What Is Pectin?
We wouldn't have gummy candy - or jam without it.
By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen
Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.
If this is the first time you’ve tried your hand at preserving fruits, pectin may be new to you. Here you’ll learn where pectin comes from, how to choose the right type of pectin and how to use it.
What Is Pectin? What About Fruit Pectin?
Pectin is a complex starch derived from plants. It's used to gel foods like fruit preserves - jams and jellies - and gummy candy. While there are vegetables that are high in pectin, most pectin sold in grocery stores comes from fruit like citrus peel, and for this reason, it's sometimes labeled as fruit pectin.
You can buy pectin in the supermarket, but sometimes you'll naturally release it from fruit while making jam. For example, when you make marmalade, you'll leach pectin out from orange peels as you slowly simmer it with water and sugar.
What Is Pectin Used For?
Pectin is most commonly used in jam and jelly-making, particularly with fruit that is low in pectin. You can tell if a fruit is low in pectin if it's squishy: strawberries, for example, are low in pectin, while apples are high in pectin. In addition, ripe fruits are lower in pectin than less ripe fruits.
Pectin is the gelling ingredient in many clear glazes for the beautiful fruit tarts you see in a bakery. Using heated, strained apricot jam or jelly is a good alternative when you want to glaze a tart, because these spreads are high in pectin.
It's also a common ingredient listed on store-bought gummy candies, because it helps the gummies become firm and hold their shape.
Finally, pectin has uses beyond the culinary world. It's added to laxatives and throat lozenges to bolster their fiber. And it’s the glue used to hold the tobacco leaves in cigars.
What Is the Difference Between Pectin and Gelatin?
Pectin and gelatin both have gelling properties. The main difference is that pectin is vegan and vegetable-derived, while gelatin is non-vegan and collagen derived.
Both pectin and gelatin can easily clump. Avoid clumping by whisking them either into dry granulated sugar or cold water before using.
The Five Types of Pectin
Instant Pectin is very fine powder that doesn’t need heat to activate it. It's commonly used for freezer jam. If you want a fun project with kids with very quick results, this variety of pectin is the way to go.
HM Pectin needs sugar and acid to set and it's the most commonly available type of pectin in the supermarket. Sometimes you won't see HM pectin labeled as such, instead you'll see it labeled as rapid set pectin or slow set pectin. Rapid set pectin is best for jams and preserves with chunky fruits (it sets quickly, suspending the chunks evenly throughout). Slow set pectin is great for clear jellies made from fruit juice.
LM Pectin is used in sugar-free or low-sugar jams and jellies because it can gel without sugar and acid. This variety of pectin is commonly used in commercial food production.
Pectin NH is an apple pectin used for fruit glazes because you can heat it and chill it repeatedly.
Apple Pectin is derived solely from apple peels and cores; this is the variety of pectin that's used for medical purposes.
How to Make Jam Without Pectin
1. Cook the jam low and slow. Because all fruit contains some pectin, cooking fruit with sugar and a bit of lemon juice at a low simmer for a long time will yield jam. The long slow cook will reduce the water content of the fruit and the lemon juice will help draw the naturally occurring pectin out of the fruit.
2. Use underripe, firm fruits. As we discussed, underripe and firm fruits have the highest pectin content. Plums, oranges, currants, gooseberries, quince, apricots and cranberries are at the top of the list for natural pectin.
What Is a Substitute for Pectin?
Cornstarch and gelatin are good gelling agents that could stand in for pectin. Alternatively, adding acid and some citrus peel to a pot of jam will add natural pectin to jam you’re making.