Culinary Arts

Learn About Pectin: Ingredients, Uses, and Substitutes

Written by MasterClass

Nov 30, 2018 • 3 min read

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

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What Is Pectin?

Pectin is a polysaccharide starch found in the walls of the cells of fruits and vegetables. Firmer fruits—like apples—have more pectin, while squishy fruits—like strawberries—have less. Ripe fruits also have lower pectin levels than unripe ones.

What Is Pectin Used For?

Pectin is primarily used in jams and jellies, because when it’s cooked at a high temperature with acid and sugar, it creates that nice gelatinous texture. Fruits that are naturally high in pectin usually need very little added sugar and pectin to make a jam. 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.

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, 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.

Let’s cover which type of pectin needs which binding ingredient below.

The 4 Most Common Types of Pectin

There are also different types of pectin that can be used for different things. Here are the 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.

What Are Substitutes for Pectin?

If you don’t have 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.

Now that we’ve covered all there is to know about pectin, try your hand at making Chef Dominique Ansel’s homemade strawberry jam.

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