Using Natural Pectin For Jams & Jellies | Homemade Pectin

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Jams and jellies are a staple in many households, especially during the summer season when fruits are abundant. These sweet spreads are not only delicious but also versatile, as they can be used as toppings, fillings, or even condiments. However, making jams and jellies can be challenging, especially when it comes to achieving the right consistency. This is where pectin comes in. Pectin is a natural thickening agent found in fruits that helps jams and jellies set. Lets explore the benefits of natural pectin, the dangers of store-bought pectin, and how to make homemade pectin using apples. Stick around to the end to read all about our super easy method to make sure you get a thick jam with no store-bought pectin or even having to make your own pectin concentrate!

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What is Natural Pectin?

Pectin is a complex carbohydrate found in the cell walls of plants, particularly in fruits such as apples, pears, plums, and citrus.

Natural Pectin Concentration

The amount of natural pectin in a fruit varies depending on the fruit’s ripeness and the time of year it is harvested. The pectin enzymes help the fruit maintain its firmness and shape. As the fruit continues to ripen, the pectin levels are lowered and this is why they begin to get soft and mushy. Thus, under-ripe fruit contains more pectin than overripe fruit, which is why it’s important to choose the right fruit for your recipe.

Benefits in Natural Pectin

Apples and citrus, such as lemons, contain more natural pectin than most fruits and are the preferred source when using natural sources. Pectin has many health benefits, as it is a source of soluble fiber, which aids digestion and promotes healthy cholesterol levels.

How Natural Pectin Works

Pectin, both naturally occurring and store-bought, requires the use of heat, acid and sugar in order to give us the consistency we want in our jams and jellies. Pectin molecules are negatively charged and naturally repel each other. However, we want them to ‘stick’ to each other in order to form a molecular web to add that thickness.

The Need For Heat

The fruits used to make the jam typically produce a high water concentration and those pectin molecules begin to stick to the water, bringing us further from a thick gel. When heat is added, the water concentration is lowered and the pectin enzymes become active.

natural source of pectin

The Need For Acid

Furthermore, the fruits used also add acid which helps to neutralize the negative ions of the pectin so they repel each other less. Additional acid may be needed when using low-acid fruits or no fruit recipes. Lemon juice or other citrus juice works great for this.

The Need For Sugar

When sugar is added to the jam, the water molecules are pulled further away from the pectin and create water-sugar molecules instead. This allows the pectin chains to further bond with each other and create thickness when cooled.

natural apple pectin

Dangers of Store-Bought Pectin

While store-bought pectin might seem like a convenient option for jam-making, it often comes with downsides that health-conscious homesteaders and canners should be aware of.

Risky Additives

One of the primary concerns with store-bought pectin is the presence of additives and preservatives. Manufacturers often add these substances to prolong the shelf life of their products and enhance their appearance. These additives can include artificial colors, flavors, and chemical preservatives like sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate. These compounds, while deemed safe in small quantities by regulatory agencies, may not align with the preferences of health-conscious individuals who prefer minimally processed foods.

Questionable Extraction

Acids, ethanol, isopropanol and ammonium hydroxide are all used in the production process of store-bought pectin’s. They use these chemicals to breakdown and extract the pectin from dried citrus peels and apple pomace, both by-products of juice production. Moreover, the fruits used to make store-bought pectin are often not organic and may contain pesticides and other chemicals that can be harmful to your health.

High Sugar Content

Store-bought pectin products frequently require a substantial amount of sugar to achieve proper gelling. The recommended sugar-to-fruit ratios can be as high as 7 cups of sugar per 4 cups of crushed fruit when using some commercial pectin brands. This excessive sugar intake can lead to several health concerns, including weight gain, blood sugar spikes, and an increased risk of developing conditions like diabetes and heart disease. It can also overshadow the natural flavors of the fruits you’re preserving.

Added Cost

Another down fall to store-bought pectin brands is the added cost. A single box of Sure-Jell runs $2-$5, which will yield only 2-3 pints of jam. This instantly brings your cost equal to that of a store-bought jar of jelly. Of course, homemade is healthier since your jam would not have any added ingredients, but keeping costs down on homemade foods is imperative for sustainability.

Homemade Pectin Concentrate using Apples

Making homemade pectin using apples is a simple and safe alternative to store-bought pectin. It’s great to have on hand, with a shelf life of up to a year when properly stored, and is also a great use for leftover apple peels and cores. Here’s how to do it:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 pounds underripe crab-apples or Granny Smith apples

Instructions:

natural pectin
  1. Wash and chop the apples into small pieces, leaving the skin and core intact, this is where most of the pectin is stored in the fruit.
  2. Place the apples in a large pot with the water and bring to a boil over high heat.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and let the apples simmer for 20 minutes or until they are soft.
  4. Mash the apples with a potato masher or a fork and allow to cool. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth or a fine-mesh sieve to remove any solids.
  5. Gather the corners of the cheesecloth and tie in a knot. Suspend the cheesecloth and allow to drip into a bowl overnight.
  6. Return the liquid to the pot and bring it to a boil. Allow the liquid to boil until reduced by half.
  7. The pectin can be refrigerated up to a week, frozen up to six months, or water bath canned for 10 minutes and stored up to a year.

Testing Your Natural Pectin

The pectin levels vary with each piece of fruit so it’s best to test your homemade pectin before preserving or use. To do this, simply take 1 teaspoon of your completely cooked pectin liquid (cooled to room temp) and vigorously mix with 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol. Allow the mixture to sit for 1 minute. If it firms up to a jelly consistency, you have a strong pectin. If it produces small lumps, you have a medium pectin and you may need to use extra pectin and more sugar to have your jams set. If the alcohol mixture doesn’t set at all, you will need to add more pectin fruit and simmer the mixture again.

Ratio’s

Typically, using 1/3 cup of homemade pectin per cup of prepared fruit will give you a nice and thick jam or jelly. It’s always best to test your jam before canning it up. This can be done by beginning your recipe by putting a metal spoon into the freezer. After your recipe has been prepared, drip a few drops onto the frozen spoon and see how fast the jam tries to slide off the spoon. If it travels too quickly, the jam may need more pectin, sugar or boil time. If it slides slowly, the jam is ready for preserving and use!

High Pectin Fruits

If you don’t have access to apples or want to experiment with other fruits, here’s a list of high pectin fruits to use:

how to get or make natural pectin

Alternative Means Of Natural Pectin Making

Making your own pectin using the method above is great for having pectin on hand and especially useful in jellies, where purely liquid is used or when there is no fruit chunks, such as in dandelion jelly. However, when making jams, where fruit chunks are used and included in the mixture, using the above method for homemade pectin is not necessary. Simply using apples or lemons in the recipe will give you the same result!

Check out our Low Sugar, No Pectin, Healthy Strawberry Jam Recipe.

How much you use is dependent of the type of jam your making and what kinds of fruit is being used. On average, for every 8 cups of your fruit source you’ll want to use 1/4 cup lemon juice and the zest from 2 lemons, or 1 medium apple grated. Always test your jam, using methods such as the frozen spoon method mentioned above, to make sure it’s set, since water and pectin concentrations will vary with every batch.

natural fruit pectin

Conclusion

Natural pectin is a safe and healthy alternative to store-bought pectin. Making homemade pectin using apples is easy, cost-effective, and allows you to control the ingredients that go into your jams and jellies. By using high pectin fruits, you can ensure that your spreads will have the right consistency without the need for artificial additives, preservatives or added cost!

Hey Beautiful! I’m Tara, garden enthusiasts, keeper of chickens, herbal homesteader and stay at home mom of 3 tiny humans and a sourdough starter named Ma. I love teaching others how to live a self-sufficient and sustainable life through homesteading, scratch cooking, and remembering to live barefoot, wild and free!

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