Pectin is a common ingredient you’ll find in many recipes for homemade jams and jellies. Homemade food is always a favorite, and with growing consciousness around the implications of processed foods, more people are cooking at home or buying from smaller local producers.
Also, people are looking for ways to preserve and maximize resources, thereby embracing the Do It Yourself (DIY) culture. DIY jams and jellies and even mass-produced ones contain pectin. But what is pectin? This article explores all you need to know about pectin.
Related Read: How to Preserve Food at Home?
To answer the question, “What is pectin?” we can explore where this ingredient comes from. Pectin is a polysaccharide starch found in the cell walls of fruits and vegetables. Polysaccharide is one of three primary carbohydrate polymers found in fruit alongside cellulose and hemicellulose.
This starch functions as a glue-like substance that holds the walls together and gives the fruit its shape. Within an immature fruit, you’ll find protopectin. This protopectin converts to pectin and becomes more water-soluble as the fruits ripen. Ripened fruits remain firm and retain their shape with the help of pectin.
Pectin is a naturally water-soluble fiber and a gelling agent. You’ll find it in berries, apples, plums, apricots, and citrus fruits. The substance from citrus fruit like an orange, lemon, or grapefruit is called citrus pectin. Typically, the most common type of commercial pectin comes from citrus peels. This is why you’ll find the label fruit pectin in some instances.
Without pectins, jellies and jams won't gel. Jams and jellies form a semi-solid texture when you combine them with sugar and acid (usually lemon juice). As pectin naturally occurs in the fruit used to make most jam recipes, it's most likely present without a separate addition.
People use powdered pectin to gel foods like fruit preserves - jam, jelly, and gummy candies. Adding pectin forms a mesh that helps trap liquid to get the ideal set.
Pectin comes in different types. The two most common types of pectin are High Methoxyl (HM) and Low Methoxyl (LM).
High methoxyl or HM pectin is the most common type of pectin. Often, it comes with the label fast or rapid set pectin and slow set pectin. Fast and slow-set pectin comes from citrus peels. The difference between the two rests in the temperature and duration of setting they each require.
Fast or rapid set pectin takes a higher temperature and low time to set. On the other hand, slow-set pectin takes a lower temperature and longer duration to set. Rapid set HM is better for jams and preserves requiring fruit or other ingredients suspension.
Its counterpart, slow-set HM, is best for smooth jellies that don’t need any form of suspension. HM pectin is good for fruit preserves, jams, and jellies because it needs certain acid levels and sugar to firm up.
Low Methoxyl or LM pectin is also from the citrus peels of high pectin fruits like oranges and lemons. Unlike high methoxyl, which requires sugar to firm up or solidify, low methoxyl relies on calcium. People often use it for low-calorie jams and jellies. LM pectin is also ideal for dairy-based recipes that don't need sugar.
Unlike regular pectin, MCP is chemically altered to break its molecules into smaller pieces, allowing easy absorption in our digestive system. Recent studies have suggested potential health benefits of MCP1, including its role in binding certain types of heavy metals, reducing their absorption, and potentially aiding in their removal from the body.
Aside from these three types of pectins, other varieties include pectin NH and Apple pectin.
Pectin NH is a modification of low methoxyl pectin. It’s an apple pectin people usually use for fruit fillings and glazes. Additionally, it functions as a thickener mainly used for preparing glazes for fruits, tarts, and pastries. Pectin NH also needs calcium to set just like any other LM pectin, although it requires calcium in a lower amount.
Apple pectin gets its name from its source, apples - specifically its peels and cores. It serves as a supplement for pharmaceutical purposes and also as a gelling and thickening substance. You’ll find it in chewy tablets like throat lozenges. Apple pectin is said to promote gut health, lower cholesterol, and help control blood sugar levels. It contains dietary fiber, zinc, carbohydrates, and some other nutrients.
Though pectin is not exactly a household name, its usage is numerous in different products in the culinary world. You also find it in the pharmaceutical industry. Since pectin is edible, knowing if it is vegan is necessary.
If you were wondering, the answer is yes. Pectin is vegan. Pectin exclusively comes from plant sources. Powdered or liquid pectin consists of carbohydrates extracted from vegetables or fruits' cell walls. As a plant-derived material, pectin is a great plant-based alternative for gelatin.
Both pectin and gelatin thicken liquids to form a semi-solid gel. They both have gel-like and gelling properties. They are both used in producing products like jam and fruit spread and to set foods. Even though you can use pectin instead of gelatin, these two have particular distinctions. The following are the differences between gelatin and pectin.
Pectin is a structural polysaccharide that is present in a plant’s cell wall and some algae. It is a carbohydrate-rich substance. Unlike pectin, gelatin is a mixture of peptides and proteins derived from animal tissues. Gelatin comes from animal collagen. Essentially, pectin is plant-based, while gelatin is animal-based.
The main difference between gelatin and pectin is their source. Pectin is vegetable-derived, while gelatin is collagen-derived. Pectin is a water-soluble fiber that naturally occurs in the cellular walls of plants - fruits and vegetables. Gelatin, sometimes called hydrolyzed collagen, comes from processed cartilage, bones, and ligaments.
Another obvious difference between gelatin and pectin is their appearance. Gelatin is a colorless, translucent, and flavorless thickening agent. When in a dry form, it’s brittle. However, it’s gummy when moist. Pectin, in contrast, occurs in white to light brown powder or colorless liquid.
Pectin is a substance present in the cellular structure of vegetables and fruit, making it suitable for vegetarians. In contrast, gelatin is an animal product. Most gelatins are from chicken broth, beef broth, and pork carcasses.
Gelatins are of wide usage. Manufacturers use them to produce food products, including desserts and candies. The pharmaceutical industry uses it for several medications, cosmetics, and ointments. You’ll find gelatin in the coating of drug capsules and soft gels. There’s also gelatin-rich bone broth.
Pectin also has food applications like baked goods. However, people mainly use it to jell mixtures of fruits since it requires sugar and acid to set. Whereas the pectin you buy typically comes in a powdered format, you might also find gels and liquids, and in some places, you can even buy jam sugar with pectin already mixed in.
Below are some of the primary uses of pectin:
You can use the below as substitutes in the absence of liquid or dry pectin for thickening.
It’s best to store pectin in a cool and dry environment. Storing pectin appropriately requires understanding the need to treat dry pectin and liquid pectin differently. Keep pectin in its powdered form in the pantry and liquid pectin in the refrigerator with the help of canning jars. For longer storage, you can freeze homemade pectin.
Yes, making your own pectin is possible, and it can be quite a rewarding process! Homemade pectin is often sourced from apples or citrus fruits, which are high in natural pectin. Here’s a simple method to make your own apple pectin at home:
When you're preparing the jam or jelly, the gel point - showing your preserve has enough pectin to set perfectly - is 105°C (221°F).
Remember, homemade pectin may vary in its jelling power compared to pectin concentrate and commercial pectin varieties, so you might need to experiment with the amount you use to get your desired consistency.
Being entirely plant-based makes pectin suitable for consumption by both vegan and non-vegan consumers. Moreover, pectin has a firm place in pantries with so many possibilities with fruit flavors and the capacity to produce fresh jellies and jams.
Eliaz, I., & Raz, A. (2019). Pleiotropic Effects of Modified Citrus Pectin. Nutrients, 11(11), 2619.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.