When it comes to making jams, jellies, and preserves, one vital aspect to understand is how much pectin is in the fruit.
For a jam to set correctly and form a strong gel you need pectin. Pectin is a naturally occurring compound that is present in all fruit with some fruit having lots of and others having smaller amounts of pectin.
If you have ever made an apricot jam you may have had trouble achieving a good set. Apricot jam tends to have a quite loose gel and even be runny because there is not that much pectin in strawberries.
On the other hand apple jelly or marmalade made with orange tends to set quite firmly because apples and citrus fruits have lots of pectin.
Pectin, Acid And Sugar
Pectin is not the only element needed to form a strong gel. Pectin works with acid and sugar and these three things work together when heated to form a gel.
You can easily add acid in the form of lemon juice or citrus and most fruit has a certain amount of acidity already.
We now need to know if the fruit we are preserving is high or low in pectin to esure we get a nice gel and firm set.
- Crab Apples
Testing For Pectin Content
There will be some variation in pectin content within different varieties of the same fruit. Particularly fruit like apples where you have eating and cooking varieties.
You will also find that less ripe fruit has higher pectin content. This is why some recipes suggest using underripe fruit in order to get a good gel in the finished jam.
You can test for pectin yourself by using methylated spirit or rubbing alcohol.
To test for pectin you will need to cook some of the fruit or fruit juice you are using as you would when making jam but without any sugar.
Combine a tablespoon of cooked fruit with a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol or methylated spirit in a jar. Seal and give the mixture a shake.
If there is enough pectin present in the fruit a firm blob should form in the alcohol mixture. If no solid blob forms, you will need to add pectin to your recipe.
Discard the fruit and alcohol mixture after testing.
Adding Pectin To Your Recipes
Fortunately, you can easily add pectin to any jam or jelly recipe in order to achieve a good gel no matter how much pectin is in your fruit.
You can buy jam-making sugar which has acid and pectin added along with the sugar. This is a really good option for when you aren’t sure how much pectin is in the fruit itself. Of course, it is a little more expensive to buy jam sugar than regular sugar but you won’t have to worry about adding the right amount of pectin yourself.
The other option is to add either a liquid or powdered pectin to your recipe. Jam-making pectin comes either as a powder or a liquid. Depending on the type you add it either at the start of the recipe or just before you are ready to pour the jam into jars.
Read this guide on using powdered and liquid pectin which will tell you everything you need to know to get a perfect set in your preserves.