All About Pectin and Naturally Sweetening your Jam or Jelly

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The beauty of summers fruit can be preserved and enjoyed throughout the entire year by putting up jam, jelly and preserves.  I feel that most people’s gateway to canning starts with homemade jam or jelly.  Who can resist the luscious colors of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and peaches or the sweet and juicy flavors that come with them.  Certainly not me and that is exactly how I started on my road to preserving.Making your own jam or jelly is not difficult at all.  All that’s needed are canning jars, pectin, lemon juice, fruit and a sweetener.  When I made my first batch of jelly I purchased the pectin that was nearest the canning equipment.  When I read the directions on the box of pectin, I was blown away by the amount of sugar needed to create the jelly.  It called for 7 cups of sugar to make 7 pints of strawberry jam.  That totaled a cup of sugar per pint!  It was then that I realized how much sugar is in jelly that you buy on your grocery store shelves and knew I needed to find an alternative.  An alternative using a natural sweetener.So what is pectin?
Pectin is a natural occurring thickening agent found in fruits and vegetables.  Commercially, it’s made from apples and citrus fruits as they are especially high in pectin.

In order for jams and jellies to gel, the fruit needs a correct ratio of pectin, acid and sugar.  Some fruits gel better than others because they have a naturally higher occurring amount of pectin.

Which type of pectin should I use to naturally sweeten my jam or jelly?
There are three different pectin methods you can use to naturally sweeten your jam or jelly.

Method 1:  Homemade Pectin made from crabapples or under ripe green apples

Last year I posted a recipe on making your own pectin.  Making your own pectin allows you to use a natural sweetener like honey, however, it does take an extra day of making the pectin.  It takes about 2 cups of apple pectin per batch of jam or jelly to thicken and you need to cook the fruit down for awhile to achieve the desired consistency.  In order to achieve the best consistency, it’s best to use fruits high in pectin and make sure to add a tablespoon or so of lemon juice if using a low acid fruit.  Definitely a method for the do it yourselfer!

Method 2:  Using the fruits natural pectin to gel.

Another method to naturally sweeten your jam or jelly is to use the naturally occuring pectin in the fruit.  This method allows you to skip a box by simply cooking the fruit down for a period of time and ensuring that there is enough acid by using lemon juice.

For example,

  1. Cranberries, quinces, green apples, crab apples, blackberries, gooseberries, concord grapes, plums, and orange and lemon rind contain pectin and acid.  You can cook these down in large amounts without additional boxed pectin to gel your jelly or jam.
  2. Peaches, pineapple, cherries, pears, strawberries, and rhubarb contain practically no pectin when ripe, so pectin or some other gelling substance must be added.
  3. Pears and sweet apples are high in pectin but contain practically no acid and therefore require the addition of lemon juice.

Now, if you were to combine a high pectin fruit with a high acid fruit, you could create a jelly by cooking them down together.  This is a great and natural alternative to making jelly without the added use of a boxed pectin.  However, in order to make a jelly like this, you will need to cook the fruit down for up to 30 minutes eliminating many nutrients and it’s very time intensive.

So for me, my favorite method of making jelly is using method 3 or Pamona’s Universal Pectin.  An easy way to making jelly that can be sweetened with local raw honey.
Method 3: Low-Methoxyl (LM) Pectin Pamona’s Universal Pectin is a low-methoxyl pectin.  It’s found through or any natural/health food store.  LM pectin is different than other boxed pectin in that it requires calcium salts, usually a dicalcium phosphate solution.  Pamona’s Universal Pectin uses monocalcium phosphate which is a natural crystalline material used as a leavening agent in baking.  This citrus pectin allows you to sweeten your jam or jelly with as much or as little natural sweetener as you’d like.  What I really enjoy about using this pectin is that you do not have to boil the nutrients out of your jelly.  A quick rise of temp and it’s done!  So quick and easy as compared to normal pectin.  It literally takes me about 15 minutes using this pectin.  The jelly has a fresher fruit flavor since only a bit of honey is required.  You can also do the freezer jelly/jam method with this pectin without having to cook down your fruit at all.  A completely raw and nutrient dense jelly!  Since I do not currently have the added freezer space, canning is necessary for all of the jam and jelly that I make during this season.Another added benefit of using Pamona’s Universal Pectin is that if you understand the different pectin and acid levels in fruit, you can make any combination of jelly that you’d like.  You can start to experiment with added herbs and spices.  It takes ordinary jelly to another level!  Pamona’s Universal has an extensive list of recipes, however, it can be a bit confusing to understand.  In order to truly grasp this method, I recommend the book, Stocking Up, The Third Edition of the Classic Preserving Guide.  They have an amazing list of tried and true jam and jelly recipes using this style of pectin with raw honey.

Below is a step by step pictorial on how to use Pamona’s Universal Pectin using strawberries to give you a better idea on how easy and quick this method is.

Step 1:  Combine the dry pectin with honey.  (For this particular recipe, I used 2/3 cup of honey)

Step 2: Combine the fruit or fruit juice and lemon juice (if called for in the recipe) in a large pot and bring to a boil. (2 quarts of strawberries, no lemon juice needed since it’s a high acid fruit)

Step 3: Stir in the pectin-honey mixture and return to a boil.
Step 4: Stir in the calcium solution and remove from the heat.  (The calcium comes in the box of Pamona’s Universal Pectin.  You add water to it and store the solution in the fridge.)
Step 5: Check firmness with a jelly test.  Cool some jelly on a spoon by blowing on it.  After it’s cooled down, if it rolls in one sheet, the mixture has gelled!  Congratulations, you’ve just made a naturally sweetened jelly!!
So delicious, simple and quick to make!  I encourage you to try out any of these methods to naturally sweeten your jam or jelly :)  If you do or have used this method, feel free to comment on your experiences.
Until next time, happy jamming!!

50 Responses to "All About Pectin and Naturally Sweetening your Jam or Jelly"
  1. Fresh Local and Best says:

    I didn't know all of this information about pectin. I've made jams and membrillo out of quince, which as you point out is naturally high in pectin, and I absolutely loved the results. Your homemade jam must be incredible!

  2. Belinda @zomppa says:

    Fantastic. You've got such great helpers for such great jam.

  3. ~Sara says:

    Very informative post! I have a question. For the Pamonas Universal Pectin step 4 you say to add the calcium solution. What exactly do you use for that?


  4. the clark clan says:

    Very cool and informative Diana bo bana! My granny made jams all the time, but she used tons of sugar. I am not a big jam fan, but I do like it on savory meats, So less sugar would probably work well for me! Thanks for linking to the two for tuesday recipe blog hop (remember to link up!) and thanks also for hosting! Alex

  5. Sustainable Eats says:

    The only bummer about not using as much sugar is the jam doesn't keep as well before it molds but you can freeze it then add whey and ferment when you take it out of the freezer. Then it will last in your fridge for 3 months.

  6. Reshmi says:

    my mom prepares jam but she will use lots and lots of sugar.. ur post is very informative.. will give a try soon!!

  7. Pamela @ Seeds of Nutrition says:

    Great post Diana, kids sure cute helping mom out.
    I getting ready to make more blackberry jam then some mulberry.
    Take care.

  8. Sunshine says:

    In your second method, you say that pineapple and rhubarb have very little pectin naturally and would therefore need pectin added to it. I made a jam last summer with both fruits that didn't require any pectin, only sugar. I'm just curious as to why that is. I had assumed that at least one of them must have had tons of pectin, but now I see that neither do. Thanks, Diana.

  9. Miranda Rommel says:

    Very neat – i've bookmarked this for the future when i'll have berries for the jamming!

    Is it a necessary technique to make jam shirtless?

  10. girlichef says:

    Great tutorial, Diana..thanks =)

  11. Cookin' Canuck says:

    This is an incredibly informative post. The amount of sugar in jam is always a concern for me, but your tips provide easy alternatives. I love the shirtless jam-making!

  12. Erin says:

    good info, I bought some of this kind of pectin at the local coop and now I know how to use it, thanks for taking the time to use pictures and post. Erin

  13. Christy says:

    By showing your preschooler making jam just highlights how simple the whole process is ;o)
    Lots of great info here – thanks!

  14. Butterpoweredbike says:

    Pomona's changed the way that I make jams! And it's an absolute delight to have an end product that actually tastes of fruit, not just sugar.

  15. Barb says:

    Lots of great info about pectin. Like everyone else, I don't like using all that sugar to make jam. I tried a honey strawberry jam recipe last year which we liked. We use our jam in yogurt anyway so it's fine to have a less firm product.

    I'm going to pass your post along to my readers via my Tumblr blog. Good stuff!

  16. Diana Bauman says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments! I had a busy past couple of days so I haven't been able to check in.

    Sara – the calcium solution comes in the box of Pamona's Universal Pectin. Thank you for pointing that out as I just updated it on my tutorial.

    Annette, you are right. This kind of jam keeps for about 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge. I totally recommend only making this in pint jars. My family goes through it so quickly that it doesn't ever go bad on us. LOVE the idea about fermenting it though, never would have thought to add whey to it. I'll have to try this!

    Sunshine – That is a great question. Depending on the pineapple, some have higher amounts of pectin than others. Although quite low, I wonder if the sugar had anything to do with it. I'll definitely look into this ;D

    Miranda – Yes, this jam ONLY works if you make it shirtless, lol!

    Dara – Thanks for stopping by!!

    Barb – Thank you! I also use it in my yogurt 😀 So darn yummy!!

    Thanks again everyone, I hope you found this tutorial useful 😀

  17. Brie: Le Grand Fromage says:

    this is great! i've been wanting to make more jams w/o using boxed pectin since i couldn't find anything natural. glad to know i can make my own, too, but i'll have to see if i can find the boxed one you use. thanks!

  18. Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen) says:

    I found you through Food Renegade. I wrote about pectin this week too and use Pomona's for my canning needs.

  19. Tonya @ What's On My Plate says:

    I'm a fan of Pomona's, such a great alternative to just using sugar and naturally occurring pectin to set.

  20. Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist says:

    Hi Diana, would love it if you would consider sharing this post or another of your insightful blogs at Monday Mania. Hope to see you there!

  21. Sarah, the Healthy Home Economist says:

    Diana, thanks for sharing this info at Monday Mania! We have the same measuring spoon by the way – Pampered Chef is awesome! 😉

  22. Wardeh @ GNOWFGLINS says:

    Diana, now I know where to send people when they wonder about Pomona's and the alternatives. Great post! Thank you for taking the time to research and explain all that. Beautiful pictures too — I love your red kitchen. :)

  23. Laurie says:

    How long do these jams/ jellies keep after they are canned? I just bought some Pomona's, but haven't tried it out yet. It takes a us a while to go through our canned goods.

  24. Nichole says:

    I LOVE Pamona’s Pectin and have used it for a few years. It’s great how far a box goes & that I can easily use honey!

  25. emily says:

    I was looking for tips about making jams with less or no sugar. Another site said that in order to prevent spoiling when using the pamona low methoxyl pectin you only needed to process the jars for longer. I was just wondering if you indeed have processed your jams longer and if the 2-3 week shelf life is reflective of that extended the shelf life the other site was speaking of. If so, I’m afraid this isn’t the method for me, sigh, I couldn’t go through a batch of jams that fast. Thanks for a very informative site though :-)

    • Diana Bauman says:

      Emily, we do go through jam pretty quickly. Mostly in pb&j for the boys. I think if you’d like to use Pamona, why not make your jam in 1/4 pint jars. The really small ones. That will probably allow you to use it up without having to open a regular 1/2 pint sized jar and risk it spoiling. Good luck!!

  26. Hi DIana,

    I have a question about using this type of pectin. How long will the jam last if I can them? I am planning to make some strawberry jam this weekend.



    • Diana Bauman says:

      Mely, the jam will last for a year or more. I’m still using some of it from last season. Once opened, it lasts about 3-4 weeks 😀

      • krisha says:

        I used this pectin on two batches of Organic Strawberry Jam two years ago and the half pint jars lasted less than three months before they turned a yucky brown color. The taste was good, but no on would eat the jam because of the color. I ended up throwing it out. Did I do something wrong? I assumed it was the pectin or low sugar usage (I used honey).

  27. Lizard says:

    I’ve been making jelly for the last 2 years, since having our first harvests of blackberries, strawberries, and grapes. I have loved freezer jam because of the strong natural fruit flavor and sweetening to taste, but having used Ball pectin of every variety when canning, I’ve been disappointed with too sweet jams, or I’ve cut the sugar and even using low pectin it will still turn out too runny.
    I was thrilled to find out about making your own pectin from apples (ah-hah! That was why my grandmother made quite a few of her jams with apple in them!) and the Pamona Universal Pectin. Can’t wait to try both of these varieties, and with our own honey!!!

  28. What a terrific post, Diana! We love making homemade jams and I’ve used both pectin and cranberries and have to say I really like using cranberries. It gives this yummy undertone of tart. But I’ve never seen such a great tutorial and explanation on pectin, so I appreciate the time you’ve taken here to thoroughly explain the options. I’ve pinned this and plan to share it with my FB fans too! Thanks so much for sharing! Blessings, Kelly :)

  29. zosia says:

    Can you make this jam without the honey or at least reduce the honey to 1/3 cup?


  30. Faith says:

    Thanks for this excellent resource, Diana! I have long looked for the method to employ when wanting to make jams and jellies that are lower in sugar AND able to utilize honey. I’m so excited now to try it! Will definitely be passing this on to my readers…

  31. Maria says:

    I’m having a heck of a time with Pomona’s. I want to love it, I really do. But, right now I have two dozen jars of syrup, and no jam! I can’t get the &@$% stuff to set! I’m following directions carefully, I try boiling for longer, I try adding more pectin… nothing makes a difference. What exactly are we supposed to do if the jam fails the spoon test???

    • Maria says:

      I should add, your honey blueberry jam is in my canner right now. Absolutely delicious stuff, but I think I’ll be pouring it on pancakes… :(

      • Maria says:

        Ok, by morning some of them have set. Some are still loose, but not too bad. Maybe they just need time. I’m relieved, but now I’m even more confused! They failed the spoon test! Pomona’s is definitely a unique pectin, and learning it’s quirks the hard way is sure getting frustrating!

      • Diana Bauman says:

        Maria, that is so wierd! Are you adding lemon juice? The required amount of calcium water??

        • Maria says:

          Yep, I added lemon juice and calcium water per directions. All but one of the blueberry jars are now fully set, and the other one is set enough to do the job. Do you ever have batches that take 24-48hrs to set completely? And what is proper procedure in the event jam fails the spoon test?

          • Diana Bauman says:

            I let mine set undisturbed, overnight. The following morning, they’re all set. Perfectly well. I’m not sure what your doing wrong. Are you putting the correct amount of fruit in the pan, with calcium water, and needed lemon juice. Then bringing to a boil? Then adding pectin with sweetener, and returning to a boil, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes? That should be it. That’s the whole process in a nutshell. You can tell, I can pretty much do this with my eyes closed now, lol!!

  32. Maria says:

    Hm, yep, I did exactly that. Although, your blueberry recipe has the calcium water added after the pectin. I decided to try it that way way for the blueberries, since my prior success has been hit or miss. I don’t know if that made a difference or not.

    I’m confident that whatever my problem is, it isn’t due to basic procedure. After my first fail, I kept trying and became pretty anal about following directions to a T. But I just can’t seem to get it to pass any traditional tests for jam set. To test, I have tried the plate in a freezer trick, blowing on a spoon trick like you describe, it’s never been thick enough in the pan to sheet off the back of the spoon. All the experience I learned last year has gone out the window!

    I’ll figure it out eventually. I can’t have standard pectin thanks to corn sensitivities, so it’s worth a few batches of (incredibly delicious) syrup to get the hang of Pomona’s. I do love that it lasts indefinitely on my shelf, and I LOVE how many batches I can get per box! It actually comes out cheaper than SureJel!

    • Tamara says:

      Hi there. I’m wondering if you figured out a solution to the setting problem you had. I had 12 jars NOT set last week and I’m hoping to avoid that next go-round. If you dont mind sharing any insight you gained, I would appreciate it.. (Totally understand if not- just wondering)…Thanks! :)

  33. Stefanie Gaytan says:

    Hi! Thank you for all this information!! So helpful!! But I do have a question…the volume difference between using, say, 6 cups of sugar and 2/3 cup honey is quite different. Will the actual amount of jam/jelly made be drastically different? Like instead of 10 pint sized jars it would only be 7? Will I need more fruit than the original recipe called for? Do I need different recipes all together? Thank you so much for your time!

    • Diana Bauman says:

      Stefanie, yes! If you look at the package of Pamona’s pectin, the directions will tell you about how many pints to expect. I usually get about 5-6 per batch.

  34. CLEM says:


    • Diana Bauman says:

      Clem, I’m not sure I’ve necessarily had them be cloudy, but they are definitely not as bright as sugar laden varieties. I don’t think it has to do with the pectin being used but instead with the amount of sugar being used. A lot of sugar brightens up the jelly and keeps it preserved for much longer. I use mostly honey in my recipes so the jam and jelly does lose color after some months. It doesn’t bother me since I much prefer using less sweetener. The only downside to using honey though is that it will only last 3-4 weeks once opened. We go through it in that amount of time but it’s something to consider.

  35. Rakhel says:

    Hi! I am looking into making jams myself. My mom has always made them with tons of sugar. Tastes great, but too much sugar!! The honey alternative is interesting. Does it change the taste of the fruit? Also, when you say that the jam is good for 3-4 weeks once opened, but can last for a year until then, How do you store it? Do you use mason jars, refrigerate until opening, or store it on a shelf? Any other ways to sweeten jam so that it doesn’t spoil as quickly?

    • Diana Bauman says:

      Rakhel, jam made with honey isn’t as sweet tasting, but still yummy! It stores on a shelf for a good year and once opened for about 3 weeks in the fridge. Really, unless you use sugar (a natural preservative), it just won’t last as long. My kids love jam though, so we always go through it in that amount of time. Hope that helps!

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