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The Instant Pot has been a real game-changer to many people. People with a busy schedule; people who make a lot of yogurt or rice; people who could benefit from a multi-purpose kitchen tool; and people who enjoy pressure cooking. However, what about people who love to take up canning? Is the Instant Pot a good solution for canning food?
Canning food can be an intimidating process at first. There’s certainly a learning curve with a lot of safety precautions. However, most people agree that once you get comfortable with it, the outcome is very rewarding. Canning food can help you save time, reduce food wastage, and preserve fruits and vegetables that are otherwise unavailable all year long.
Whether you’re new to canning or you’ve recently bought an Instant Pot and want to know whether you can use it for canning food, we’ve put together a little guide to help you make a good decision. But, first, we need to talk about canning in general.
What Happens to Food When You Can?
People have always looked for ways to preserve food for longer periods of time. And, in 1809, Nicolas Appert of France found a new way to prevent food from spoilage. He invented canning, a method that would change the food industry forever.
Canning is a way to prevent food from spoiling by storing it in containers that are hermetically sealed and then sterilized by heat. The process behind it seems so logical and simple to us now, but then it took people another 50 years before they found out how canning preserves food.
Hermetically (completely airtight) sealing the food in a jar and then heating it to a certain temperature kills all the microorganisms inside the jar. And, because the food is hermetically sealed, new organisms can’t reach the food until we open it to consume it – successfully prolonging the food’s shelf life. In fact, the Canned Food Alliance has claimed that even food in dented or rusted old cans can be safely consumed if the container remains sealed.
Additionally, a lot of studies have confirmed that the nutritional value of canned food is preserved and does not deteriorate for at least two years from the moment the food has been canned.
The only real danger from canned food is clostridium botulinum bacteria – one of the most lethal substances that cause severe and dangerous food poisoning. It’s a rare toxin but one that can be caused by improperly processed foods, including homemade canned and fermented foods, which is why this process requires a lot of caution.
Pressure Cookers and Canning
Knowing that canning could potentially be a dangerous way of preserving food, the canning methods and safety precautions have been thoroughly researched. Today, we have a good idea of what someone needs to do to ensure a safe canning process. Can pressure cookers such as the Instant Pot guarantee a safe canning process?
A lot of electric pressure cookers have been advertised as a great tool with which one can process home-canned foods. Some models of the Instant Pot even come with a “canning” feature/option. Yet, The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recommended against electric pressure cookers being used for canning. This was also supported by preliminary research conducted by Utah State University.
The reason behind this is that it seems pressure cookers, including the Instant Pot, do not hit the high temperature needed for canning safely at home. This is mostly because the Instant Pot is regulated by a pressure sensor, and not by a thermometer. The pressure sensor is not a reliable indicator of the cooking temperature. For instance, the altitude of your location can significantly impact the actual cooking temperature, which in some cases can make canning an unsafe procedure.
For many, this is more than enough to end the conversation and never attempt to can in an Instant Pot. This would be a totally reasonable conclusion. However, more experienced canners might wonder whether the same conclusion can be applied to all types of canning. This is a valid remark, so let’s break this down.
Types of Canning
Essentially, there are three methods or types of canning: pressure canning, water bath canning, and atmospheric steam can. We’ll explain each method in more detail and see whether some of them might be a safer alternative for home canning.
Pressure canning is a technique of home food preservation that uses a pressure cooker or similar equipment to process food at a higher temperature than other canning methods, such as the water bath canning technique. In other words, everything that we’ve been talking about so far in the article referred to pressure canning.
The study from Utah University and the recommendations from the USDA were also made for pressure canning in electric pressure cookers. This is important to know because pressure canning works very differently than water bath canning.
Pressure canning uses a lot less water than water bath canning – the jars are not covered in water. Instead, the Instant Pot traps steam inside the pressurized container which helps raise the temperature beyond 240 degrees Fahrenheit.
The advantages of pressure canning include:
- Ability to preserve lower acidic food without the need of adding acid.
- Ability to maintain the natural flavor of foods (more so than other methods).
- Using less water and energy during the canning process.
- Ability to keep the canned products at room temperature.
However, one of the biggest disadvantages of pressure canning is the inability to control the temperature at different altitudes because the Instant Pot is regulated by a pressure sensor and not a thermometer. This is a very serious safety concern that should not be ignored.
Can You Pressure Can In an Instant Pot?
To conclude, we do not recommend pressure canning in an Instant Pot because of the studies and USDA recommendations. Remember that an improper canning process can cause botulism – a potentially fatal food poisoning.
Water Bath Canning
The classical way to can your food at home is through a so-called water bath technique. In fact, this is what we explained when we discussed Nicolas Appert of France who invented canning.
Water bath canning, also known as boiling water canning, is a very easy method of canning through which you can preserve your favorite jams, pickles, or sauces. It works by hermetically sealing the jars and then submerging them completely in boiling water for at least 10 minutes, but maybe more depending on the recipe and type of food.
However, there’s a “catch.” Water bath canning only works for high-acidic foods. For example, you can preserve tomatoes, fruit, fermented vegetables such as pickles or sauerkraut. You can also preserve different jams, jellies, and sauces.
With the water bath method, you can’t preserve meats, beans, seafood, corn, or any low-acidic vegetables such as cucumbers. For these foods, you need to do pressure canning.
Can You Water Bath Can In an Instant Pot?
This is another advantage of the water bath canning – you can absolutely do this in an Instant Pot under three conditions:
- The lid needs to be off! Do not put the lid off – you should not create a pressurized environment.
- The jars need to be elevated! You need to have a rack that fits inside the Instant Pot because if the jars sit directly on the bottom of the pot the heat can crack the jars.
- The jars need to be fully submerged in water! This method won’t work if your Instant Pot doesn’t have enough height to fully submerge the jars underwater.
If you can fulfill these three conditions, then you can safely do water bath canning in the Instant Pot.
Atmospheric Steam Can
Finally, the third type of canning is a so-called atmospheric steam canning, which is an alternative to pressure canning.
To safely can foods under pressure you need at least 10 psig (pounds-per-square-inch gauge). At sea level, this is needed to create a boiling temperature of 240 degrees F. The Instant Pot claims to be able to reach 15 psig. That’s great, however, we’ve seen studies that claim that the Instant Pot’s 15 psig is not enough to kill all the harmful bacteria. The reason for this is altitude. For instance, if you live more than 1000 feet (300 meters) above sea level, the minimum psig should be increased. The SpruceEats have a nice guide on how to safely do pressure canning at higher altitudes.
What has this to do with atmospheric steam canning? Well, both pressure and steam canning use pressure instead of water to create a high temperature. However, unlike pressure canning where the environment is created artificially (induced pressure), the steam canners use natural atmospheric steam to reach sterilizing heat. Here, the jars are enclosed in a pot that uses natural steam to process the food.
The University of Wisconsin has conducted a study where they concluded that atmospheric steam canning is safe for home food preservation of high acidic foods.
Unlike pressure canning, steam canning has the same limitations as water bath canning when it comes to the type of food you can preserve. However, it does share some of the benefits of pressure canning – it saves water and energy and it saves the flavor of the food.
Can You Steam Can In an Instant Pot?
Unfortunately, no. You can’t steam can in an Instant Pot. To preserve food under steam you need an atmospheric steam canner. Tools that are specifically designed for canning under steam are your best bet if you don’t want to risk food poisoning or simply spoiling food with improper techniques. Also, don’t use old models that are out of production – they may not be safe.
Canning foods for preservation is a centuries-old technique that some cultures have heavily depended on for survival during winter days. In fact, in many countries throughout the world, canning through the water bath method is a tradition that is still practiced today, especially in Slavic countries. However, for someone who’s just starting with canning or wants to modernize traditional canning techniques, using the Instant Pot might seem like the most practical solution.
There are many things for which the Instant Pot is indispensable, but when it comes to canning – the verdict is not in its favor – at least for pressure canning. Sure, you could can in an Instant Pot, especially if you have a newer model such as the Instant Pot Max, but there are safety concerns backed by science.
You could avoid these safety risks by taking further precautions, but this can be very overwhelming for newbies.
Our recommendation is to begin with water bath canning, gain experience and confidence, and then slowly progress as you learn more about this process. The good news is that you can do water bath canning in an Instant Pot.