.
That recipe makes 8 x 8 oz jars. That’s 64 oz, and there are 2 tablespoons in an oz, so that makes 128 tablespoons. Google can help you with more obscure calculations.
Not each jar will of course have a full 8 oz in it — 1/4 inch has to be left for headspace after all — but it’s close enough for home use.
Enter 128, and press analyze.
5. Bingo, here’s the result
That jam is around 47 calories a tablespoon.
6. Adjust the serving sizes to be realistic
Who uses a tablespoon only of jam at at time, though?
A Canadian food blogger, Maggie James, reminds us to take into account as well that in the real word, no one ever has just one piece of toast: it’s usually two:
And be realistic about the portion sizes you actually consume. Nobody puts just two tablespoons of jam on their toast. More like four. And most folks eat two pieces of toast at breakfast!”1
We’ll be frugal and stick with a tablespoon of jam per slice, but double the serving size to two tablespoons to account for two pieces of toast.
So instead of 128 servings, that’s actually just 64.
Plug that 64 number in, re-analyze and boom, we now have a more realistic nutritional number of close to 100 calories per serving for that jam.
7. How does that great recipe look now?
Wow, 100 calories, plus around 50 for two slices of sliced white bread that it’s put on, and that’s just whoofed down with a cup of coffee running out the door, before you have even really begun eating for the day.
There’s a lot better ways to spend your 150 calories than on something so little that will leave you ravenous again in an hour. Especially when you realize a sugar-free version of that strawberry jam would only have cost you 11 calories per two tablespoons, instead of a hundred. Feeling ripped off, yet?
When you look at those home canning recipes with their pretty pictures through the eye of nutritional info, a whole different aspect of them can come to light — even if the marketing blurb accompanying them talks breathlessly about “healthy homemade.”
We’ve come to expect sadly “non-truth in advertising” from makers of commercially-processed foods; it’s somewhat eye-opening to realize that we’re also getting some of that from our “trusted, reputable sources” in the home canning world.
While we always need treats (and healthycanning.com provides its share of treat recipes), on a long term basis it’s nice to save on calorie and sodium levels when we can, to make room in our health budgets to really enjoy those treats.