Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pectin in Jam and Jelly

Peach Melba Jam

It's summer fruit season again, and many of us are busy making jams and jellies.

I switched to Pomona's Universal Pectin about 10 years ago, and I love it. A box of their pectin is more expensive than a box of Sure-Jell, but you can get at least 3 runs of jam or jelly, versus just one with Sure-Jell. Another big plus is that you can reduce or even eliminate the sugar in a recipe and it will still jell, making it great for diabetics.

An often overlooked issue is that most commercial pectins (other than Pomona's) contain preservatives including potassium benzoate or sodium benzoate. Preservatives are what are known as biocides, and I don't want biocides in my foods. Many jam and jelly recipes call for ascorbic acid (Vitamin C, or some lemon juice) to prevent fruit from browning, and when it's mixed with the sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate in the pectin, it may form benzene, an aromatic hydrocarbon known to be a carcinogen.

How else Pomona's is different: the box contains 2 bags, one of pectin, and another thin packet of powdered calcium which you mix with a measured amount of water per the directions. The calcium water will keep for weeks refrigerated, and the pectin package can be re-sealed with tape after you measure out the amount needed for a recipe.

I swear I think Pomona's Pectin could jell water, and one of these days I am going to try it, just to see!

But, what happens when there is no pectin to purchase? Some fruits contain enough pectin to jell just with the correct amount of sugar, but for that you need no-added-pectin recipes, not the recipes on a pectin box. There are some great cookbooks dedicated to recipes for preserves, and the internet has many recipes as well.

Most fruits contain pectin, some more than others. The pectin content in all fruit is generally higher when fruit is just barely ripe, and it diminishes as the fruit matures from fully ripe to overripe. The process of ripening involves the breakdown of pectins, which softens the fruit as it ripens.

Here's a handy list of fruits by pectin content.

High pectin content fruits:
As long as the fruit is not overripe, these have enough natural pectin to jell with only added sugar.
Citrus skins (oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, lemons, limes, etc. - the pectin is high in the skin but low in the fruit), tart cooking apples, crab apples, lemons, wild grapes (Eastern Concord variety), cranberries, gooseberries, boysenberries, sour Apples, Blackberries, Currants, Gooseberries, Loganberries, most Plums (not the Italian kind), and Quince

Medium pectin fruits
These are low in natural acid or pectin and may need the addition of either acid or pectin.
Ripe Apples, very ripe Blackberries, sour Cherries, Chokecherries, Elderberries, Grapefruit, bottled Grape Juice, (Eastern Concord), Grapes (California), Loquats, Oranges, rhubarb

Low pectin fruitsThese always need added acid or pectin, and may need both.
Apricots, Blueberries, Sweet cherries, sour cherries, Figs, grapefruit, grape juice, grapes (other than wild and Concord types), melons, and oranges, Pears, Plums (Italian), Raspberries, Strawberries

Very Low pectin fruits
These always need added acid and pectin.
Nectarines, peaches, elderberries, grapes (Western Concord variety), guava, and pomegranates.

My grandmother always made her own pectin, and I'll cover how to do that in another post. Look for it soon!

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