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All About Pectin And How To Naturally Sweeten Your Jam

a box of pectin and jars of jam

The beauty of summer's fruit can be preserved and enjoyed throughout the entire year by putting up jam, jelly and preserves.

Most peoples' gateway to canning starts with homemade jam or jelly. Who can resist the luscious colors of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and peaches or the sweet and juicy flavors that come with them? Certainly not me and that is exactly how I started on my road to preserving.

Making your own jam or jelly is not difficult at all. All that's needed are canning jars, pectin, lemon juice, fruit and a sweetener.

When I made my first batch of jelly I purchased the pectin that was nearest the canning equipment.  I was blown away by the amount of sugar needed to create the jelly. The directions on the box called for 7 cups of sugar to make 7 pints of strawberry jam – a cup of sugar per pint!

I realized how much sugar is in jelly that you buy on your grocery store shelves and knew that I needed to find an alternative using a natural sweetener.

What Is Pectin?

Pectin is a naturally occurring thickening agent found in fruits and vegetables. Commercially, it's made from apples and citrus fruits as they are especially high in pectin.

In order for jams and jellies to gel, the fruit needs a correct ratio of pectin, acid and sugar. Some fruits gel better than others because they have a naturally higher occurring amount of pectin.

Which Type Of Pectin Should I Use?

There are three different methods you can use to naturally sweeten your jam or jelly.

Method 1: Homemade Pectin made from crabapples or under ripe green apples

Last year I posted a recipe for making your own pectin. Making your own pectin allows you to use a natural sweetener like honey, however, it does take an extra day of making the pectin.

It takes about 2 cups of apple pectin per batch of jam or jelly to thicken and you need to cook the fruit down for awhile to achieve the desired consistency.

In order to achieve the best consistency, it's best to use fruits high in pectin and make sure to add a tablespoon or so of lemon juice if using a low acid fruit. Definitely a method for the do-it-yourselfer!

Method 2: Using the fruit's natural pectin

Another method to naturally sweeten your jam or jelly is to use the naturally occuring pectin in the fruit. This method allows you to skip a box by simply cooking the fruit down for a period of time and ensuring that there is enough acid by using lemon juice.

Cranberries, quinces, green apples, crab apples, blackberries, gooseberries, concord grapes, plums, and orange and lemon rind contain pectin and acid. You can cook these down in large amounts without additional boxed pectin to gel your jelly or jam.

Peaches, pineapple, cherries, pears, strawberries, and rhubarb contain practically no pectin when ripe, so pectin or some other gelling substance must be added.

Pears and sweet apples are high in pectin but contain practically no acid and therefore require the addition of lemon juice.

Now, if you were to combine a high pectin fruit with a high acid fruit, you could create a jelly by cooking them down together. This is a great and natural alternative to making jelly without the added use of a boxed pectin.

However, in order to make a jelly like this, you will need to cook the fruit down for up to 30 minutes eliminating many nutrients and it's very time intensive.

So for me, my favorite method of making jelly is using method 3 or Pomona's Universal Pectin. An easy way to making jelly that can be sweetened with local raw honey.

Method 3: Low-Methoxyl (LM) Pectin

Pomona's Universal Pectin is a low-methoxyl pectin. It's found through or any natural or health food store.

LM pectin is different than other boxed pectin in that it requires calcium salts, usually a dicalcium phosphate solution. P0mona's Universal Pectin uses monocalcium phosphate which is a natural crystalline material used as a leavening agent in baking.

This citrus pectin allows you to sweeten your jam or jelly with as much or as little natural sweetener as you'd like. What I really enjoy about using this pectin is that you do not have to boil the nutrients out of your jelly. A quick rise of temp and it's done!

It's quick and easy compared to normal pectin, and the  jelly has a fresher fruit flavor since only a bit of honey is required. You can also do the freezer jelly/jam method with this pectin without having to cook down your fruit at all. A completely raw and nutrient dense jelly!

Another added benefit is that if you understand the different pectin and acid levels in fruit, you can make any combination of jelly that you'd like. You can experiment with added herbs and spices and take ordinary jelly to another level!

Pomona's Universal Pectin comes with an extensive list of recipes, however, it can be a bit confusing to understand. I recommend the book, Stocking Up, The Third Edition of the Classic Preserving Guide. They have an amazing list of tried and true jam and jelly recipes using this style of pectin with raw honey.

Below is a step by step pictorial on how to use Pamona's Universal Pectin using strawberries to give you a better idea on how easy and quick this method is.

So delicious, simple and quick to make! I encourage you to try out any of these methods to naturally sweeten your jam or jelly :) If you do or have used this method, feel free to comment on your experiences.

Until next time, happy jamming!!

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