The cores, peels, and scraps from tart green apples can be easily turned into homemade liquid pectin. Stop buying the store stuff and start making your own homemade apple pectin to set your jams and jellies cheaply and easily!
Pectin is what gives jams and jellies their setting power. And by “setting” I mean that pinnacle moment when your jam goes from running right off your spoon (because it’s thin and runny) to something that sedately suspends from your spoon then, without nudging, gently descends to your toast below. That, my friend, is the power of pectin.
What is Pectin?
Wait, did I just wax poetic about pectin?
Have I become that obsessed about ditching the overpriced grocery store stuff? (I guess so). And so should you!
Pectin Doesn’t Have to Come from a Box!
That’s right-commercial brands do not have a monopoly on the pectin market. Since pectin is a naturally occurring substance in all fruits,you can make as much (or as little) as you want if you have high-pectin fruit, such as apples on hand. Better yet, it’s 100% vegan and contains no added sugar. Purchasing pectin at the store can be very expensive, so start making your own right at home to cut costs while still getting an equivalent gel setting product.
So, what’s the difference between homemade vs. store-bought pectin?
The two actually have more in common than you think. Both store-bought and homemade pectin are made from tart apples or the white pith found under the peel of citrus fruits. And, both store-bought and homemade pectin have a limited shelf life (about 1 year) so don’t keep either beyond their expiration date. This is because the pectin content significantly decreases after 8-10 months so it’ll give less and less (and eventually no) gelling properties as it ages.
The main difference between homemade vs. store bought pectin is that commercial pectins (available in powdered, liquid, low and no sugar and calcium chloride activated) require lots of sugar to activate the gelling properties. Is sugar delicious? Yes! Good for you? No. Homemade pectin may require you to add new fruit combinations but it’ll keep processed sugar at bay since it focuses on mascerating fruits to develop the flavor into something that’s fruit forward and less sweet because homemade pectin jams only require the use of a light sugar syrup.
To Pectin or Not to Pectin?
Yes, that truly is the question because there’s a bit of a controversy surrounding pectin.
If you make your jam with a low pectin fruit
According to Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Kitchen by Cathy Barrow, “ In the early 2000s, Pomona-brand pectin reinvigorated a method calling for very little or no sugar but requiring calcium chloride to boost the gelling action.”
What are the pros of making your own pectin?
- You can ditch the grocery store stuff. Seasonal apples per lb are always significantly cheaper than the commercial stuff.
- You’ll find yourself opting to pair fruit combinations that’ll give a more nutritionally redemptive quality to your jam instead of just well, “product”.
- You’ll stop tossing out the seeds, rinds, and cores from high and medium pectin fruits and instead collect them in freezer bags and when you have enough-make your own pectin. Talk about creating something out of nothing!
- Both commercial and homemade pectin have a seasonal shelf life, so stockpiling the expensive store stuff isn’t as practical as you think.
What are the cons of making your own pectin?
- You have to plan in advance to give yourself a full 24 hours to make the pectin (that’s counting full start to finish time darlin’–don’t worry, hands on time is only about an hour).
- There’s no instant satisfaction of ripping a package and calculating things to a tee.
What is the downside to homemade pectin?
I can only think of two.
The first is-occasionally, for whatever reason, your homemade batch may give you a set that’s a bit too soft or firm.
Even with this possibility, I still prefer to make homemade apple pectin.
Look–the jars of jams, jellies and spreads I make aren’t being entered in the state fair contest so I’m not chasing after something that looks like highly edited food photography. In our house it’s taste first, aesthetics later and we’re just as happy with sometimes slouchy batches of jam or ones that have a firmer consistency.
Let’s be honest– jams are mostly commonly spread on toast, biscuits, used as filling in thumbprint cookies, fruit smoothies or as a meat glaze and none of those hinge on having “a perfect set” to be enjoyed. My homemade jams are going straight into homestyle pies, being picked up by my parents, or being given to neighbors and friends that already give me waaay too much credit for canning.
Homemade Pectin is the better option because…
Real food is delicious, not intricately staged, so yes, I’ll “risk” inconsistent jelling and stick with mostly making my own pectin. I truly prefer the product independence that comes with knowing I don’t have to fork over the expense of being dependent on big box brands to supply me with an ingredient I can source from whole fruits I’m already purchasing.
I’ll “pick my pectin” right at the farmers market, please and thank ya’.
The second “drawback” is that you have to plan in advance to give yourself a full 24 hours to make homemade pectin (that’s counting full start to finish time darlin’–don’t worry, hands-on time is only about an hour).
The history of jam is long (and delicious)
Y’all–homemade jam and pectin recipes date back not only to our grandmother’s kitchens, and cookbooks from 100 years ago but the action of pectin was known thousands of years beyond that to the Greeks waaaay before boxes of pectin was a thing. The age-old technique of macerating fruit with sugar and flavorings and adding it to a hot syrup produces a suitable gel without pectin at all.
As part of creating a handmade home and feeding my family as many food from-scratch recipes as I can, there is something about honoring the legacy and original methods of food prep in the ways of our ancestors before “modern cooking” made everything about convenience.
That’s not to say convenience shouldn’t ever be a factor. In fact, I’ve got to admit that I’m no “pectin purist.” Some preserve recipes that use ingredients with low or no naturally occurring pectin (like herb and pepper jellies) make having a tiny stash of commercial pectin on hand practical. But, for the most part, I truly do stick to making my own.
ALL FRUITS HAVE PECTIN (SOME MORE THAN OTHERS)
What other fruits are high in Pectin?
All fruits contain pectin, but the amount varies depending on the type of fruit and its ripeness. Some fruits such as sour apples, kiwi, and cranberries are inherently rich in natural pectin and will provide an abundance of setting power to any recipe. When cooking with low-pectin fruits such as plums or pears, combining them with high pectin fruits is a way to achieve a gel without adding commercial pectin.
It’s actually pretty easy to tell which fruits contain high or low levels of pectin based on how easily they squash. Oh wait, you thought we had to be super science-y? Take, blueberries or raspberries–they smash down pretty easily and consequently are low pectin. But fruits like apples, cranberries, and grapefruits take a lil’ muscle to squish. They’re also high in pectin. The strength from pectin has to come from somewhere, right?
This is why high pectin fruits are the perfect partner to pair with “squishy” fruits to thicken up recipes.
If you’re curious about which fruits provide high, medium or low amounts of pectin, refer to the list below:
HIGH PECTIN FRUITS
- Apples (sour)
- Cherries (sour)
- Currants (black, white and red)
- Grapes (eastern concord, muscadeine, and scuppernog)
- Sour Oranges
- Plums (tart/Damson)
MEDIUM PECTIN FRUITS
- Apples (sweet)
LOW PECTIN FRUITS
- Cherries (sweet)
- Grapes (except varities listed above)
- Plums (sweet and Italian)
Credit: This pectin portion chart is from master food preserver and author of the book, ‘ “>Canning & Preserving’ Ashley English. I highly recommend her book for all things jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys and more!
What Apples are Best for Homemade Pectin?
Stick with sour green apples that are so tart your first instinct is to resist wanting to even bite them! No half steppin’ here-you want the varieties known for their bright acidic tang like Granny Smith, Shamrock, Lodi, Red Island Green, and Newton Pippin–those are the best choice for making homemade pectin.
Now, I know what you’re thinking so go ahead and say it-
“Cassandra, are you saying I can’t use red apples at all?”
Cassandra: It’s not that you can’t use them, it’s just that if you want the strongest stock stick with under-ripe green apples because they have the highest pectin content. I certainly toss in the cores and skins from red apples but the ratio of green to red apples is about 80/20. Green is the way to go if you want to avoid troubleshooting pectin problems.
Other uses and benefits from homemade apple pectin include:
- Stir into other foods that require thickening like soups, sauces, and puddings.
- Taken as a dietary supplementary to ease bowel movements due to its high amount of soluble fiber.
- Use as a natural alternative to relieve constipation and diarrhea and lower cholesterol. Learn more about the purported benefits of apple pectin here (link: verywellhealth.com apple pectin)
Can I use other fruits besides apples to make homemade pectin?
Oooooh weee, darling now we’re talking. The answer is yes! The “recipe” I’m sharing below is more about technique than about amounts of this and that. As such, feel free to substitute the following fruits in my homemade apple pectin recipe:
- A Combination of all three
- Fruit scrap pectin (combination of green apple, lemon, lime and citrus scraps)
- Stick with tart green apples. Why? These contain the most amount of pectin. Buuuut, it’s also fine to use the scraps from red, sweet apples you may have tucked in your freezer as…
- The generally accepted rule for using homemade apple pectin is to use one 4 ounce jar of your batch for every 3lbs of fruit OR (smaller scale)
- Adding more homemade pectin does not affect the flavor in any way so if you find you need more, use it.
- The majority of your jellies, marmalades and jams will continue to set for days (and even up to a month) after its on your shelf. Always use the wrinkle method on cold plate to test your set (LINK TO COLD PLATE TEST). If the wrinkle test works, you can be confident your jam will set in time.
- Opt for organically grown fruit since the peels will transfer their chemical and pesticides into your pectin.
- Use 4 to 8 ounces of homemade pectin for every 3 lbs of fruit.
What Other Ways Can you Build gel with Low Pectin Fruits?
If you’re in a pinch and don’t have homemade pectin at the ready, try these techniques to build your gel with low pectin fruits:
- Add citrus seeds: Use a disposable tea bag or closed tea steeper to steep the seeds from 2 lemons. Cook the preseves with the seeds and remove it right before you ladle teh jam into the jars. This trick “works” but its less precise because not all lemons have the same number of seeds.
- Add green apple: Yup, you can just skip this whole pectin recipe and instead grate 1 green apple down to the core for every 3 pounds of fruit. Add your apple at the masceration stage and do not increase the sugar or lemon juice. You’ll notice a slight (very slight, trust me) texture in teh finished product.
- Add kiwi: Toss in 1 finely diced and peeled kiwi for every 3 pounds of fruit. Add one when you mascerate but do not increase the sugar or lemon juice. Your kiwi pulp will completely dissolve but you’ll have the little black seeds. I think its cute and makes your jam look fancy.
- Add the “ripe” ratio: A minimum of one-third fruit should be slightly underripe. Don’t use overripe fruit.
Make Your Own Apple Pectin At Home!
Homemade Apple Pectin Canning Recipe
- Water Bath Canner OR Tall Stock Pot
- Canning Lids
- Canning Rings
- Pint or Half Pint Canning Jars
- Jar Lifter
- Select tart apples. Wash and quarter the apples (skin on, with seeds- these parts contain high amounts of natural pectin).
- Place the apples into your preserving pot and cover with just enough water to float the apples. Too much water will dilute the pectin.
- Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once a boil is reached, reduce the heat and cook at a low simmer for 2-2 ½ hours. An easy mistake you must avoid is stirring your apples! This eliminates sediment fallout, which’ll give your final product an undesirable haze and make it hard to strain.
- When the apples have cooked down considerably, are incredibly mushy and resemble chunky applesauce.
- Line a colander with several layers of cheesecloth, coffee liners, or a tea towel. Stack the colander over a large pot, strain the liquid through it. Let things drip for several hours (and up to overnight) at room temperature. You’ll again have to resist the temptation to press the pulp so that you don’t get cloudy pectin.
- Return the pectin to the stove and bring to a simmer over moderate until it reduces by half of its original volume. it’s nearly ready! But, before you jar it up, test your pectin’s ability to gel.
- Remove 1 teaspoon of pectin and allow it to cool. Mix it with 1 tablespoon of rubbing alcohol. Your fruit pectin is high if a gelatinous glob forms that can be picked up with a fork. If the fruit pectin is average, you’ll get a few coagulated chunks. If that’s the case, return the liquid to a boil and continue to reduce. Discard the test batch.
- Pour hot pectin immediately into sterilized half-pint mason jars, leaving ¼ headspace. Wipe the rim of the jars with a dampened cleaned towel to remove any residue that may prevent your jars having an airtight seal.
- Apply new canning lids and firmly (not not forcefully) securely with a screw band to hold the flat lid in place. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Homemade pectin is shelf-stable for one year, but for best gelling results, use within 8 months. This is a recipe you’ll need to use up during one canning season.
Ready to test drive your new pectin? Here are some jam and marmalade recipes (along with easy meal ideas to enjoy them at every meal) you’ll want to try:
Epic Balsamic and Rosemary Onion Jam
Sweet & Spicy Onion Jam Recipe
No Pectin Blueberry Jam (wow-zers!)
Sweet Orange Marmalade
Additional Resources: I used a few different resources when researching this topic. I got the recipe from Bigger Bolder Baking. I also used The Spruce Eats, Morning Chores, and Pick Your Own to learn how to store and use homemade apple pectin.