The Shape of Pectin

11/5/2014 - 8:27:29 AM

The Shape of Pectin

Pectin is not a new ingredient, in fact its been around as long as food has. It’s only in the last hundred years that pectin has been pulled out of different foods and isolated as a concentrate to stabilize some foods, and make others stick together.

Have you ever read up on what makes jams and jellies work? The story today has to do with the idea of getting those big pectin molecules in fruit to meet and get married in a sticky match made of sweetened fruit juice in a gelled network. When it happens, this immobilizes the liquid juice so that you get a delicious fruit combination that doesn’t run off though the thing is, these two are little bit touchy and it can take a little bit for them to really bind together and stick it out for the long haul. Most of us know quite a bit about fruit, or think we do, but pectin is one of those unknown components of fruits and some veggies that we eat a whole lot more of than we realize. It is a very practical ingredient, and is found in places that we don’t expect, like vegetables and legumes.  

  • Carrots

  • Tomatoes

  • Potatoes

  • Peas

A common grouping of fruits still beats the vegetables to the top in pectin content.

  • Tart Apples

  • Oranges

  • Grapefruit

  • Blackberries

  • Cranberries

Viscous: (ADJ) A thick, sticky consistency between solid and liquid.

Viscous Health

No anger problems here, this word is ‘viscous’ and not ‘vicious.’ Pectin is a viscous fiber that is reported by the U.S Department of Agriculture to slow the glycemic response of foods and delay absorption of glucose by the body. Another way of explaining it is that pectin binds to cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract and and slows absorption of sugar by trapping carbohydrates. This is good news for anyone with blood sugar problems or diabetes, though depending on the type of diabetes the body is unable even to handle some fruit sugar. If in doubt, always check with a healthcare professional.

Where Lemon Comes into the Picture

The acid in lemon is the matchmaker that makes the pectin molecules able to build that crucial gel network with the fruit or juices. Pectin molecules are charged, and they repel one another just like the wrong end of magnets, until acid steps in and neutralizes that charge (doesn’t make sense but it gets the job done) so the molecules can join and create those long networks. Basically what is happening is a structure that pectin builds by reacting with the acid in lemons, and it traps the liquid fruit juices inside. We call it biology and chemistry in the kitchen, as it plays a big part in a lot of plant life, as well as making a fascinating science experiment for kids.

An aspiring jam or jelly ‘canning connoisseur,’ will want to know whether or not the fruit of choice is high-pectin or low-pectin. If it’s the latter, you’ve got two choices. You can supplement it with a commercial pectin, or you can add an acidic ingredient like lemon juice or the rind when you boil the fruit. However, if you use the rind be sure to add in the pectin-rich pith. (Had to pull in a wealthy character somewhere in this story)

Jam & Jelly Hack: Fruit pectin levels are highest when the fruit is mature, but still slightly underripe: pectin amounts start to drop off as the fruit begins to ripen. Using almost ripe fruit will get you a better gel than fully ripe fruit, or you can use some of both to get the high-pectin from the one, and intense flavor of the other.

If you don’t have the time or inclination to make the jelly, and you don’t really want to make the drive to Bird-in-Hand (we know the traffic gets pretty thick sometimes) the jams, jellies and butters are up for order online for as much or as little of jams and jellies as your pantry can hold, but let’s be honest, with the way these pictures are making your mouth water, you might just want to go ahead and order in bulk. Just click here to find all our Jams & Jellies

I also went all out and pulled together a fun article that goes even more in depth with what happens and the history of jams & jellies, read and enjoy chemistry in the kitchen.  

The Science and Magic of making Homemade Jam & Jelly

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