There is nothing worse than starting the jam-making process and realizing you don’t have any pectin. I mean who wants to run out to the store for one ingredient? I have often wondered if there is a pectin substitute for jam making, so I did some research and these are my findings.
The 8 best substitutes for pectin in jam-making:
- Homemade Pectin: A healthy alternative but requires access to a good supply of fresh, tart green apples
- Chia Seeds: Nutritious and considered a superfood
- Cornstarch: Contains fewer calories than Chia but has more carbohydrates
- Gelatin: High in protein
- Jello: Gives you the option to add additional flavors to the fruit you are using
- Tapioca: A natural carbohydrate and contains no allergens
- Add apples: A natural, pectin filled addition to jam that won’t change the taste
- Citrus Pith: Natural pectin that’s always been used in marmalade
No matter your reason for needing to make your preserves without pectin, here is everything you need to know to implement my suggestions for alternative thickeners.
1. Homemade Pectin
Most people don’t know this but it’s easy to make your own homemade pectin! This is a great natural alternative to the commercial variety. It can be added to fruit that is low in pectin for a jam or jelly that is soft set.
An important feature of this option is that the addition of the homemade apple pectin will not change the flavor of the fruit to which it is added.
Homemade pectin is simple to make if you have access to an adequate supply of tart, green, and slightly underripe apples. Just follow these easy instructions:
How Do I Make Homemade Pectin?
- Use the whole apple and do not remove peels or cores.
- Wash apples and cut into 8 pieces.
- Place into a large pot with 2 cups of water per pound of apples.
- Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer until tender, approximately 20 – 30 minutes.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Strain through a cheesecloth and allow to drain for several hours or overnight so you’re getting all the liquid. Avoid squeezing the fruit so the juice will remain clear. If the cooked fruit is squeezed when straining, the juice will be cloudy.
- Pour juice into a pot and bring to a boil; then allow the liquid to cook until it is reduced by half.
Your homemade pectin can then be canned by pouring into prepared jars and sealing; it can be frozen by allowing to cool and storing in the freezer for later use, or it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 or 4 days.
How Much Homemade Pectin Do I Use?
Use 1 cup of homemade pectin for every 4 cups of mashed fruit for jam.
2. Chia Seeds
Chia comes from a desert plant grown in Mexico and has been around since the Mayan and Aztec cultures. It is one of the most popular healthy substitutes for pectin in making jams as they are considered a “superfood” since they contain protein, omega 3’s, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
With natural gelling properties, they are an unprocessed, whole-grain food, and one ounce (about 2 tablespoons) contains 139 calories, with 4 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat, 12 grams of carbohydrates, and 11 grams of fiber, plus vitamins and minerals.
How Do I Properly Add Chia Seeds as an Ingredient?
Chia can be added to your jam by using a ratio of 1 to 2 tablespoons per each 8-ounce jar of fruit. The seeds can be left whole, or the jam can be pureed to make a smoother finished product.
- Fruit should be washed and prepared
- Fruit should be cooked for approximately 10 minutes
- Add sweetener and lemon juice
- Add Chia Seeds last. I recommend using Organic/Non-GMO seeds, like these found on Amazon.
- Let mixture stand until set.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Using Chia?
- Jam made with Chia Seeds won’t set as fast or firm as other thickeners.
- Chia contains phytic acid that can block the absorption of certain nutrients. But, if used in moderation, this should not create a problem.
- Chia can be used to thicken refrigerator or freezer jam, but not jelly.
Cornstarch is extracted from corn, as the name suggests, and is another natural thickener to use in many different recipes, including jam and jelly.
It contains 107 calories per ounce, 25.6 grams of carbohydrates, and 2.5 mg. of sodium. It also contains a small amount of protein and some magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and potassium.
How Much Cornstarch Do I Use?
Use a ratio of 2 tablespoons of Cornstarch to every 4 cups of prepared fruit.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Using Cornstarch?
If using Cornstarch in your jam, stir constantly as the Cornstarch burns easily.
Gelatin is extracted naturally from animal products and processed to make gelatin powder which is used to thicken many products including gummy bears. The good news is that it can also be used to thicken jam and other fruit products. It actually enhances the color and flavor of the fruit and gives you a bright, flavorful jam!
Unsweetened gelatin powder contains 94 calories per packet and is high in protein.
How Much Gelatin Do I Use?
Use 2 tablespoons of Gelatin powder for every 4 cups of prepared fruit and juice.
The main ingredient in jello is gelatin powder which adds the thickening agent. An additional benefit to using Jello to thicken your jam or jelly is that with the many flavors of Jello available, you can prepare an almost unlimited number of flavor combinations with the Jello and the fresh fruit you have chosen for your homemade jam.
Pro Tip: Nutrition-wise, Jello may be the least healthy option as you are adding 320 calories, 400 mg of sodium, 76 grams of carbs, 76 grams of sugars, and 8 grams of protein to your batch of jam. However, you can use the sugar-free version which only adds 40 calories, 220 mg of sodium, and no carbs or sugars, but with the sugar-free version, you are adding aspartame
I personally would rather add more sugar to my jam and avoid adding any kind of artificial sweetener, including aspartame, to anything I prepare.
How Much Jello Do I Use?
Use a ratio of one 3-ounce package of Jello for every 6 cups of prepared fruit and juice.
Tapioca is one of the healthier options for kids as a substitute for commercial pectin. It is extracted from cassava tubers which makes it a natural carbohydrate. Cassava tubers are native to South America but are known as Yuca in the United States.
Because it is a derivative of Cassava tubers, Tapioca has no common allergens, is easily digested, and cholesterol-free. While it is high in carbohydrates and calories, it is also naturally low in sodium and fat.
How Much Tapioca Do I Use?
Tapioca can be used as a thickener by adding 1 to 2 tablespoons to each quart of prepared fruit.
As you know, the apple is one of the highest fruits in natural pectin. Tart green and slightly underripe apples are one of the main sources of commercial pectin.
How Do I Use Apples as a Thickener?
You can bypass the process of making homemade pectin by just adding 1 to 3 apples, depending on the size, to 8 cups of your other prepared fruit as an additional thickener when making jam. Just
- Wash the apples well
- Remove cores
- Shred apples with peels
- Add to your other prepared fruit
- Follow your regular recipe
Are There Any Drawbacks to Using Apples As a Thickener?
It is likely that your jam will be soft set and will not reach the firm gel that would be achieved by using commercial pectin. However, for most people this is not an issue and many prefer the added “spreadability.”
8. Pith from a Citrus Peel
Some fruits, especially citrus fruits, have pith just inside the peel which has natural gelling properties and can be used as a thickening agent in your homemade jam. Marmalade is a good example of using pith as a thickener.
How Do I Incorporate Pith into Jam or Jellies as a Thickener?
Even though you would add pith to your citrus pulp to make marmalade, the best way to use pith as a thickener in making other kinds of jam would be to make homemade pectin from the pith by using this method:
- Remove zest from the fruit.
- Peel the fruit and chop the peel.
- Add a little lemon juice to the peel and let stand for at least 30 minutes.
- Place mixture in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil.
- Let cook for approximately 20 minutes.
- Strain and store for use in making jam or jelly.
This homemade pectin can be stored for approximately one week in the refrigerator, can be frozen, or can be processed in a boiling water bath for longer shelf life.
How Much Homemade Pectin From Pith Do I Use?
Use 1 cup of homemade pectin made from pith for each batch of jam or jelly.
Are There Any More Alternatives to Commercial Pectin?
There are also other alternatives to thickening jam with commercial pectin.
Add No Pectin and Simmer Longer
To avoid using anything as a thickener in your homemade jam, one option is to simmer the fruit for an extended period of time at a low temperature until thickened. Just wash and prepare the fruit for cooking, place in a large pot, add sugar and a small amount of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until fruit is done and mixture has thickened. By making jam without pectin, less sugar will be required, but the increased cooking time will change the texture and will result in a loss of the fresh fruit flavor. The jam must reach 220 degrees F to gel.
Use Fruit That is High in Natural Pectin
Fruit that is high in natural pectin such as apples, peaches, quince, crabapples, and citrus which are the source of commercial pectin, can be made into jam without the need for added thickening agents. It will require a longer cooking time and will not produce as firm a gel as commercial pectin or some of the other alternatives, but by cooking longer, your fruit product will contain no ingredients except your fruit and the sweetener of your choice.
Combine a Fruit High in Natural Pectin With a Low-Pectin Fruit
If you are making jam out of fruit like blueberries that are low in natural pectin, combine the blueberries with a fruit that is high in natural pectin like crabapples that should contain enough natural pectin to produce a jam or jelly that is soft set without the addition of commercial pectin. And, as an added bonus, the combination of flavors are usually outstanding and taste better than the jam made from either of the combined fruits.
Which Fruits Are High in Natural Pectin?
There is an extensive number of fruits high in pectin. These include:
- Sour Apples
- Sour Cherries
- Certain Grapes: Eastern Concord
- Certain Oranges: Sour
- Passion Fruit (skin)
- Certain Plums: Not Italian
The process of making jam and jelly involves a chemical reaction between pectin, sugar, and acid in the fruit. When using fruit low in acid content, the gelling process can be completed by adding lemon juice to your recipe. Here is a list of fruits that are broken down by those high and low in acid.
- High in Acid: Crabapples, Currants, certain Grapes, Loquats, Raspberries.
- Low in Acid: Sweet Apples, Blueberries, Sweet Cherries, Figs, Melons, Papaya, Passion Fruit, Peaches, Pears.
What Are Some of the Reasons to Substitute for Commercial Pectin?
There are quite a few reasons someone might want to use something other than commercial pectin to thicken their jams and jellies:
- It is hard to find a good supply of commercial pectin at some times of the year.
- Commercial pectin is one of the largest expenses of the jelly and jam making process unless you purchase pectin in bulk.
- To make a healthier product.
- If you want to make jam right away and don’t have any pectin on hand.
What To Do When Jam is Too Runny
There are a number of options available to you when one of your batches of beautiful, delicious homemade jam just isn’t thick enough.
- Try to “fix” the jam by adding more of your thickener.
- Use the jam as is which will actually spread more easily than it would if thicker.
- Use your runny jam as a topping for ice cream or other desserts and swear you made it that way on purpose!
Is pectin good for you? Pectin is a naturally occurring substance that is often used to make medicine. It has been used for people with high cholesterol and even to prevent certain types of cancers. It also has been known to help manage diabetes and GERD.
Can pectin be bad for you? Some commercial pectins can be made from genetically modified corn or GMOs, which a lot of people try to avoid.
Where do I buy pectin? Pectin can be purchased at most major grocery stores, as well as major chain stores such as Wal-Mart, year-round, but during the spring and early summer at the peak canning season, even the smaller groceries and most hardware stores will have pectin available. Also, there are many options for purchasing pectin online, including Amazon.
There is no “one recipe fits all” when it comes to canning and making jam, jelly, and other fruit products. Today, there are many options and almost everyone will have a viable substitute on hand. Find what is most convenient and makes the most sense for you and your family.
Let’s get started, the sky is the limit!
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