Summer Staple – Pectin

As summer fruit season swings into full gear, let's take a look a summer ingredient that can help you enjoy summer all year long; pectin.

Ever wonder how jam, jelly, and other sweets get their thick texture? Pectin is the active ingredient that helps thicken some of our foods. Let's take a look at pectin and the role it plays in our food system.

Where can I find pectin?

Pectin is found naturally found in plants. It exists primarily in plant cell walls and helps bind cells together.
 
Some fruits and vegetables are more pectin-rich than others. For example, apples, carrots, oranges, grapefruits, and lemons contain more pectin than cherries, grapes, and other small berries with citrus fruits containing the most pectin.
 
These natural sources of pectin are then processed to create the liquid and powdered pectin used in our home kitchens and by the food and medical industries. There are different types of pectin depending on the ingredients people combine pectin with and the desired outcome (e.g., a thick jelly or a thinner medication). When using pectin at home, it’s important to note and use the pectin called for in your recipes.

Why is pectin important?

Pectin in fruits and vegetables helps provides necessary dietary fiber in our diets. This fiber aids in our health and digestion.
 
It's important to note that pectin derived from fruits and used as a thickener for jams, jellies, and other foods does not provide the same dietary fiber as eating whole fruits and vegetable. Additionally, high-sugar jams and jellies should not replace a well-rounded, fiber-rich diet.
 
Manufacturers use pectin in some cosmetics as a safe and natural thickener and binder. It also has medical applications and is used in some pharmaceutical and medical devices due to its unique gelling and binding composition.

Is it safe?

Pectin is a GRAS ingredient and has been used safely as a thickener for jams, jellies, and more since the 1800s.
 
It's rare to have an allergic reaction to pectin, and the only confirmed negative health impacts noted in the current literature pertain to individuals who manufacture pectin. Workers in pectin manufacturing plants can have an increased risk of developing asthma from inhaling large quantities of pectin particles if not using proper safety devices.

Can I make and use my own pectin?

Yes, you can make pectin safely, but it's critical that you follow the outlined canning and home preserving guidelines created by the USDA and agricultural schools. Creating and then using pectin when canning and preserving foods requires you to follow specific protocols to ensure your canned and preserved food remains safe.

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