Each year I fill a good portion of my pantry with jams and jellies made from fresh fruits and, believe it or not, vegetables harvested from our orchard and garden. I use pectin all the time. I always have it on hand. It’s sort of a staple in our house. We know it naturally comes from fruit, that it isn’t bad for you, and it makes jelly gel, but there is more.
I know you don’t have to know what pectin is and how it works to make jams and jellies, but it’s good to know what you are putting in your food, right? So, what is pectin and how does it work to make my fruits in to jelly and jam?
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What is Pectin?
- Pectin is a complex carbohydrate. It is found (mostly) in the skins and core of raw fruit, vegetables, legumes, etc. So, when you are making jelly and jam, leave the peels and core while cooking down to extract the juice. You’ll get more pectin that way.
- Pectin is a soluble fiber…it’s good for you! That’s always good, right?
- Pectin adds to the molecular structure of fruit (and other plants), acting kind of like a “mortar” to hold the cell walls together.
- Pectin levels are highest just before the fruit is dead ripe. As soon as the fruit is ripe, the levels of pectin start to go down. So the best fruit to make jam with is almost ripe.
- Some fruits such as; oranges, apples, and cranberries have higher pectin levels than others such as, pineapple, kiwi, and grapes. Pay attention to pectin levels and add some if you need to. You can make your own or buy pre-made pectin.
- Pectin is a thickener that has the ability to trap liquids, if conditions are just right and form a gel.
How does Pectin Work?
What does pectin need to make the conditions just right for making jelly or jam?
Acid- Pectin needs acid to make jelly and jam gel. This can come from the fruit itself or, in some cases it needs to be added. To add acid to jellies and jams using lemon juice/rind, ascorbic acid, or apple juice/cider vinegar may be used.
Pectin molecules are charged and will repel one another. Acid neutralizes the pectin molecules and allows them to join together in a mesh-like substance that holds the fruit juices.
Sugar-The second thing pectin needs to make jellies and jams gel is sugar. Pectin is naturally attracted to water and will join with water molecules, if they exist in the mix. You can’t make jelly or jam without water (it’d be kinda dry). So, how do we get rid of that pesky water, without actually getting rid of it? Sugar!
Sugar attracts some of the water away from the pectin, so the pectin molecules will likely bind with one another to make your beautiful jelly/jam.
Oh yes, and sugar is also a natural preservative and helps your jellies and jams keep their color, flavor, and freshness.
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