Pectin is added to jams and jellies to help them thicken. While pectin occurs naturally in fruits, pectin is also available as a commercially produced powder, which can be added as a separate ingredient during the jam- or jelly-making process. Using pectin in your jam or jelly reduces cooking times, improves texture and color, and helps keep jam fresher for longer.
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What is Pectin?
Pectin is a soluble fiber found naturally in fruits and other plants. When combined with sugar and brought to a boil, pectin bonds with sugar, thickening the texture. Added pectin, either natural or commercially produced, is beneficial mainly because it reduces cooking times for jams and jellies.
Helps Jams and Jellies to Jell
Using pectin means jams and jellies thicken after only a few minutes of cooking, rather than after a couple of hours. While jams and jellies could thicken naturally with a long, slow cooking process, using added pectin means jams can be ready four times faster.
Keeps It Fresh
Because pectin means jams and jellies can thicken with less cooking time, the flavor of the fruit is preserved. This is especially important for low-pectin fruits such as strawberries. The shorter cooking time also means that jams and jellies retain the bright colors of fresh fruits -- longer exposure to heat causes fruit to darken.
Quantity and Texture
As fruit cooks, the quantity reduces because moisture evaporates. The shorter cooking time needed because of the added pectin means less reduction, so more jam from the same amount of fruit. The faster jelling time also means that jams and jellies have a more spreadable texture. Long-cooked jams and jellies are often very sticky, and not highly spreadable. The silky texture of many jams -- especially ones with suspended pieces of fruit -- is only possible with the use of pectin.
Natural vs. Commercial Pectin
Commercial pectin powder can be purchased at most grocery stores and used for homemade jams and jellies. The amount required depends on the type of fruit you are using, because some fruits naturally contain more pectin than others. Low pectin fruits, such as pears, require more added pectin to achieve the same thickness, while high pectin fruits, such as apples, may not need added pectin at all.
To Make Pectin at Home
Boil unripe, unpeeled, uncored apples in a small amount of water, roughly 2 cups for every pound of whole apples.
Cook until softened, about 20 minutes.
Place the apple pulp in cheesecloth and set it in a strainer, collecting the liquid. Let it rest overnight.
Reduce the collected apple juice by half, and use in a recipe as natural apple pectin.
Natural pectin helps jams and jellies thicken and jell naturally, with little cooking. However, natural pectin does not produce as strong a jelling effect as commercial pectin. Jams and jellies made with natural pectin will jell, but with a runnier consistency.