Is Using Alum in Home Canning Recipes Safe?
Is It Safe?
I became interested in the use of alum when someone asked me if it was alright to use alum as a substitute in my Crispy Cucumber Recipe. So I started researching alum and I was surprised, because I used it at one time myself in my pickle recipes for home canning.
Alum is only considered safe if used in very small quantities in foods. Anything over 1 ounce can cause death even in an adult. Most pickling recipes that call for alum are handed down from our grandmothers. Alum is approved by the FDA and can be purchased at most grocery stores, but the FDA prefers we start to use other products.
What is Alum?
Alum is used to make fermented pickles crisp. It will not work with pickles that are fresh packed. It is not only used for pickling, but has many industrial uses.
Alum is a salt. It is produced by a chemical reaction between an alkaline metal and trivalent metal. It was used in some countries as an ingredient in deodorants. Another use was for a shaving powder that was used to stopped the bleeding of small cuts. It is often used for cold sores in very small amounts.
You might be surprised to know that baking soda also has trace amounts of alum, so it is safe if used in small amounts. It is used in industry also.
If You Do Use Alum
If a recipe calls for this ingredient, use it wisely. Don't use anymore than the recipe calls for and keep it out of the reach of children. Follow the rinsing instructions in pickle recipes religiously. I'm going to keep it out of the house, because I have older children that like to experiment with different spices in their foods.
The recipes for pickles will instruct you to thoroughly rinse the alum off several times. If you do use it, follow the instructions and make sure that you do rinse as many times as the recipe tells you to do. Don't skimp on this step.
Some better substitutes are pickling lime or a new product put out by the Ball Canning Company called Pickle Crisp. I have read the suggestion that you just omit the step of letting the pickles set overnight and don't use the lime or the alum. Then just put in the Ball Pickle Crisp in the bottom of the jars in the recommended amount and the pickles will be crisp.
I think I will start staying away from using alum. If it can be poisonous in such small amounts and a safer product is available, why not use something safer?