Making jam is one of the surest ways to preserve summer into the winter. At its most basic, jam is nothing more than fruit and sugar cooked down until fragrant, flavorful, thick, and spreadable. But not all fruit has enough natural pectin to set into a jam with just sugar. That's when commercial pectin can help a home canner out.
So let's talk about what pectin does for jam and how to use four of the most common types of pectin on the market.
What Is Pectin?
Pectin is a naturally occurring gel that many fruits and some vegetables contain. Fruits high in pectin can be turned into jam or jelly without much more than sugar and a strong simmer. Riper fruits also contain more pectin. Other fruits require either more cooking time or added pectin to thicken into jams or jellies.
Pectin is naturally derived — most of it comes from apples — and is combined with citric acid and sometimes dextrose to help it gel. Pectin significantly reduces the amount of time you need to cook fruit and sugar in order to make jam. Many pectin varieties also require less sugar for making jam.
These days, you can find powdered or liquid pectin in the grocery store near the canning jars. Pectin can be used to gel nearly any fruit or vegetable.
The Four Most Common Types of Pectin
1. Liquid Pectin
Liquid pectin comes hydrated and ready to use. The clear gel can be squeezed from the packets directly into fruit or jam for thickening. It's typically added at the end of cooking jams or jellies, as it doesn't need time to cook and hydrate like powdered pectin.
2. Traditional Powdered Pectin
This white powdered pectin must be boiled with a bit of water before adding to fruit or jam to release its thickening power. It can also be cooked alongside the fruit and lemon juice, but without the sugar for the recipe — which can weaken the gelling. You often need less powdered pectin than liquid pectin to gel the same amount of fruit.
3. No- or Low-Sugar Pectin
Another powdered pectin, low- or no-sugar pectins are formulated to use with less sugar in the recipe. Fair warning here: Some no- or low-sugar pectins have sugar added via dextrose in the pectin itself. Low-sugar pectin works well for freezer jam. It also holds a better gel from freezer to fridge.
4. Instant or No-Cook Pectin
This powdered pectin allows you to gel fresh fruit and purées with zero cooking. Instant pectin is best for freezer jams, as there's no cooking to eliminate bacteria that might otherwise spoil the jam outside the freezer.