Newbie canning rhubarb w/ sugar question?

silverwind(z5 IL)May 18, 2011

Ball Blue Book (guide to preserving) says that rhubarb NEEDS sugar and one should only use the basic recipes.

This goes against TONS of recipes and tips I run across in blogs which say it's fine to reduce.

Which is right? More importantly, WHY? Why does Ball claim it NEEDS sugar? Is it just because it's naturally tart/sour/bitter/choose your adjective? I'm kind of lost. :/

If anyone has their favorite Go To! site or book for information, Q&A or recipes, also, I'd love some hints on where to look. :) There seems to be a ton of info out there but I'm just not experienced enough to cull the 'meh' from the 'awesome!'. I know I LOVE to experiment in the kitchen, and tweak recipes with spices and the like, but I'm nervy about even thinking about it here... :(


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readinglady(z8 OR)

I'm sorry, but I've looked at the BBB and I can't find the comment you're referring to. Can you provide an edition and page number?

Also, are you considering canning rhubard, either as pieces or sauce or looking at using it in some kind of preserve? I'm not sure what you're planning.

Generally speaking, rhubarb doesn't need sugar, at least not for safety. But canning rhubarb without any sugar would result in a sour stringy mess in the jar. Sugar doesn't just sweeten. It helps preserve texture and color.


    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 7:33PM
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silverwind(z5 IL)

It's the magazine-looking book, the 100th Anniversary edition. On page 74 the portion I'm referring to reads:

"...Water or unsweetened fruit juice may be used in place of a sugar syrup. Use only the Hot Pack method when canning fruit without sugar. Figs require added lemon juice or citric acid and rhubarb requires sugar; therefore, use only recipes in the High-Acid Foods section for these fruits."

So. I just did a small batch today of a basic sauce, which is nice enough for a start - but there's a lot more rhubarb where that came from, and I'd like to do more with it this year instead of letting it go to waste. I just don't need the quantity of sugar I'm finding in a lot of recipes if I don't need it. The tartness doesn't bother me quite so much (and my husband even less! :) ), and besides, I tend to prefer doing small batches of different things rather than large batches of the same. I'm just curious if I can take some of the nifty recipes I'm finding for the rhubarb and be safe enough with cutting some of the sugar or subbing something like fruit juice.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 8:25PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Just a bit of a misunderstanding I think.

The comment you quote isn't specific to rhubarb. It applies to canning all acidic fruits. They may be canned in one of the many levels of sugar syrup OR they may be canned in water (poor results), OR they may be canned using a sugar subsitute if the off taste is acceptable to you, OR they may be canned in fruit juices (many use apple juice).

One of the sugar syrups OR the fruit juice gets best results according to many of us. Go to pg. 16 and look at the sugar syrup table - Extra-Light, Light, Medium, etc.

So it isn't so much that the sugar is NEEDED but some is preferable for color retention, gelling, etc.

As an alternative there are recipes for rhubarb jam, stewed rhubarb, rhubarb conserve etc. available in the same book.


    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 8:55PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Page 21 is the directions for plain canned rhubarb. It calls for 1/2 to 1 cup sugar per 2 lbs. of chopped rhubarb. 1/2 cup for that much rhubarb isn't much but if that is too much for you, just add sugar to your taste. Just know that if you don't use ANY sugar in it, as Carol said above, it will be a greenish, stringy, sour mess in the jar. :)

If you want no sugar at all then freezing it is your best option.

Hope this helps.


PS: oh and please be very careful with all those blogs and other websites out there. Lots of very risky info on the web when it comes to canning, especially when you get into low-acid foods and untested recipes.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 9:01PM
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readinglady(z8 OR)

The BBB isn't always as well-written and clear as we'd hope. Their expertise is food preservation, not writing.

So yes, as mentioned, you can safely reduce the sugar to whatever level you wish, or for something like a sauce or compote or plained canned rhubarb, use some honey instead.

For preserves, however, you have to be careful with sugar adjustments because reducing sugar can affect the set of the preserve (unless you're using a Pomona-type pectin designed for low or no sugar).

And I'd strongly second Dave's very sound precaution. Be careful with websites. A lot of canning information on the web is neither safe nor wise.


    Bookmark   May 18, 2011 at 10:42PM
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silverwind(z5 IL)

Thanks, everyone. :) Yeah... I'd noted the other recipes, and I find ones online all over, but without knowing where they're really from I'm ... nervy. Just trying to figure out where the 'okay to adjust' part actually ENDS on a case by case basis is a pain in the rear, especially without having enough familiarity!

Is there anything, a book or website, that could be recommended? I don't see myself trying to do much other than fruit-based items or tomatoes (I can't stand pickles, sorry. XD ), so I don't know that something half or more devoted to pickling and meats would be very helpful in my case. And I'd like to get an idea of what's actually *trusted* instead of some fancy, glossy cover in the library that may not actually be helpful...

Still. YAY PROGRESS! First mini-batch of sauce SEALED! WOO! Yes, I'm inordinately proud of myself. I'll take the small victories. ;D

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 12:29PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Is there anything, a book or website, that could be recommended?

For approved and tested recipes? Sure. The Ball Blue Book and the Ball Complete Book, the NCHFP website,,, just for starters.

But for "trying to figure out where the 'okay to adjust' part actually ENDS" is where the problems start. In theory, "adjusting" approved recipes isn't recommended. In theory, they are to be used as written.

But while one cannot safely can their own made-up recipes, clearly some limited amount of adjusting to the approved ones is possible once one understands the chemistry and other reasons that lie behind the guidelines, the reasons for them. For example, the role sugar plays in canning acid foods vs. low-acid foods, the effects of adding or reducing ingredients has on the pH of the food, the role of salt in canning vs. its role in making pickled or fermented foods.

Without that underlying knowledge then the choice is to use the recipe as written OR have it evaluated by those who do have that knowledge on a case by case basis. That knowledge comes with training and experience. NCHFP is the recognized source of the all the most accurate information and lots of reading there will get you started down the learning road. They offer an online free course you can take too.


Here is a link that might be useful: NCHFP

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 3:53PM
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