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Aug 29, 2010 08:58 PM

Pectin questions for first canning attempt

I am about to start canning my first round of peach preserves and jam.
I bought Certo liquid pectin, but having spent the last couple of hours looking at recipes, I wonder if there is an alternative. (some commenters on a few websites have indicated it makes jam with an unpleasant texture or chemical aftertaste--this would break my heart)

I also have a few general pectin questions:
1) what are different kinds of pectin available? What do you use and why do you prefer it?
2 ) what's better powdered or liquid?
3) is 85ml one brand of liquid pectin (certo) = another
4) can you make your own? ( how difficult is it -- where are supplies available etc.)

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  1. Personally, I prefer Pomona's Universal Pectin Most commercial pectins require a LOT of sugar to gel properly, but Pomona doesn't--so you can use less sugar, or no sugar, or other sweeteners (honey, agave nectar, Splenda, etc.). I usually add about half as much sugar as a recipe with traditional pectin requires, which lets the fruit flavor come through much more.

    You can get Pomona Pectin at most natural food stores. They have good instructions and recipes in the box.

      1. I wrote a blog post about this subject on my blog it is:

        Here's the technique for making jam without the boxed pectin:

        For the pectin:
        5 tart apples,blossom and stem ends removed, chopped up, core and seeds and all
        1 lemon (or 2 limes) choped up, peel and seeds included.

        Cook this down until soft, and put through a food mill. I use my Kitchen Aid Fruit and Vegetable Strainer attachment, which is a handy thing to have if you are into canning and already have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer. It's way easier to use, and costs about the same as a hand cranked food mill. Alternatively, you could press it through a sieve with a wooden spoon. This will make about 2 cups of puree.

        For the fruit:
        8 cups strawberries, halved and hulled and 5 1/2 cups sugar
        4 cups blueberries and 3 cups sugar. Use limes in the pectin with blueberries for added flavor
        4 cups raspberries and 5 cups sugar
        5 cups crushed peaches and 4 cups sugar

        Add the pectin puree to the fruit and sugar and boil until it hits the gel temp at your elevation. For "flatlanders" like me, that's 220 F. Put the jam in sterilized jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. You will not be able to taste the apples or lemons (the limes give a nice lime essence to your jam)

        I am not a fan of boxed pectin for a few reasons:

        1. It's cheaper to make it from scratch. Pectin can be expensive, especially the low sugar varieties. A product search shows that the popular no sugar required Pomona's Pectin cost almost $5 per box, and regular style boxed pectin (Ball, Sure Jell, etc) runs about $3 per box.

        2. Using apples in with the berries increases the yield of jam made. Apples are generally much cheaper than berries, so adding 2 cups of the puree to the fruit decreases the cost per jar.

        3. The process for making pectin is anything but "natural", despite what some brands advertise. A pectin factory receives apple residue or citrus peels from juice factories. It's mixed with acid to get all the pectin out of the sludge. The solids are separated and then alcohol is added to precipitate the pectin out of solution. Ammonia is added to some kinds to make it work without added sugar normally needed (those expensive brands of pectin that allow you to make jams and jellies without adding sugar), and then it's mixed with dextrose or sugar to stabilize it.

        4. For the no/low sugar kinds of boxed pectin like Pomona's, it's even more of a science project. It's made in the same way as regular pectin, but then some amide groups are then introduced into the pectin molecule during the process of de-esterification (a process by which the pectin is changed from high-methoxyl to low-methoxyl). High-methoxyl pectin requires a sugar concentration above 55% to gel whereas low-methoxyl pectin gels in the presence of calcium ions. So, users of this style of pectin have to make a calcium solution and add it to the fruit. So instead of sugar, you're adding calcium ions, so preservers can use other sweeteners like Splenda. I don't care if they sell Pomona's pectin at Whole Foods, I don't think I want to eat anything that requires "de-estrification" or adding calcium ions.

        4. I don't use Splenda. Natural apple/lemon pectin jams require less sugar than boxed pectin recipes. If you are looking for a less sweet jam, skip the Pomona's/Splenda and just use good old fashioned apples and lemon.

        2 Replies
        1. re: momskitchen

          Thanks... This is really helpful and interesting. I live in Canada, and I haven't seen Pomona's anywhere so I don't think I will be using it. I think for this round I will use the commercial preparations, and then, if all goes well, start experimenting with my own!

          1. re: momskitchen

            Thanks, Mom!! Very helpful and informative -- I copied all of this off to a file for use in the near future. When the temperature here in Phoenix drops back into the double digits (we're new here but we've been assured that eventually this will happen) and I start canning again, I can put this technique to good use. I'm making a diligent effort to reduce our intake of chemicals and additives; ammonia simply doesn't make the cut.

          2. I make a lot of jam and most of the time I use powdered pectin. I get the Certo brand "light" pectin which allows you to use less sugar. You still have to use a specified amount of sugar, but it's definitely less than the usual kind. I have never found the jam to have any kind of unpleasant chemical taste - pectin is NOT a chemical - as long as you use good, ripe fruit. Using commercial pectin gives me a bigger yield from the fruit - not needing to boil it down to reduce the liquid - and the fruit requires much less cooking, which I also like. Peaches are notoriously low in natural pectin and would take eons to cook to a jam stage if you tried to do without additional pectin. When you use commercial pectin, the package will give you specific instructions and amounts to follow for each type of fruit - you really need to follow the recipe pretty closely if you want a good result.

            I personally can't see the advantage of making my own pectin from fruit. Not only is it a fairly time-consuming process but I don't really want the flavour of the pectin fruits (apples, oranges, whatever) to interfere with the fruit I'm using. Commercial pectin is totally neutral in flavour - of course there will be some supertasters out there who disagree with me. To each his own.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Nyleve

              @Nyleve - you can't taste the apples/lemon. I thought it would taste different, but it doesn't.. But if you are crunched on time, I could see why you might want to use the box.

              1. re: Nyleve

                I second the Certo. I've used both liquid and powdered and don't recall any real difference. Just get whichever is cheaper, which used to be powdered. I've actually not seen the liquid in recent years. On the other hand I wasn't really looking.

              2. I agree with Nyleve. I've made my own pectin and was tempted to do so again this summer when a neighbor's apple tree toppled but the memory of the hassle stopped me. Besides being a canning project in itself, you then have to find storage space for the pectin you've made. My pantry is space-challenged. I've never noticed a difference in taste between home made pectin, store bought pectin and no pectin added product except for the amount of sweetening added. My pectin of choice is the Ball Low/No Sugar powdered pectin because I find it the easiest to use and it's very flexible when I want to experiment. I get it at Walmart for $1.50/box retail and there's a .50 coupon inside so since my initial purchase of it I've never paid more than $1.00 a box. At the end of the season it's usually marked down to $1.00/box making my cost .50. I stock up then. Then there's the savings in sugar costs as well since you can use considerably less sugar for a brighter fruit taste. Many recipes call for an equal amount of sugar to fruit whether using regular pectin or not. One I recently did called for 7 cups of sugar to 7 cups of fruit. 7 cups of sugar was the better part of a 4 lb bag. And I didn't like the end product. Tasted like commercial candy. Using the low/no sugar pectin I can get at least 8-10 batches of jelly or jam out of the same weight bag of sugar. That's a considerable savings with a fresher tasting, lower calorie, better end product in my opinion.