HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


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.)

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Personally, I prefer Pomona's Universal Pectin http://www.pomonapectin.com/. 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 motherskitchen.blogspot.com....here 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.

                1. Nora, you might also want to check out some of the older style recipes that don't call for added pectin. This guy is a brilliant jammer, and I don't see pectin in his recipes -- http://www.savingtheseason.com/. I've started to take this approach. If I can avoid adding pectin, I do. In years past I mindlessly chucked Pomona's into my raspberry jam -- now, I use no added pectin at all. You might also want to check out Anarchy in a Jar for inspiration: http://www.anarchyinajar.com/jam-faqs/

                  That said, I think commercial liquid pectin tastes funny.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: Vetter

                    Actually, Kevin White does use pectin--derived from apples. You will note that he sometimes says to add apple jelly to fruit that is low in pectin.

                    1. re: Father Kitchen

                      Ah, true. I was just thinking about commercial pectin. I've got to go snag some green apples soon!

                    2. re: Vetter

                      Likewise. I took a preserving class from Kevin West and learned to make jam without added pectin. It's surprisingly easy, although it does not work well with fruits that are very low in pectin. Bt for example, I've made jam with peaches that came out beautifully without using added pectin.

                        1. re: mollyomormon

                          I don't think I've ever used commercial pectin. If I'm making jam with a low pectin fruit I add lemon juice, and boil the pith (white part) of the lemons with the fruit while I'm cooking it down.

                      1. I haven't put up a lot of jams and preserves as other people, but I usually use powdered pectin and the recipes included in the packet. I've never had any problems with a chemical aftertaste or a funky texture.

                        You may be over thinking the the project.

                        1. One recent batch of jam I made turned out syrupy and another firmer, using the same liquid pectin. I want to recook the first batch and see if I can get it to get a proper set for it. (This is still a learning experience for me.) In the course of researching some questions while sitting in an airport with a laptop at hand, I found some technical information at the webstie of pacificpectin.com. NoraBlenderbee would probably find this information helpful.

                          As I see it, the bottom line has to do with soluble solids in the jam or jelly pot. One way of measuring them, which gives percent of mass in an aequeous solution, is called Brix. The Brix for a jam or jelly solution should be 65% for best gel strength. A solution at 65 Brix will boil at 220.7 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level. Pectin needs acid chemically in order for the solution to gel, and the ideal acidity is pH 3.2. Though the web site cautions that in formulating new recipes, the usual measure for brix and acidity before cooking should be 59 brix with a pH of 3.4. The pectin should be a minimum of 2% if you use Pacific Pectin Mix, which is formulated to behave like other dry pectins in standard recipes. Obviously, fruits already high in pectin may require less added pectin. In practice, the way this works out is in most recipes is that you would start with 53% sugar (by weight), 2% Pacific Pectin Mix and 45% fruit.

                          Taking this further, you get into the question of pectin hydration. Dry pectin mixes have to be hydrated in solutions less than 25 brix (25% soluble solids) to avoid partial hydration and loss of gel strength. For this reason, powdered pectins recipes call for adding powdered pectin before adding the sugar. (Liquid pectin mixtures are already hydrated, which is probably why they are added after the fruit is cooked, since excessive cooking can degrade pectin and the gel strength.)

                          One interesting caution is against adding the sugar all at once, which would lower the temperature of the cooking fruit and cause presetting. Adding it too slowly is not a good idea--Pacific Pectin suggests adding it in two parts. Some British recipes I have seen suggest pre-warming the sugar in an oven so that it does not lower the temperature of the cooking fruit.

                          As for whether or not you can make your own, many sources give recipes for deriving pectin from apples and even citrus. For example, Madeleine Bullwinkel has one in her "Gourmet Prserves Chez Madeleine." Kevin White, whose blog Saving the Seasons is mentioned in this thread gives another. My only problem, in theory, is that if you make the pectin stock yourself, you don't know the actual concentration of pectin. So if you are trying to build a recipe that has, say 3% total pectin, you would still have to text for the gel set and could not rely on flat cooking time at the theoretical set point.

                          Bullwinkel and others do give a simple test for the relative concentration of pectin, based on the amount of clumping that forms when grain alcohol is added to a tablespoonful of the fruit base. With this simple test, you can avoid working "blind."

                          You could test the pH with papers or meters, but Pacific Pectin says you would probably test it mostly by taste. I don't know exactly what to compare it to. (Does anyone know the pH of a typical lemonade solution?)

                          Of course, if you knew the brix of your fruit solution before adding sugar, you would be able to calculate just how much sugar you require. But the meters sold by Pacific Pectin are more costly than a kitchen gadget. Amazon lists one for a lot less, but I have no idea whether it would be reliable.

                          In addition to the standard pectins, there are low sugar varieties that gel by bonding with metal ions, usually calcium, in the water solution. For example, Pacific Pectin's LM-) or LM-3 pectins can gel water at a 5% solution.

                          The advantage to these low-sugar pectins is that you can make a jam or jelly with less sucrose, which many people prefer. Their disadvantage is that low sugar jams and jellies are susceptible to mold and bacteria growth once the product is opened. For this reason, these pectins usually contain preservatives, which some may prefer to avoid.

                          I don't know if all this information helps. But for me, understanding that you start by weight with 53% sugar, 2% ordinary pectin, and 45% fruit in building a recipe, helps me to understand some of the variables I find in recipe books. Furthermore, when I pick up fruit that I don't have a recipe for--as for example pluots--I can still find myself in the ball park in combining ingredients.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Father Kitchen

                            Thanks for passing on all your research, much appreciated!

                            1. re: Father Kitchen

                              Slight correction: I misunderstood the reference to tasting the acid level in the technical information. It was with reference to the pectin that did not require acid to gel. So you'd add as much acid as you wanted for your taste with that kind of pectin.

                              1. re: Father Kitchen

                                I'm going to experiment with rose hips, picking them today and hopefully playing with them tomorrow, hopefully ending up with jam. Green apple and orange for pectin. I'll let you know how it goes.

                            2. I just started canning this summer and I've used liquid and powdered pectin (Ball brand), as well as Pomona's. I have not noticed a chemical taste. I did use the regular pectin, as opposed to the low sugar kind, because sometimes I just want a sweet jam. I used the Pomona's to make a honey-peach jam from local goods, which was good and almost perfume-y.

                              1. Kevin White's blog, "Saving the Season," mentioned in this thread, had what looked like a good recipe for marmalade, based on a recipe of Thane Prince, a British food writer. To my surprise, I was able to find her book "Jellies, Jams, & Chutneys" used. Nice book. She uses added pectin for some recipes. Linda Ziedrich in her book "The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves" supplements low-pectin fruit by mixing with high pectin fruit or using pectin extract from apples or citrus, for which she gives a recipe. Finally, "Canning for a New Generation," a newly-published book by Liana Krissoff, who often contributes to chowhound threads, adds apples to low pectin fruits, as in her mango jam with lime. (By the way, this looks like an extraordinarily good books with many contemporary flavors in canned and preserved foods together with some very interesting recipes that make use of them, but jams and jellies make up only part of the flavor bazaar.) I note the trend in some of the recent books is toward jams that are less sweet, and since a a full gel is not necessary for a jam, this approach works quite well. Some of Liana's jams look wonderful in this regard. But, according to the Pacific Pectin site technical information, when the sugar content goes below 45% in the finished product, the opened jar needs to be kept in the refrigerator if it does not contain preservatives.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: Father Kitchen

                                  Actually, his name is Kevin West, and he's got a book deal going. I'm very much looking forward to seeing it since I've been following his blog almost since it's inception. He's a talented, observant writer and his recipes that I've tried are killer.

                                  1. re: morwen

                                    A book? That's good news. And thanks for correcting the name.

                                    1. re: morwen

                                      Which recipe of Kevin West have you tried, Morwen?

                                      1. re: momskitchen

                                        Strawberry Preserves with Balsamic and Black Pepper: http://www.savingtheseason.com/journa...

                                        Ramps, Two Ways: http://www.savingtheseason.com/journa...

                                        California Capers (actually I combine this with the way I was doing them before this post): http://www.savingtheseason.com/journa...

                                        Pears with Bay and Pepper (also something I tweaked with a previous recipe): http://www.savingtheseason.com/journa...

                                        Lord Grey's Peaches in Tea Syrup (this one's going in the county fair next weekend): http://www.savingtheseason.com/journa...

                                        Blueberries with Coriander and Lime: http://www.savingtheseason.com/journa...

                                        Smooth Apricot Jam with Maple and Vanilla (my version is chunky nectarine with maple and vanilla, also an entry in the fair): http://www.savingtheseason.com/journa...

                                        Fig Preserves with Honey and Wild Aromatics (except my aromatics were domesticated): http://www.savingtheseason.com/journa...

                                        I wanted to do the Golden Beets pickled with Ginger but our golden beet crop failed this year.

                                  2. I've never used chemical pectins. The Ball cookbook has a large section of natural fruit jams ... I made peach this summer using lemons and apples. I had a surplus, and not enough jars ready, so I'm still using the portion that was refrigerated. It's fantastic and super peachy.