Fruits high in pectin eliminates the need to use a box pectin for jam and jelly. Natural homemade fruit pectin and fruits high in pectin make excellent pectin substitutes and can be used in place of a manufactured product.
As jam and jelly season approaches there are a lot of questions as to whether a manufactured pectin is necessary to use. In short, the answer is, no.
Because of the lifestyle I live, learning more about how to naturally thicken jams and jellies was necessary. The process was a learning curve, but over time I was able to achieve a good gel like consistency.
It is quite liberating to know how to preserve jams and jellies without the use of a store bought product. Though, at times, purchasing box pectin will be necessary. For example, when fruits high in pectin are not available.
Before you move on it is important to know, jams and jellies made with natural pectin do not have the same consistency of gelling as it would have with a box pectin. The final product has a looser texture and not as thick as what comes when a box pectin is used.
Pectin for Jam
Most of the pectin available in the market is produced in Europe and imported to the United States. To ensure the pectin maintains its ability to gel the box product must be used within one year. Refrain from keeping the box pectin year to year, its ability to gel decreases the longer it is kept.
Whether you are using a box pectin purchased from the market or pectin substitutes like unripe fruits, the pectin must be activated in order to allow jams and jellies to set. For this to happen heat, sugar, and acid is needed.
Citrus fruit, like lemons, will gel naturally due to being high in acidity, whereas strawberries, which are low-acid and low-pectin, requires some help to transform them into a spreadable product.
With the help of lemon juice (bottle citrus juice contains the highest amount of acidity) strawberries transform into a jam quite nicely. Or add an in season fruit which high-pectin, for example, red currants, to create a delicious preserve.
As previously stated, sugar is one of the elements needed to activate pectin, whether it is granulated sugar or a sweetener alternative. Now, sugar can be eliminated or reduced when making jam and jelly. Here are your options:
- substitute sugar for honey or any other sweetener
- use a low sugar box pectin
It must be noted, sugar is a preservative. It holds the color and texture of the food being preserved much longer than any other sweetener, including honey. Meaning, a jar of triple berry jam which has sat on the shelf for 2 years will maintain its color and texture better when sugar is used.
Those who are new (and seasoned) to preserving foods often reach for a box pectin from the market. Brands such as Sure Jell, MCP, and Ball make it easy for jams and jellies to gel and become a spreadable product.
The ingredients found in a box pectin are extracts from apples, citric acid, and dextrose (simple sugar made from corn). In short, there is nothing unnatural about purchasing box pectin. However, many choose to not use a manufactured pectin due to it containing a corn byproduct.
Another store bought pectin is Pomona’s. This option is favored among many who preserve foods. The ingredients found in Pomona’s pectin is 100% pure citrus pectin extracted from the dried peel of lemon, lime, and oranges.
This particular type of pectin does come with a learning curve, but much like using fruits high in pectin, getting jams and jellies to gel can be achieved.
Natural Fruit Pectin
Natural pectin can be found in many fruits. Some fruits are higher in pectin than others and ideal to use to help create a spreadable product. However, partnering fruits which contain medium to low amounts of pectin will also create a gel like texture for jams and jellies.
It is important to understand that natural fruit pectin does not always set. Anticipating that this problem could occur will allow you to be prepared for plan B. Plan B requires the product to be processed again with an additional amount of natural fruit pectin added.
Looking for a more natural way to get jams and jellies to gel? Pectin substitutes, such as fruits high in pectin, is the way to go. Here are a few tips to help when pectin substitutes are made.
- Fruits low in pectin need to be paired with a high-pectin fruit to get a good gel. A homemade pectin, such as an apple fruit pectin, will compensate for a low-pectin fruit.
- Ripe fruit contains less pectin than unripe fruit. When selecting the best natural fruit pectin for jam make sure to select fruit which is not fully ripe.
- Fruit juice can be used to make jelly, however, juice contains less natural pectin than fresh fruit. Adding a supplemental pectin, either a homemade or commercial variety will help the fruit juice transform into a jelly product.
When available, mix low-pectin fruits with fruits high in pectin. A triple berry jam is a great example of mixing fruits which are high and low in natural pectin.
When available, mix low-pectin fruits with fruits high in pectin. A triple berry jam is a great example of mixing fruits which are high and low in pectin.
Fruits High in Pectin
Fruits which are not overripe usually have enough natural pectin and acid to allow jams and jellies to gel. The addition of a sugar and acid will help to ensure the item sets properly. Remember, a low sugar pectin can be used to help gel when sugar is not desired.
Many of the items found below can be grown on your property, gleaned, or foraged for. For example, growing currents, blueberries, and raspberries is ideal for large and small gardens.
- tart, underripe apples
- unripe blackberries
- lemons, limes
- crab apples
- plums (but not Italian variety)
- grapes (Eastern Concord variety)
Fruits Moderate in Pectin
The items listed below contain a moderate amount of pectin and acid. However, an additional amount of either acid, pectin, and sugar may be needed to allow the item to gel.
- ripe apples
- ripe blackberries
- sour cherries
- grapes (California)
Fruits Low in Pectin
The items mentioned below contain very little pectin. Adding fruits high in pectin to these items will increase the level of pectin needed to allow the preserves to set properly.
- ripe cherries
- Italian plums
How Much Fruit Pectin to Use
Unlike a box pectin product there is a slight guessing game as to how much natural pectin is needed. There are ways to test your jam or jelly to ensure it is going to set prior to canning the jars.
Here is one important factor to keep in mind, the pectin content found in fruit will vary each season. The weather, water, soil and the age of the bush or tree it comes from plays a major role in how much natural pectin is available. There’s no guarantee the natural pectin levels will remain the same year after year.
Hence, the amount of pectin needed to allow a product to gel could very well change each year. Because of this it is necessary to test that the jam or jelly is going to set prior to canning the jars. Here are tips on how much fruit pectin is needed to achieve a spreadable product.
Natural Pectin for Making Jam
Raw fruit which is high in pectin can be used for making jam. Roughly 1/4 cup of grated or crushed fruit (for example, unripe apples) is used for every cup of fruit. Add equal amounts of sugar to fruit, or use a manufactured low sugar pectin if no sugar is desired. Add the appropriate amount of acid based on the recipe.
Natural Pectin for Making Jelly
For jellies, use 1/4 cup homemade apple pectin per cup of fruit juice. Measure both the homemade apple pectin and and fruit juice, follow the jelly recipe for how much sugar and acid (usually bottled lemon juice) to add. Those who do not wish to use sugar, substitute the natural pectin for a low sugar box pectin.
Prior to canning the jam or jelly run a gel test to ensure the preserve will set. Here are two methods to see if the preserve will gel.
Ice Cube Test
Remove a spoonful of jam or jelly from the pot, place an ice cube against the bottom of the spoon to cool the ingredients. If the preserve on the spoon sets to your approval, move forward with filling the jars and canning them.
For jams and jellies which do not set, add an additional cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of lemon juice, and more natural fruit pectin. Once again bring the ingredients to a full boil for 1 minute and run another gel test.
Frozen Plate Test
Place a plate in the freezer at the beginning of your jam making session. Once the jam or jelly has reached the appropriate boiling time, spoon a small amount of jam onto the plate, tilting it vertically. If the jam moves slowly down the plate and is not runny, it will have a gel consistency.
Stir the jam or jelly with a silicone spatula, watch how the ingredients drip. If the jam runs off and looks runny it will more than likely not set. However, if the jam or jelly slowly runs off the spatula and is thick in consistency you rest easy, the product will gel.
Jams and jelly made with sugar will set at 220 degrees. The sugar and pectin bond at 220 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing the jam and jelly to gel.
Nothing is Guaranteed
A natural pectin substitute allows you to leave behind the box pectin found at the market. However, when using natural pectin substitutes there is no guarantee as to how much natural pectin to use, and whether or not it will set. And in truth, this holds true with any type of pectin used.