Pectin – What Is It?

Pectin is a natural gelling agent found in the cell walls of plants. It was first isolated in 1825, and the word ‘pectin’ comes from the Greek ‘pektikos‘ meaning curdled.  It is pectin that allows a jam or jelly to set; without the pectin your efforts would produce a thick sugar based fruit juice. 
The quantity of pectin in fruit varies with the type of fruit and the degree of ripeness. As a general rule the pectin level in any fruit starts to drop off as the fruit ripens and becomes softer. There will normally be more pectin in an unripe specimen than in an over ripe one. 
When producing jam one should take account of the differences in pectin levels of different fruits. For example blackberries have low levels of pectin whilst apples (crab apples in particular) have high levels, so a jam combining apples and blackberries is more likely to set than a jam containing blackberries alone. 
Fruits high in pectin include crab apples, blackcurrants, gooseberries, plums,redcurrants,cooking apples, cranberries, damsons, quince, oranges, lemons and most other citrus fruits. Citrus peel can be 30% by weight pectin. Medium pectin levels are found in raspberries, loganberries, boysenberries, apricots and tayberries. 
Low pectin levels include strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, rhubarb, elderberries, peaches, cherries, desert apples, pears, figs and marrow. Cherries are a mere 0.4% by weight pectin whilst apricots do a little better at 1%. If extra pectin is needed there are several ways to achieve this. Commercial pectin can be bought as a powder or liquid. There is no real difference in their effectiveness, and you follow the instructions on the packet. 
If you prefer to stay ‘natural’ you can add a high pectin fruit or pectin stock to your jam, add lemon juice to the mix, or place a muslin bag of high pectin fruits such as chopped up apple peel and cores in the preserving pan during the cooking process and remove it when the jam reaches setting point. 
Most high and medium pectin fruits will set well, but you may find the low pectin fruits will require a little help – a splosh of lemon juice is often sufficient. (Roughly one tablespoon of lemon juice per 1kg of processed fruit) Remember, pectin makes it set, so if your mix refuses to set, add more pectin. 

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