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Pectin is a natural and commercially (E440) produced essential ingredient without which jams, marmalades, and jellies could not be thickened.
Pectin is a type of starch called a heteropolysaccharide that occurs naturally in the cell walls of fruits and vegetables and gives them structure. In combination with sugar and acid, jams, marmalades, and jellies acquire a semi-hard texture when cooled. Some fruits, such as apples and quinces, and citrus peels, seeds and membranes, naturally contain a lot of pectin. Commercial pectins are usually made from citrus peels and are sold in dry powder and liquid form.
Unlike gelatin, which is made from animal parts, pectin is made from fruit. As a result, pectin is both a vegetarian and vegan product with very little fat and is a good source of fiber and calcium. It also contains very small amounts of minerals.
Types of Pectin
There are two types of pectin:
- high methoxyl (high methoxyl HM) pectin – is the most common type and is often labeled as a ‘quick thickener’ or ‘slow thickener’. It is best for preparing jams and marmalades, as well as preserves with larger pieces of fruit.
- low methoxyl (low methoxyl LM) pectin – in which there is calcium instead of sugar, it is most often used for the preparation of sweet desserts and fruit preservation with little or no sugar.
The two main types of pectin have several subtypes, each of which is intended for a different type of preservation. For example, dry pectin comes in many forms, including classic pectin, high methoxyl, and low methoxyl, and MCP (modified citrus pectin) which is similar to low methoxyl and instant pectin. Liquid pectin is sold only in the classic version and is similar to the usual dry classic pectin, but it is pre-dissolved to avoid lumps.
Given that different types of pectin behave differently when cooked, it is best to use the version specified in the recipe. If you think the jam or jelly is too hard or too soft, you can always adjust the quantities.
Use of Pectin
Pectin is used to thicken spreads that include fruits with a low pectin content. Some fruits, especially very ripe ones, have relatively little pectin. Strawberries and raspberries, for example, ‘squish’ easily, meaning they have little ‘glue’ (pectin) that helps build the structure of the fruit. For these fruits, without the addition of pectin, proper jelly or jam making may require adding a lot of sugar, cooking for an excessively long time, or both, resulting in a product that has more sugar flavor and less fruit flavor. Adding a little pectin is a healthier alternative to adding more sugar and shouldn’t significantly change the taste of the spread.
To find out how much pectin is in the fruit you plan to process, mix 1 tablespoon of alcohol and 1 teaspoon of fruit juice. If the mixture is solid, the fruit has a lot of pectin. If the mixture becomes a loose, gelatinous mass, the fruit has pectin, but not enough of it. If it does not harden at all or forms pieces of gel, the fruit is very low in pectin and needs a thickener.
How to Cook with Pectin
The type of pectin used will determine how it should be added to the recipe. High methoxyl pectin needs to be cooked at high temperature in combination with acid and sugar to form a gel, while low methoxyl pectin can be activated at room temperature. Therefore, high methoxyl pectin should be added early to the hot fruit mixture. Low methoxyl pectin is often mixed with a small amount of sugar and added to the hot fruit later in the recipe. Liquid pectin should be poured into a hot fruit mixture almost at the end of cooking. Note that you must be careful not to overcook the fruit after adding the pectin, as gelling above the boiling point or undermixing will help break down the pectin.
What Does Pectin Taste Like
Pectin shouldn’t change the taste of the fruit. However, depending on the brand, some are slightly bitter, while homemade pectin tastes like the fruit it’s made from. Thus, homemade apple pectin tastes like apples.
How to Make Pectin
Most recipes that require pectin are jams, jellies, or marmalades. Instead of using commercially produced pectin, you can make your citrus pectin or apple pectin. Below is a detailed procedure for making homemade apple pectin.
Homemade Apple Pectin
Making pectin is easy, and all you need are apples. It is recommended that the apples are domestically produced, not imported, due to treatment with different chemicals. Apples should be washed well, dried and cleaned. Remove peel and seeds, and cut into cubes. You can store pectin prepared according to this recipe for up to a year in a dry and dark place, pantry, basement, or refrigerator.
- 1 kg of apples
- 120 ml of water
- Put the chopped apples in a pot with a thicker bottom, cover with water and cook until the mixture boils.
- When the water boils, cook on low heat for another 25 minutes, constantly and gently stirring.
- Remove the pot from the heat and let the mixture cool completely.
- Strain through a fine strainer or cheesecloth, and pour the drained juice into a deeper pan.
- Turn on the oven at 80 – 100°C and leave the pan with the juice for 5 – 6 hours (until the water evaporates)
- Brown powder – pectin – will remain at the bottom of the pan.
- Allow the powder to cool completely and store in a jar with an airtight lid.
Where to Buy Pectin
Powdered and liquid pectin can be found in supermarkets, in specialized stores, as well as ordered online from healthy food shops.
Storage of dry and liquid pectin differs significantly. Dry pectin can be stored in the pantry and is best used throughout the year. Liquid pectin should be stored in the refrigerator and used within a week.
You can store homemade pectin in the refrigerator for up to three days. For longer storage, pectin can be frozen or preserved by the pasteurization process. Frozen pectin can last up to six months, and canned pectin up to a year.