Calcium Chloride is a generic firming agent that can be used in pickling.
Many people like it and swear by the results; a few still say that nothing will ever replace the crispness of an actual limed pickle.
Going into the preserving process, it can help to maintain the crispness that produce has. But, it will never restore lost crispness.
It’s easy to use; you just add it directly to each jar of preserves. You only need a very small amount of it per jar, so a canister or tub of it goes a long way.
To be clear, calcium chloride is a generic product. There is nothing magic about having a company name attached to a jar of it. All packaged versions of it will be pure, certified food-grade calcium chloride. Never use any calcium chloride in your home canning unless you know for sure it is certified for food use.
Newell branded (Ball and Bernardin) calcium chloride
The Newell Corporation, through its Ball and Bernardin brand names, sells it in green plastic canisters under the name of “Pickle Crisp®.” Unlike their other pickle mixtures, their Pickle Crisp is a pure ingredient (pure Calcium Chloride) with no added salt or extra flavourings, etc. It is a coarse powder consisting of small, white round balls.
There is nothing magic about having a brand name attacked to calcium chloride, as long as you are buying pure, food-grade calcium chloride. The convenient thing about the Ball / Bernardin brand is that it’s packaged in small, consumer friendly sizes (rather than a 100 lb sack.)
As of 2019, Mrs Wages has launched their own version of this called “Xtra Crunch.”
How much calcium chloride to use
Generally, use about 1/8th teaspoon per 1/2 litre (US pint) jar; 1/4 teaspoon per litre (US quart) jar.
But you can use more than than. For instance, the Bernardin recipe for Carrot and Daikon Pickle  Bernardin Guide 2013, page 86 calls for 3/4 teaspoon of Pickle Crisp per 1/2 litre (US pint) jar. We queried this, and heard back from Bernardin’s chef Emerie Brine, who said that the 1/8th a teaspoon was just a guide, and that the full 3/4 teaspoon per jar should be tried.  Emerie Brine to Randal Oulton. 26 January 2015. Email on file.
The authors of the Ball / Bernardin Complete Book advise,
Use Pickle Crisp to make fresh-pack pickles crisper. Add 3/4 tsp to pint (500 ml) jars and 1 1/2 tsp to quart (1 L) jars before processing.”  Kingry, Judi and Lauren Devine. Ball / Bernardin Complete Book of Home Preserving. Toronto: Robert Rose. 2015. Page 306
Other uses besides pickles
Some people advise that if you want to try calcium chloride with fermented pickled products, add it into the jars when you are actually canning the pickles or sauerkraut, not into the vat during the fermentation process.
It can also be used to help improve texture in canned apple slices, pears, peaches, etc. Some people also use it when canning whole tomatoes so that the tomatoes stay together better.
Can give a bit of a salty taste without the added sodium
In addition to crisping up pickles, calcium chloride can also give a bit of a salty taste, while not adding any sodium to your food.
Home brewers who mistakenly add too much calcium chloride to their brewing mash complain that it tastes like sea water.
Here’s what the “Putting Food By” people have to say about calcium chloride:
Calcium chloride, of course, food-grade. Some people find this more acceptable than alum, but we do not include it in any pickle recipe or canning instruction in this book. It is an ingredient often used by commercial canners, especially in tomatoes. If you feel impelled to use it, get it from a drugstore or internet source in a food-pure form—not as sold at farm- and garden-supply centers for settling dust on roads or for dehumidifying closets, etc., or for fireproofing. And, because too much of it could leave a bitter aftertaste, never substitute it measure-for-measure for regular salt (sodium chloride). Instead, figure how much salt you’ll need for a batch of, say, tomatoes, and in advance mix not more than 1 part calcium chloride with 2 parts regular salt. Then add the mixture in the amount of optional salt seasoning that the canning instructions call for.”  Hertzberg, Ruth; Greene, Janet; Vaughan, Beatrice (2010-05-25). Putting Food By: Fifth Edition (p. 42). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Use as a pre-soak
In the first incarnation of Pickle Crisp (see History below), Ball advised that you could use it as a pre-soak.
They don’t mention its use as a pre-soak now (2015), though some people add it to the initial brining step in some pickled onion recipes, and are please with the crunchy results, even after water bath canning the jars.
Store your calcium chloride / Pickle Crisp in a very tightly sealed jar to keep all moisture out, or it will clump because it is very “hygroscopic.”
One maker of it says this:
When calcium chloride is stored in a manner that allows contact with humid air, the product is likely to become caked. If lightly caked, the product may be broken up into usable form by knocking the closed package against a hard surface, similar to breaking up a bag of ice purchased from a convenience store. In other cases, the caked product may be too hard for this approach to be effective. Use of forceful hammering is not likely to be effective and is not recommended, as flying chips of product could be a hazard, particularly to the eyes. Caked product that cannot be broken up into usable form may be disposed of according to the guidance on the product label.” OxyChem. General Calcium Chloride FAQS. Accessed February 2018 at https://www.oxycalciumchloride.com/about-us/everything-calcium-chloride/frequently-asked-questions
1 teaspoon = 3.5 g (.12 oz)
Calcium chloride (CaCl2) is a natural compound of calcium and chlorine derived from limestone. Mineral-wise, it’s technically a salt, though it’s not salt salt (sodium chloride.)
In Europe, it’s permitted to be used as a firming agent (E number E509), and has GRAS (“generally recognized as safe”) status in America with the FDA.
It’s also used by wine makers, brewers, Molecular Gastronomy chefs and Modernist Cooking chefs.
If you do not purchase it as “Pickle Crisp” then make sure you are getting pure calcium chloride; make sure it is also food grade calcium chloride and not industrial grade. You could try a brewer’s supply store.
What about the pH
In the quantities used in home canning, calcium chloride will not impact your pH. You’d need to use enough to turn your cucumbers into fossils to have an impact on pH.
The OxyChem company says,
What is the pH of an OxyChem calcium chloride solution? Accurate and consistent pH measurement in concentrated salt solutions is quite challenging. Results will vary significantly depending on the type of pH probe used and to what degree (if any) the solution is diluted prior to measurement. OxyChem calcium chloride products are somewhat alkaline due to the presence of a small amount of calcium hydroxide impurity. The pH reading for an undiluted sample of 35% solution should be approximately 9.” OxyChem. General Calcium Chloride FAQS.
Brewers’ Speciality Products (a division of Rahr Corporation) estimates that a 10% calcium chloride slurry will have a pH of 5.4% Brewers’ Calcium Chloride Product Information Sheet. 2002. Accessed Feb 2018 at https://bsgcraftbrewing.com/Resources/CraftBrewing/PDFs/Product_Spec_and_Data_Sheets/Product_Data_Sheets/BrewersCalciumChloride_PI.pdf
The ratio of 1/4 teaspoon per litre jar of pickles (1.25 ml per 1000 ml) works out to be just a 0.125% mixture. That is so infinitesimally small that it wouldn’t have any impact even on straight pure water, let alone a jar full of vinegary pickle brine. So, we are going to say there are 0 pH concerns for home canning applications.
Calcium chloride in New Zealand
The brand name “Pickle Crisp” is ludicrously expensive in New Zealand, owing to import costs. We’ve seen it being advertised for up to $40.00 and over.
Bear in mind that it is pure food grade calcium chloride. You just need to find that under another name. Brewing supply stores often sell it. Here’s one store that, as of February 2018, charges $10.00 for 1 lb (500 g) of it, with (we are told) $3.00 shipping. https://www.brewshop.co.nz/calcium-chloride.html
History of calcium chloride / Pickle Crisp in preserving
Calcium chloride was apparently first used in preserving in an atttempt to help achieve higher canning temperatures in the days before reliable pressure canners (aka retorts) were invented: “[Appert] did experiment with pressure processing, but at that time ‘digesters’ were quite dangerous, and it was not the norm. Around 1863 processors used ‘chemical baths’, in which high concentrations of calcium chloride enabled ‘water’ to boil at up to 121 C. This allowed for significantly shorter cooking times. By 1870 basic retorts were being used to temperatures up to 121 C but they were still quite dangerous and hand operated.”  Featherstone, Susan. A Complete Course in Canning and Related Processes: Volume 2. Cambridge, England. Woodhead Publishing. 2014. Page xxxi.
Ball first sold calcium chloride as a crisping agent called “Pickle Crisp” starting somewhere around 2004 / 2005. They discontinued it by the end of 2007. By 2013, they had returned the product to the market.
They originally sold it in 26 gram foil packages, with each package being able to handle 4 to 5 quart jars.
The directions initially were 3/4 teaspoon per 1/2 litre (US pint) jar; 1 1/2 teaspoons per litre (US quart) jar. For use as a pre-soak, the directions were to dissolve one whole 26 g packet in 4 litres (a US gallon) of water.
The formulation must have been different, because people said you heard a fizz as you added it to a wet jar, or water, and some steam came off, and that doesn’t happen now (2015. )
As well, it appears to have been a finer powder in its 2004 to 2007 incarnation — it was reintroduced in 2013 in a more granular form.
Here is the original brochure for the product:
Views of the Pickle Crisp jar
Here are two shots of the sides of the Pickle Crisp jar. Notice that it is pure calcium chloride, with nothing else added. Ball’s / Bernardin’s other bottled pickling mixes are very different: while Pickle Crisp is pure and salt free, the other pickling mixes are largely salt. Pickle Crisp is not.
Here’s the usage directions. Note that they are clear that just is just a crisper, and that you should in no way think that Pickle Crisp aids in proper preservation of your food products: responsibility for that is still on your shoulders!
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Bernardin Guide 2013, page 86|
|2.||↑||Emerie Brine to Randal Oulton. 26 January 2015. Email on file.|
|3.||↑||Kingry, Judi and Lauren Devine. Ball / Bernardin Complete Book of Home Preserving. Toronto: Robert Rose. 2015. Page 306|
|4.||↑||Hertzberg, Ruth; Greene, Janet; Vaughan, Beatrice (2010-05-25). Putting Food By: Fifth Edition (p. 42). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.|
|5.||↑||OxyChem. General Calcium Chloride FAQS. Accessed February 2018 at https://www.oxycalciumchloride.com/about-us/everything-calcium-chloride/frequently-asked-questions|
|6.||↑||OxyChem. General Calcium Chloride FAQS.|
|7.||↑||Brewers’ Calcium Chloride Product Information Sheet. 2002. Accessed Feb 2018 at https://bsgcraftbrewing.com/Resources/CraftBrewing/PDFs/Product_Spec_and_Data_Sheets/Product_Data_Sheets/BrewersCalciumChloride_PI.pdf|
|8.||↑||Featherstone, Susan. A Complete Course in Canning and Related Processes: Volume 2. Cambridge, England. Woodhead Publishing. 2014. Page xxxi.|