Pectin in home canning is a substance you can add 1 to jams and jellies to help in getting a firmer set. It has traditionally required the use of copious amounts of sugar to combine with in producing the set. A Ball regular pectin recipe for strawberry jam actually even calls for more sugar than fruit — 7 cups of sugar, but only 5 cups of strawberries. 2
Now, no sugar needed pectins are on the market.
Many people who aren’t even necessarily trying to cut back or eliminate sugar say they prefer the no or low sugar needed pectins. They feel that to them, the jams just taste better because the taste of the fruit isn’t overwhelmed by the taste of the sugar.
In the trade, the no sugar needed pectins are known as “low methoxyl” (LM); the classic “boatloads of sugar” pectins are known as “high methoxyl” (HM).
- 1 How classic pectin works
- 2 How no sugar needed pectins work
- 3 Brands of no sugar needed pectin
- 4 Nutritional values of no sugar needed pectins
- 5 Safety of no sugar needed pectins
- 6 Shelf life of sugar-free products
- 7 Further reading
- 8 Brands of no sugar needed pectin
How classic pectin works
This is how classic (HM) pectin interacts with sugar:
Pectin molecules have a negative charge that makes them move away from each other. The acid within a fruit product changes the charge of the pectin to a more neutral charge, allowing the molecules to move closer together. At this point, pectin molecules are still too far apart and moving around too freely to form a stable gel because of unbound water. Sugar is added to bind water. This brings the pectin molecules closer together for the formation of a gel matrix.” 3
Note that the gelation of classic HM pectin needs acid as well as sugar. The environment has to be acidic. The molecules gel at a pH between 2.8 and 3.6. [A pH below 4.6 is considered acidic. See the page on pH.] The acid is usually in the fruit, but in the case of red pepper jelly, etc, the recipe may have you add it in the form of vinegar or lemon juice.
How no sugar needed pectins work
With the low methoxyl (LM) pectins, the pectin molecules will bind to calcium, instead of each other. (So the more calcium, the firmer the jell.)
There are two types of LM pectin: low methoxyl amidated (LMA) and low methoxyl convertional (LMC).
Calcium sensitivity (CS) is an important functional characteristic index of pectin. HM pectin is not Ca2+sensitive during gelling, but certain amount of Ca2+ is necessary for LM pectin to gel. Generally, LMA pectin is more sensitive than LMC pectin. Calcium ions are important in the gelling mechanism of LM pectin. Besides, other factors which influence the solubility of pectin are: In low calorie jams, jellies and preserves production, LM pectin is used, especially LMA pectin, working with Calcium salts can form a rapidly homogeneous pectin-Ca2+ gel.” 4
Here’s a brief video overview of low methoxyl pectin from PennState Extension. The main speaker is Dr Martha Zepp:
Brands of no sugar needed pectin
Ball / Bernadin
This is the same pectin, made in the same factory, just packed into different packaging.
Classically, it is sold in small, cardboard boxes. The actual exact weight may vary but that doesn’t matter, according to the authors of the Ball / Bernardin Complete Book:
Powered fruit pectin is sometimes sold in 49 g packages and sometimes in 57 g packages. The weight difference does not affect the performance of the product.” 5
Each box holds about 5 tablespoons of pectin powder.
The Ball brand also now sells its No Sugar Needed pectin packaged in a jar in a formulation which allows variable sized batches.
3 tablespoons of Ball RealFruit Low or No-Sugar Needed Pectin has the thickening power of 1 x 1.75 oz (49 g) box Ball (or Bernardin) No-Sugar Needed Pectin
See the separate page on Bernardin No-Sugar Needed Pectin.
Certo Light Pectin
Certo also makes a no-sugar-needed pectin, which they call “Certo Light.”
Kraft, who makes it, says Certo Light Pectin can be used with less sugar, or no sugar at all: “CERTO Light for less or no sugar added recipes..”6
The Canadian Living Test Kitchens say, “Certo Light Fruit Pectin Crystals and Bernardin No-Sugar-Needed Fruit Pectin Crystals can be used interchangeably…”7
For your convenience, here is the recipe leaflet for Certo Light Pectin.
Certo Pectin Help Hotline
Here is the Certo FAQ Page (link valid as of April 2017.)
Canada: From June to September you can call for recipes or help Monday – Friday, 9 am to 9 pm and Saturday, 9 am-2 pm Eastern Standard Time. 1-800-268-6038 (Ed: Info valid as of Spring 2017, from Kraft Site.)
US: In the US, there is no dedicated Certo hotline. According to the University of Nebraska extension, customers should use the general Kraft product helpline at 1-800-431-1001.8
See dedicated entry on Pomona.
Made by Kraft, the name of the product is actually “Sure-Jell for Less or No Sugar Needed Recipes.” It is sold in a pink box. For the most part, though, it’s meant to be used as a “less sugar needed” pectin, rather than as a “no sugar needed” pectin.
Sure-Jell Light contains low-methoxyl pectin which causes a gel with about one-third less sugar than regular pectin” 9
The recipe leaflet in the box provides only three recipes that are sugar free (and they call for Splenda.) All the other recipes in the leaflet have dire warnings about not cutting back on the sugar in them. 10
So this brand of pectin may be of less use to those wanting to eliminate added sugar in their preserves.
Julie Albrecht, University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension agent writes:
Mrs Wages Light Home Jell is a low methoxyl powdered fruit pectin. Jams and jellies can be made without sugar, with artificial sweeteners, or with added sugar using this pectin. Calcium phosphate is added to provide calcium necessary to form a gel without added sugar. Fumaric acid is the added acid, and potassium sorbate is included as a preservative. A no-cook freezer product is not recommended, although the cooked product may be stored in the freezer. The no-sugar product may be cloudy and less firm than when compared to a product made with sugar.” 11
Nutritional values of no sugar needed pectins
It can be difficult to work out the nutritional levels of no sugar needed pectins, as most seem to give nutritional values per .4 g (1/4 teaspoon), which has the effect of rounding values down to 0.
Some pectins can actually be somewhat high in sodium, and carbs, in actual real-world quantities.
We’ve only been able to establish “truth in advertising” nutritional values for Pomona.
Safety of no sugar needed pectins
In jams and jellies, the food safety doesn’t actually come from all the sugar in it: it comes from a proper water bath processing treatment of the product in the jar, to be sure, but also largely from the pH of the food product. A safe pH with regards to preventing botulism is 4.6 and below.
With classic HM pectins, you can pretty much count on the pH of the product being well below 4.6 if you get a successful gel. These classic pectin molecules ‘will not gel above a pH of 4.6. It’s actually quite a bit lower than that.” 12 Their pH gelling range is between 2.8 and 3.6. So if you also water bathed the product in the jar to destroy invisible moulds that might raise the pH, as well as any possible listeria, salmonella, etc, you were pretty much assured of a safe product, with the pH acting as your long-term botulism control.
With the new low methoxyl pectins that bind to calcium instead, you can’t trust the gel as an indicator of pH safety, as these pectins will gel in a range of 2 to 7 pH. The high end of that range is well above the 4.6 cut off for botulism safety. Remember that a few years back, someone managed to get a gel on watermelon jelly they were selling, and ended up selling jars of botulism for people to spread on their muffins.
Ball and Bernardin brands have tested recipes that you can use with their brands, that will ensure the pH is high enough for safety. They also have some additional additives for safety: “These ‘lite’ or nosugar pectins usually have mold inhibitors added in the form of potassium sorbate, potassium benzoate or sodium benzoate.” 13
With brands like Pomona, which have no additives at all, it is probably wisest to use tested recipes provided by the company, rather than making up your own with the pectin. Your own might possibly require ph / water activity testing to ensure safety.
To repeat, a gel with these new pectins does not necessarily indicate you have produced a safe food product. It would be best to stick to recipes provided by the companies. Pomona has put out hundreds of recipes. Ball and Bernardin have provided only a few, so customers need to badger them for more.Look for “No sugar needed pectin” on Amazon.
Shelf life of sugar-free products
Fruits and sweet fruit products are more prone to colour changes than are pickled items.
Items such as reduced-sugar or sugar-free jams may start to have their colour change after a year or so. Strawberry jams may darken, some jellies may lighten, applesauce may start turning golden. This change will depend on various elements, including the storage temperature and exposure to light. Bear in mind, though, that the recommendation is to aim to use up all home-canned goods within a year for best quality, regardless of whether sugar is present or no, so if you are following that recommendation you shouldn’t experience that unless the goods are stored in less than ideal circumstances.
Opened sugar-free jams and jellies made with a preservative-free pectin such as Pomona should be stored in the fridge and used up within 4 weeks, or they will go mouldy even in the fridge. Sugar-free jams and jellies made with pectins containing preservatives, such as Ball and Bernardin, will last longer: store in fridge and use up within about 3 months. Because of these shorter after-opening storage times, many people prefer to make their reduced-sugar jams in smaller jars that are more easily used up.
For full discussion see: Storage life of sugar-free jams
Sugar-free relishes and pickles have a far longer shelf life, even well past the one year recommendation as far as colour goes and an indefinite storage life in the fridge once opened.
Edmundson, Robin. The Lowdown on Low Sugar Pectins. Rurification Blog post. 6 March 2013.
Keith, Mary A. No-Sugar-Added Jams and Jellies. University of Florida Extension.
Brands of no sugar needed pectin
Of course, pectin is also a naturally occurring substance in fruits ↩
Homemade strawberry jam recipe. Accessed August 2016 at https://www.freshpreserving.com/strawberry-jam-%7C-making-strawberry-jam-%7C-ball-fresh-preserving-br1265.html ↩
Boyer, Renee R. and Julie McKinney. Boiling Water Bath Canning: Including Jams, Jellies, and Pickled Products. Virginia Cooperative Extension. Publication 348-594. 2013. Accessed March 2015 at https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/348/348-594/348-594_pdf.pdf ↩
Pectin. Acroyali Holdings Qingdao Co. Accessed March 2015 at https://www.aisonschem.com/pectin%20introduction-MRS%20for%20Jam.pdf ↩
Kingry, Judi and Lauren Devine. Bernardin Complete Book of Home Preserving. Toronto, Canada: Robert Rose Inc. 2015. Page 108. ↩
Canadian Living Test Kitchen. The Complete Book of Preserving. Montreal, Canada: Transcontinental Books. 2012. Page 38. ↩
Lauritzen, Georgia A. Reduced Sugar and Sugar-free Food Preservation. Utat State University Cooperative Extension. Brochure # FN 209. 1992. Accessed March 2015 at https://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/FN_209.pdf ↩
Leaflet # 04050027524300. Accessed March 2015 at https://www.kraftbrands.com/sites/surejell/PublishingImages/SURE-JELL-For-Less-or-No-Sugar-Needed-Recipes.pdf ↩
Albrecht, Julie A. Let’s Preserve: Jams, Jellies, and Preserves. University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension. EC448. August 2010 Revision. Accessed March 2015 at https://ianrpubs.unl.edu/live/ec448/build/ec448.pdf ↩
Andress, Elizabeth. “History, Science and Current Practice in Home Food Preservation.” Webinar. 27 February 2013. At 44:00. Accessed January 2015 at https://nchfp.uga.edu/multimedia/video/nchfp.wmv ↩
Morris, William C. Low or No Sugar in Jams, Jellies and Preserves. The University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service. SP325-F. https://ag.tennessee.edu/foodscience/Documents/Low%20or%20no%20sugar%20in%20jams,%20jellies%20and%20preserves.pdf ↩