Fun with pectin

April 18, 2012

Author: Neighborhood Farm Initiative

Category: General News Recipes


Last Saturday, people shared their food at snack time. One of us brought blueberry preserves, which had been picked and preserved by that person last Summer.



Several people commented on how much they liked the fact that there was very little sugar in the preserves, so that they could really taste the berry flavor. This took the discussion in the direction of pectin: what is it, how does it work, why is it important for sugar content?



What it is: From Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 7th Edition: “pectin [French pectique]: any of various water-soluble substances in plant tissues that yield a gel which is the basis of fruit jellies.”



From Wikipedia: “Pectin (from Greek πηκτικός – pektikos, ‘congealed, curdled’) is a structural heteropolysaccharide contained in the primary cell walls of terrestrial plants.”



How does it work: “Pectin is an important cell wall polysaccharide that allows primary cell wall extension and plant growth. During fruit ripening, pectin is broken down by the enzymes pectinase and pectinesterase, in which process the fruit becomes softer as the middle lamellae break down and cells become separated from each other.”


“Apples, guavas, quince, plums, gooseberries, oranges and other citrus fruits, contain large amounts of pectin. … The main raw-materials for pectin production are dried citrus peel or apple pomace, both by-products of juice production.”



Why does it affect sugar content: Typically, most people who do home-preserving understand that a lot of sugar is needed to help the pectin cause gelling. In fact, this is not true; in the granola-head community, Pomona’s Universal Pectin (PUP, Greenfield, MA) is well known as a low-sugar pectin. From their box: “Pomona’s Univeral Pectin makes thick jam and jelly with rich, full flavor undiluted by large amounts of added sugar. Ordinary fruit pectins require your jam or jelly to be 55 – 85% sugar to set firmly. … is a low methoxyl type pectin extracted from citrus peel. Its jelling power is activated by calcium, not by sugar content.”



The recipe used: As recalled by the sharer, it’s about 8 cups mashed blueberries, 8 cups whole, 1 ½ cups brown sugar; lemon juice, pectin and calcium phosphate as directed by the PUP box, and some salt to taste (salt brings out the sweetness).



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