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What is Pectin?

When making homemade jams and jellies pectin is a very common ingredient, even required to achieve a soft gel But just what is pectin and what does pectin do?

In short, pectin helps fruit and fruit gel and is essential for canning jams and jellies. We can get that pectin either through adding some or from the fruit itself.

A bowl of powdered pectin sitting on a board with a wooden spoon full of pectin and jars of jelly in the background with text overlay reading What is Pectin? & how to use it.

There are several different types of pectin and learning how to use them will only make your homemade jams and jellies better.

What is Pectin?

Pectin is a naturally occurring type of starch, heteropolysaccharide to be exact, found in the cell walls of fruits and vegetables. Fruits like apples, quince and citrus are naturally high in pectin.

When pectin is combined with sugar and acid it gels fruit and fruit juice in homemade jams and jellies.

It is for this reason, that lemon juice is often called for in homemade jam and jelly recipes – it adds necessary acid to provide proper gel.

Types of Pectin

Technically speaking, pectin is either high mehoxyl or low methoxyl.

The high is generally the classic pectins you find in the grocery store and the type that needs a lot of sugar to work properly. The low methoxyl is the kind labeled for low or no sugar jams and jellies.

Modified Citrus Pectin, often labeled MCP on boxes, is also a type of low methoxyl pectin.

image of jar of classic pectin and two jars of cucumber pepper jelly

Commercially Available Pectin Varieties

Instead of focusing on the type of pectin which isn’t always clearly labeled on boxes in the grocery story, let’s focus on the types commonly found for purchase:

Classic Pectin – This is the type generally found in boxes in the canning aisle. It is a type that requires a lot of sugar to gel and is likely the kind grandma used. The boxes generally only make 1 batch of jam or jelly. However, in recent years many brands have started coming out with bottles of pectin for flex recipes to allow for customization.

jar of low sugar pectin and a jar of dewberry jam and a jar of  carrot jalapeno jam

Low / No Sugar Pectin – Just like the classic pectin this can often be found in the canning aisle in single batch boxes or bottles for multiple batches.

Liquid Pectin – Again found in the canning aisle is often often used for jellies as it doesn’t clump and provides superior gelling.
Freezer Pectin – This too is often found in the canning aisle and is specifically designed for jams and jellies that will be frozen not canned.

Pomona’s Pectin – This pectin requires a two-step process that involves pectin and calcium water. This pectin is amazing for large or multiple batches of low or no sugar jam and will even gel honey, maple syrup, or other alternative sweeteners. Pomona’s is not as easily found in the grocery stores of small towns but is usually found in health food stores.

Boxes of pectin stacked on a table.

Homemade Pectin

Want to skip commercially pectin? Make your own and can it from fruits.

Pectin is easily made from apples and/or crabapples. Make it when you have a lot in season and can it for use later.

A metal bowl full of green apples.

Pectin can also be made from citrus peels. This is why marmalade doesn’t often have added pectin, because of the peel content and soaking.

Unlike commercially produced pectin, homemade pectin takes some experimentation. You will need to do a gel test to see if you need to add more or less to your recipes.

The Difference Between Pectin and Gelatin

Both pectin and gelatin will gel liquid. Gelatin needs to be refrigerated to maintain it’s firm structure. Pectin will remain gelled at room temperature.

Gelatin should not be used for jam and jelly making that will be canned. Gelatin can be used for refrigerator jams, if desired.

An open jar of plum jam with a spoon inside sitting in front of a sealed jar and fresh plums.

Pectin is vegan, coming from a plant starch. Gelatin comes from animal protein. This means your homemade jams and jellies can be easily shared with vegetarian and vegan friends.

Best Pectin for Jam

There’s no easy answer for this, because it depends on a number of factors.

Read the recipe and follow it – the recipe is generally tested and written so that it will gel properly. No running or too stiff jam when using the correct pectin.

A piece of toast spread with butter, a spoon full of jam sitting on top surrounded by fresh berries and an open jar of jam.

If you’re making up your own recipe, use the correct pectin for the amount of sugar or sweetener you want to use. Classic for heavily sweetened recipes, low/no-sugar for other types.

Find recipes to inspire all your jam and jelly making adventures here.

Is Added Pectin Absolutely Necessary?

Pectin is necessary for a gel to homemade jams and jellies. But it is not always necessary to add additional pectin.

Some fruits are naturally high in pectin, apples and quince for example, and may not need any additional pectin to gel.

Jams and jellies can be cooked until a gel point is reached. This is a long cook method and can change the flavor of the jam. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just different.

An image of a bowl of pectin with jars of jelly behind it, stacked on top of a text overlay box reading Types of Pectin: Explaining the Differences & Uses, stacked on top of an image of two jars of jelly surrounded by dandelion flowers and lavender buds.

Thanks for sharing!