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Alum for Pickling


Alum for pickling is not a specific product. Rather, there are many other uses of alum. Some pickles recipe handed down from your grandmothers call for the usage of alum.

What is alum? Is it a safe chemical to use for pickling? Alum for pickling - safety guideline how to use this chemical is described in more detail in this page. Alum is a salt which results from a chemical reaction between an alkaline metal such as sodium, potassium or ammonia with a trivalent metal like aluminum, iron or chromium.

Potassium-based alum has been used to produce crisp cucumber and watermelon- rind pickles as well as maraschino cherries, where the aluminum ions strengthen the fruits' cell-wall pectins.

Alum powder, usually found amongst spices at grocery stores, is used in pickling recipes as a preservative, to maintain crispness, and as an ingredient in some play dough recipes. It is also commonly recommended as a home remedy or pain relief for canker sores.

Alum for pickling is approved by the U.S. FDA as a food additive, but in large quantities (more than an ounce) it becomes toxic. As a result, efforts are being made to wean us of our alum dependency. If good quality produce and modern canning methods are employed, there is no need to use alum to bolster the crispness of the pickles and cherries. In any event, even if alum is used to soak the pickles, it should not be used in the final pickling liquid.

Traditional ways to make crisp pickles include using alum powder, lime water solution and also adding grape leaves (which contains tanine).

Avoid inhaling the alum powder-water mixture (or limewater solution) while mixing. Soak cucumbers in lime water for 12 hours to 24 hours. You must remove the excess lime absorbed by the cucumbers to make safe pickles. Remove cucumbers from lime solution, rinse and soak for one hour in fresh cold water. Repeat the rinsing and soaking steps in fresh water two more times.

Handle carefully, as slices will be brittle. Drain well.

Other uses of Alum

Alums are useful for a range of industrial processes. They are soluble in water; have an astringent, acid, and sweetish taste; react acid to litmus; and crystallize in regular octahedra. When heated they liquefy; and if the heating is continued, the water of crystallization is driven off, the salt froths and swells, and at last an amorphous powder remains.

Potassium alum is the common alum of commerce, although both soda alum and ammonium alum are manufactured.

  • Shaving alum is a powdered form of alum used as an astringent to prevent bleeding from small shaving cuts. The styptic pencils sold for this purpose contain aluminium sulfate or potassium aluminium sulfate. Similar products are also used on animals to prevent bleeding after nail-clipping. Alum in block form (usually potassium alum) is used as an aftershave, rubbed over the wet freshly shaved face.
  • Crystal deodorant - Alum was used in the past as a natural underarm deodorant in Europe, Mexico, Thailand, the Far East and in the Philippines where it is called Tawas (also a Malay word). It is now commercially sold for this purpose in many countries, often in a plastic case that protects the crystal and makes it resemble other non-liquid deodorants. Typically potassium alum is used.
  • Water treatment - Alum (aluminium sulfate) is used in water treatment. The addition of alum to raw water causes small particles and colloids to stick together and form heavier particles (floc) which will settle in water. This process is called coagulation or flocculation. Malay villagers used to use tawas to clear the water taken from their wells.

Above are basic tips to use alum for pickling. Hope you learned some useful information about this basic pickles ingredient.

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