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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Issue of Preservatives

If you have been following this blog you will know it is very much about making it at home if possible.  In most cases homemade is cheaper and in many cases the homemade product is healthier through less artificial flavours, colourants and preservatives.  So by all means and given the amount of home canning I do on a regular basis and given that home canning results in a healthier, less expensive product I am hesitant to to say that there are sometimes commercially canned may be the most frugal choice.

commercially canned dill pickles and olives
I grow a descent sized garden and what I don't grow I buy from local farmers, usually organic.  The past few years has been iffy with respect to pickling cucumbers.  At best I've managed to grow enough to make a good sized batch of freezer pickles. I've managed to siphon off enough for a batch or two of dill pickles but it has been really hard.  The real catch comes if I buy pickling cucumbers enough for 4 L jars I will pay around $8 which doesn't sound all that bad.  Except I can buy a 1 gal (a little over 4 L) for about $4 at Sam's Club.  In this case it makes sense to buy the jar from Sam's Club or does it? 

The Sam's Club jar contains sodium benzoate as a preservative.  Since the pickles will not be heated that isn't a concern but if they were heated sodium benzoate reduces to benzene, a known carcinogen.  The commercially canned pickles also contain polysorbate 80 (an emulsifier) and yellow 5.  While polysorbate 80 is not carcinogenic I question why it is there in the first place.  Yellow 5 is the food dye tartazine, an azo dye.  The problem with tartazine is it does cause allergic reactions especially in those sensitive or allergic to aspirin.  Tartazine is an asthma trigger and can cause outbreaks of hives.  As a person with allergies including food allergies suddenly that $4 jar of pickles does not look so appealing.  Well the jar looks rather good for later storage and the pickles will be used for those not sensitive.  In this case though the pickles were not a frugal choice.  Even though making my own would have cost more they would have resulted in a significantly safer product for those like me that are sensitive to food dyes and preservatives.

Sam's Club also sells premium olives in a two pack of 21 oz jars for about $5.  Since I have absolutely no ready source for raw olives I have no choice but to buy them.  The only preservative in the olives is potassium sorbate, the salt of sorbic acid.  Sorbic acid is an unsaturated carboxylic acid that occures naturally in some berries.  Potassium sorbate is a preservative used to inhibit molds and yeasts in cheese, wine, yogurt, dried meats, apple cide, dried fruits and baked goods as well as many personal care products.  It is aluse used as a wine stabilizer.  Potassium sorbate is non-irritating and non-sensitizing with allergic reactions being quite rare.  The olive contain no additional dyes or preservatives.  In this case the olives are a frugal choice for me. 

Now this is something to keep in mind.  If a product like the dill pickles have the potential to cause food related allergies they are best avoided entirely.  In this case the homemade version is the more frugal choice even if it ends up being more expensive.  On the other hand a product like the olives that is rather benign the commercial version is the frugal choice.  As a bit of an aside, many people experience side effects specifically from commercially canned foods than they realize.  Consider the person sensitive to tartazine, a couple of pickle slices might give a slight rash while a whole pickle might give a greater reaction BUT with allergies each exposure will give a stronger reaction.  So if you are looking for possible solutions to unexplained rashes, hives, or something similar start checking those food labels!

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