Pectin is an old-school ingredient that was often used in making jams and jellies. However, today, many people are trying to move away from it. Pectin can be quite costly, many people are sensitive or allergic to it, and it is hard to find.
So, does that mean you cannot make your own homemade jams, marmalade, or jellies? Of course not! There are actually a ton of “modern” ingredients and techniques that are used today.
So, what are the best substitutes for pectin? You can try making your own at home with apples and citrus fruits. But even then, fresh fruit can be expensive in some areas and hard to find. Other great options would include cornstarch, tapioca, gelatin, chia seeds, sugar, and Jello.
Yes, you read that right! Jello is also on the list! If you’re curious to learn exactly how to use these alternatives, read on!
Today’s article is packed with facts on what pectin is, how it is used, and what are the best substitutes for pectin. Even better, our alternatives are easy to find, affordable, and more importantly, easy to use.
From our list, we can all but guarantee that you will find an option that will work for you!
What Is Pectin?
Exactly what pectin is may be difficult to explain. However, what it does is fairly straightforward and easy to understand. For those of you who do like the more in-depth scientific explanations, let’s take a look.
Pectin is a type of starch that is found in many kinds of fruits and vegetables. There, pectin helps give them structure and adds some texture to every bite.
The name of this starch is heteropolysaccharide. This isn’t particularly important to know, but it may aid you in choosing artificial substitutes in the future.
Anyway, pectin is a starch. That means it has thickening properties. This is exactly how it is used in kitchens across the globe!
Once pectin is extracted from fruits or vegetables, it is processed into a few different forms. Most commonly, pectin comes in powdered form.
This powder is an essential ingredient in jams, jellies, coulis, and other preserves. It helps thicken the mixture which ultimately helps it gel and set.
Some fruits are exceptionally high in pectin. Apples, citrus membranes, and quinces are a few examples.
If you are making a jam or jelly with these fruits, you likely won’t have to add any pectin. The naturally occurring pectin is enough to create the perfect consistency.
But, for strawberry or blueberry jams (which don’t contain a ton of pectin), you will have to add more. Otherwise, you just have a textured sauce!
How Is Pectin Used?
The type of pectin your recipe calls for will mostly determine how you should use it and cook with it!
HM (high methoxyl) pectin has to be heated to about 220ºF (104.4ºC), but only after it has been mixed with sugar and acid.
Otherwise, on its own, it won’t form a gel. So, HM pectin is added with the initial ingredients, heated, and then simmered and cooled.
LM is pectin that can be activated at room temperature — this means that there is no need to cook LM pectin in the recipe! It can be mixed with some sugar and added to the recipe later in the process.
Liquid pectin is usually only added near the end of the cooking process. It is added to the hot mixture before it cools completely to the setting point.
Functions of Pectin
Pectin pretty much only has one key function in recipes — to help them thicken and set. It is classified as a gelling agent, which is exactly what it does.
It won’t add flavor, it won’t enrich the already-present flavors, and it won’t “improve” the texture of the recipe. But, it will help thicken it and allow it to set to the perfect consistency that it needs to be!
However, alongside thickening, pectin also performs other secondary functions. These include helping to emulsify the ingredients while acting as a stabilizer.
Now, the reason these aren’t important to note is that most other thickeners (like corn starch, gelatin, and tapioca) also naturally perform these functions. So, as a thickening agent, pectin isn’t all that special from others.
Here are some of the main reasons pectin is used above other thickening ingredients:
- Lack of additional flavor or color
- Unique and specific textures it can create in recipes
- A wide range of pectin options available to achieve specific consistencies
- Widely considered to be a vegan thickening agent, so it can meet certain dietary needs
How to Choose the Best Substitute for Pectin?
There aren’t that many elements to consider when choosing a substitute for pectin. But, those factors that are there are pretty important.
At the end of the day, the best way to find a fantastic substitute for your specific recipe is to experiment with different alternatives in our list below.
Most of them will get the job done. But, sometimes only one or two will be able to get you your desired consistency and texture!
So, let’s have a more in-depth look at each of these factors and how they potentially could influence your choice of substitute.
Type of Pectin
There are a few types of pectin available on the market. The most widely used are HM (high methoxyl) pectin and LM (low methoxyl) pectin.
HM is the most commonly used. HM also has two forms: HM rapid-set or fast-set, and HM slow-set. HM rapid-set is best used for chunky products like jams and marmalade. HM slow-set on the other hand is more suited for clear jellies.
LM is more suited for sugar-free or low-sugar preserve recipes. There is another option called MCP (modified citrus pectin), which acts in a similar way to LM, as well as liquid pectin.
In the function section below, you will see why it is important to consider in some cases which type of pectin you need to substitute.
If your recipe calls for a specific type of pectin, you’ll have to research how our substitutes below compare to that option. Different kinds of pectin act in different ways, and perform different functions.
Usually, for homemade recipes, it doesn’t matter. And it is also not important if they don’t specify which pectin the recipe needs. But, in some instances, it could mean success or failure!
So, as we have mentioned above, pectin is a thickening and gelling agent. Most of our options below can do that. But, they can’t all recreate the specific consistencies that the HM, LM, and MCP pectin options can.
Pectin is a vegan product — this is often why it is used instead of gelatin. So, if you do have any type of dietary restriction, it is best to consider that when choosing one of our substitutes below! But, if not, then all of them will work.
One last thing on veganism: the exact definition of veganism is (to some vegans) open for interpretation. We’re certainly not authorities on the matter, but we do try to be considerate.
Many don’t even consider sugar to be vegan because some manufacturers process their cane using bone meal (which is not vegan). So, they completely stay away from most sugars. Other vegans on the other hand are fine with it.
Best Substitutes for Pectin
So, without further ado, let’s get to the best substitutes for pectin. As we have briefly mentioned before, all of these substitutes will help thicken your recipes and help them set.
And, most of these simultaneously act as emulsifiers and stabilizers, just like pectin. But, not all of them can achieve the exact same consistencies that specific types of pectin can.
Therefore, the best way to find an option for your recipe is to pick one, experiment, make notes, and review it!
If the option worked well for you, stick with it. But, if you see that it is lacking in some way, either make adjustments to the alternative amount or choose another.
1. Make Your Own
Believe it or not, you can make pectin at home! You don’t always have to buy commercial products — your homemade ones will be a lot more natural.
But, how does this work? All you need is under-ripe, tart green apples!
Once they have been cooked and reduced, you are left with an all-natural pectin concentrate that can be used to help set your jams or jellies. And, this version will still not change the flavor of your recipe!
You can use 1 cup of your homemade apple pectin concentrate for every 4 cups of jam you are planning to make. Add it at the beginning of the cooking process.
- Green apples
- Wash, peel, and core your apples. Then, cut them into chunks.
- Combine 1 pound of apple chunks with 2 cups of water. If you have more apples, add the appropriate amount of water needed.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow the apples to simmer for 20-30 minutes. Remove them from the heat and allow them to cool.
- Strain the cooked apples through a cheesecloth overnight. Do not squeeze the fruit. It will make the liquid cloudy.
- Once the apples have been strained, pour the juice into a pot and bring it to a boil. Then, allow it to simmer over medium-high heat until it has reduced by half. This could take several hours depending on the amount of liquid.
- Once the liquid is reduced, you can pour it into sterilized canning jars if you aren’t going to use it immediately. Alternatively, you can store it in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Cornstarch made its way this high on our list simply because of its accessibility and cheap price tag.
You likely already have some in your pantry! If not, we usually keep this one on hand.
It is also a thickening agent that is easy to use, will help emulsify and stabilize ingredients, and will help get the perfect gelling consistency.
You can use 2 tablespoons of cornstarch for every 4 cups of fruit mixture. Once you add it to the fruit, you must bring it to a boil. Otherwise, it will add a strange chalky consistency to the jam and alter the flavor.
But, as soon as the mixture starts to boil, reduce the heat to a very slow simmer. Cornstarch burns easily, so don’t overheat your mixture!
3. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds have become a well-researched ingredient, especially concerning their uses in vegan and egg-free diets. So, far, chia seeds are proven as a great replacement for eggs and a thickening ingredient for sauces and dressings!
But, what few people realize, is that you can add cooked chia seeds to your fruit mixture to help it naturally thicken.
The only downside to using chia seeds is that they don’t allow the mixture to set firmly and the process does take a while as well.
But, besides that, it is an option that is very easy to use, affordable, and nutritious too.
To use chia seeds, use 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons per 2 cups of fruit.
First, you will need to cook your fruit for roughly 10 minutes. Then, add your sweeteners and acidic ingredients. Allow the mixture to completely cook. Finally, add the chia seeds last and allow the mixture to cool! It will set as it rests.
This option works best for people who are sensitive to thickening agents, so make note that jam sugar is different from regular sugar.
However, using sugar as a thickener will make your mixture very sweet and you cannot exactly determine how much more sugar you need to add.
By adding more sugar to your recipe, you can save money and time on searching for expensive alternatives.
When adding more sugar, do so slowly. You will also need to keep stirring the mixture for hours. It is difficult to get a perfect consistency, but not impossible. This is the traditional way of making jams and jellies, but it is a bit more time-consuming.
In the end, once enough moisture has been absorbed and the syrup starts setting, you are left with a super thick and luscious jam.
You read that right! Jello can also be used as a thickening agent for jams and jellies.
What makes this a great option is that Jello is cheap and already flavored. So, you can incorporate an even fruitier flavor profile!
You can simply add an entire pack of Jello for every 6 cups of fruit mixture. Whisk it in and allow the fruit mixture to set. Jello doesn’t require any cooking, making it a hassle-free substitute.
The biggest downside to using Jello is that they do contain artificial flavorings. However, if you’re in a pinch, it will do wonders!
You may be wondering why we haven’t added gelatin at the top of our list since it’s basically the original gelling agent.
First, gelatin is no longer an ingredient that everybody keeps on hand. Over the years, it has been phased out slowly by vegetarian and vegan substitutes, or simple adjustments to recipes.
Second, gelatin is made from animal products. This means that you won’t be able to use it in any vegetarian or vegan recipe. A product like agar or xanthum gum is a better alternative in these cases, but they’re also hard to find.
And third, gelatin isn’t easy to incorporate. Depending on the type you use, you have several steps that you have to follow. These are to activate the gelatin and you cannot leave them out.
All that being said, gelatin can still be a great option! It is easy to find, affordable, and it works — it definitely has strong setting effects! Just make sure about the ratio of gelatin you need for the specific gelatin product you use.
So, adding apples to your mixture isn’t the same as making a pectin concentrate from apples. By adding apples, we literally mean adding cut pieces of apples to whichever jam or jelly you are making.
Don’t worry, the apples won’t create a strange texture or flavor when added to your original recipe. They should blend in quite seamlessly!
Depending on the size of your apples, 2 medium apples should be enough for 8 cups of fruit. Make sure to core and peel the apples! And for a pro tip, they will do much better if they are grated and added to the mixture.
8. Citrus Pith
Citrus pith is very high in pectin. But unfortunately, the flavor of citrus can be quite overpowering.
So, think about your flavor pairings before just adding a bunch of lemons or oranges.
The best place to use citrus pith as a thickener is in citrus-based jams or marmalade.
Here’s how we make citrus pith pectin:
- Zest the citrus and keep it aside. Peel the rest of the fruit and chop up both the fruit and peel.
- Place the mixture inside a pot with water and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow it to simmer for 20 minutes.
- Strain the cooked mixture and use it to make your jams or jellies.
You can incorporate about 1 cup of citrus pith pectin for 8 cups of jam or jelly.
9. Tapioca Starch
Tapioca starch comes from dried and powdered cassava plants. It’s also completely free of any allergens!
Tapioca is a natural carbohydrate that is frequently used as a thickening, stabilizing and emulsifying ingredient.
You can use it in the same manner you use corn starch. Add 1-2 tablespoons to every 4 cups of fruit mixture.
Again, you may want to slightly cook it to get rid of any starchy flavors and textures.