Culinary Arts

Learn About Pectin: Definition, Origins, and How It Is Used in Cooking

Written by MasterClass

Nov 30, 2018 • 5 min read

From jams to glazes, pectin is an integral part of baking and desserts.

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James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Dominique Ansel teaches his essential techniques for making delicious pastries and desserts in his first-ever online class.

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What Is Pectin?

Pectin is a polysaccharide starch found in the cell walls of fruits and vegetables. In terms of food composition, pectin is a gelling agent.

It partially mimics the effects of gelatin, but unlike gelatin—which is sourced from animals—pectin comes entirely from plants. Both liquid pectin and dry pectin are found in a wide variety of foods, from homemade freezer jams to mass-produced gummy candies.

What Is Pectin Made From?

Pectin can be sourced from a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Popular sources include:

  • Apples
  • Citrus fruit (oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes all help create what’s known as citrus pectin)
  • Carrots
  • Apricots
  • Plums
  • Blackberries
  • Cherries
  • Quince

The amount of pectin found in fruits and vegetables will vary considerably. As a general rule, firmer fruits have high pectin levels, while squishy fruits have lower levels. Ripe fruits also have lower pectin levels than unripe ones.

What Is Pectin Used For?

A wide variety of recipes make use of pectin.

  • Pectin is routinely used in marmalades, jams, and jellies, because when it’s cooked at a high temperature with acid and sugar, it creates that nice gelatinous texture. Try your hand at making Chef Dominique Ansel’s homemade strawberry jam.
  • Fruits that produce high levels of their own pectin usually need very little added sugar and pectin to make a jam. (In some cases, these jellies can be made with no sugar added whatsoever.)
  • Fruits that are lower in pectin, however, often need both. But if you don’t want to add an excessive amount of sugar—which is common in berry jams, for example—you can add pectin instead without affecting the flavor.
  • Pectin is also used for making tarts which need a firm, slightly gelatinous texture, or for creating a clear fruit glaze called nappage.
  • Some types of medicine incorporate pectin as well, but these require considerably less pectin than dessert recipes.
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Is Pectin Vegan?

Pectin is vegan. It contains no animal products. Pectin is made from real fruit and all its forms—from dry pectin to liquid pectin to mass produced commercial pectin—are sourced entirely from plants.

What Is the Difference Between Gelatin and Pectin?

Gelatin is a more common ingredient than pectin, though both work to provide a similar gelatinous texture to food items. There’s one big difference between the two, however.

While gelatin is made from animal products (most notably collagen), pectin is vegan and vegetarian-friendly since it is derived from fruit.

How Does Pectin Work?

Pectin comes in either liquid or powdered form, and it’s soluble in cold water. Pectin needs other ingredients in order to gel. Usually those ingredients are sugar or calcium.

da-dominique-ansel-strawberries-2

4 Common Types of Pectin

There are also different types of pectin that can be used for different things. There are four primary types.

  1. HM pectin. High methoxyl (HM) pectin is the most common type of pectin. It’s usually labeled as either “rapid-set” or “slow-set.” Both types are extracted from citrus fruit peels and basically the same, with the main difference being how much time and the temperature they take to set. Rapid-set pectin takes a higher temperature and less time to set, while slow-set pectin takes a lower temperature and more time. Rapid-set pectin is great for recipes that include suspension, so it’s better for jams and preserves (suspension is essentially the fruit morsels that hang, suspended, in the viscous jam). Slow-set pectin is better for recipes that don’t include any suspension, like a smooth jelly. HM pectin needs sugar and very specific acid levels in order to firm up. That’s why it’s great for fruit preserves, jams, and jellies.
  2. LM pectin. Low methoxyl pectin (LM) also comes from citrus peels. It’s often used for low-calorie jams and jellies since it relies on calcium instead of sugar to solidify. It’s great for dairy-based recipes that don’t need sugar, too. LM pectin gets increasingly firmer as calcium is added until it hits a saturation point. At that time, the process reverses and it becomes less firm.
  3. Apple pectin. Apple pectin is pectin that is derived from apples and it’s usually sold as a powder. It can be used as a gelling and thickening agent, as well as a food stabilizer. It is also used in medicine, as supplements, in chews like throat lozenges, or as an additive to laxatives for its natural purgative qualities. Apple pectin is packed with healthy carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sodium, manganese, copper, and zinc.
  4. Pectin NH. Pectin NH is an apple pectin that’s usually used for fruit glazes and fruit fillings. It’s a type of modified LM pectin. Pectin NH needs calcium to gel, like any other type of LM pectin, but it less of it. It’s also thermally reversible, which means that it can be melted, set, remelted, and then reset again.

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What Are Substitutes for Pectin?

If you don’t have dry pectin or liquid pectin on hand or can’t find some in a market, there are several options for substitutes:

  • Citrus peels. Citrus peels—especially the white part, or pith—are naturally packed with pectin. If you’re making a fruit jam, the citrus will add a boost of pectin without as much sugar.
  • Cornstarch. Cornstarch is a natural thickener that works as a seamless substitute for pectin.
  • Gelatin. Gelatin is a viable option for non-vegans or non-vegetarians.
  • Extra sugar. Finally, you can make jams and jellies the old fashioned way: by cooking them for hours and adding a lot of sugar. The only downsides to that, of course, are that you cook out a lot of the natural nutrients and also end up eating a lot of added sugar.

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James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Dominique Ansel teaches his essential techniques for making delicious pastries and desserts in his first-ever online class.

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Whether you’re just learning the difference between a madeleine and a macaron, or you already know your way around a piping bag, mastering the fine art of French pastry requires skill and technique. No one knows this better than Dominique Ansel, who has been called the “world’s best pastry chef.” In Dominique Ansel’s MasterClass on French pastry fundamentals, the James Beard Award-winner expands on his precise methods and reveals how to add classic recipes to your repertoire, explore texture and flavor inspirations and create your own decadent desserts.

Want to learn more about the culinary arts? The MasterClass All-Access Pass provides exclusive video lessons from master chefs including Dominique Ansel, Massimo Bottura, Chef Thomas Keller, Gordon Ramsay, Alice Waters, and more.

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