Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Lowdown on Low Sugar Pectins

There are a lot of pectins out there.    It can get really confusing.

Here's a quick run down of the very basic types that I have found here in southern Indiana:

Liquid pectin:  Certo
Liquid pectin is not interchangeable with powdered pectin.   I'll do a post about liquid pectin later.

Powdered pectin [regular, classic, full sugar]:  Ball Classic, Sure-Jell, Dutch Jell All Natural
This is the pectin our grandmothers used.    It's easy to find and requires a lot of sugar - often a lot more sugar than fruit.  The Ball Classic Pectin recipe for strawberry jam calls for 5 cups of crushed berries and 7 cups of sugar.    You must use that much sugar to achieve a good jell.   These pectins work because they bind the acid in the fruit to the sugar.   Less sugar, less jell.

Powdered pectin, Instant for freezer jam:  Ball, Mrs. Wages
This pectin is newer, developed especially for freezer jams.
Powdered pectin lite, low or no sugar:  Ball, Dutch All Natural, Mrs. Wages, Pomona's
Most of these are newer pectins developed so that you can get a good jell in your jam without using a lot of sugar.  In most cases, you can use no sugar at all.  These pectins bind to calcium instead of the sugar. [Which means if you have a lot of calcium in your water, you'll get a firmer jell.]

Here's a list of even more pectin brands out there [though it is not complete, either]:

In this area of southern Indiana, I can no longer find Sure-Jell pectins and most stores carry only the Certo liquid pectin and Ball powdered pectins.    However, when I checked my local Amish store, Freedom Country Store, in Worthington, Indiana,  I found a much better selection of pectin, some in bulk, at much better prices.

Less sugar is better
My recommendation for pectin is go for the low sugar pectins.    Skip the classic pectins because they require too much sugar.   Jam just tastes better if it's mostly fruit. 

This means you're going to have to pay attention to the pectin labels.    A lot of those boxes and jars look alike.   [This is why I have 4 jars of freezer pectin in my pantry instead of 4 jars of low sugar pectin.   It will probably take me 4 years to use that much freezer pectin.] 

So, what do you need to know about low sugar pectins?

1.  Interchangeability.  First off, not all powdered pectins are interchangeable!   Some are, some aren't.  In my experience, these powdered pectins are interchangeable:   Sure-Jell low sugar pectin, Ball low sugar pectin, Dutch Jell All Natural Lite pectin.

These are not interchangeable: 
One box [1.75 oz] of Ball, Sure Jell or Dutch All Natural will jell 4-6 cups of fruit
One box [1.75 oz] of Mrs. Wages will jell 12 cups of fruit
One box [1oz] of Pomona's will jell 16 cups of fruit.

2.  Bulk packaging and pricing:  It's not always possible to find each of these brands in bulk.  Shipping these days is going to add a wad to the final bill.   Do the best you can with what you have available.

Beware!  Not all bulk packaging receives bulk pricing.  Take a look at the Ball pricing - it's a hair more expensive to buy the 'bulk' jar.   It costs me $.57/cup of fruit to go with the 1.75 oz box.  It costs $..58/cup of fruit to use the 'bulk' jar.   They're selling the convenience of flexible sized batches, not giving consumers a break in pricing because of bulk packaging.   Also, those jars are only about 2/3 full. 

3.  Comparison in pricing to regular/classic pectins.   In general, the low sugar pectins cost about 70% more than the classic pectins.    Of course, that will be more than offset by the money you'll save on sugar.  Add in the fact that low sugar jam is so much better tasting and better for you than the other stuff and low sugar pectin is well worth it.   [Note:  Ball Classic Pectin in the jar costs about the same as Ball Low Sugar pectin in the jar - no savings there at all.]

Here's a price comparison between Sure Jell regular pectin and Sure Jell low sugar pectin for a typical batch of my jam [with 4 cups of fruit, low sugar pectin and 2 cups of sugar] and the equivalent with classic pectin and the 6 cups of sugar that it would require.  Sugar around here, in 20lb bags costs about $ .30/cup.

Sure Jell low sugar pectin for 4 cups of fruit:   $2.99
2 cups of sugar:  $ .60
Total cost for low sugar pectin and sugar for 4 cups of fruit:  $3.59

Sure Jell  regular pectin for 4 cups of fruit:  $1.78
6 cups of sugar:  $1.80
Total cost for regular pectin and sugar for 4 cups of fruit:  $3.58

Since I like the low sugar jam so much better, it's worth one extra penny per batch to use low sugar pectin if that's all the low sugar pectin I could find at the store. 

Here's the same comparison with my favorite low sugar pectin, which I can get in bulk close by:  Dutch Jell All Natural Lite

Dutch Jell All Natural Lite low sugar pectin for 4 cups of fruit:   $ .92
2 cups of sugar:  $ .60
Total cost for low sugar pectin and sugar for 4 cups of fruit:  $ 1.52

Dutch Jell All Natural Regular pectin for 4 cups of fruit: $ .52
6 cups of sugar:  $1.80
Total cost for regular pectin and sugar for 4 cups of fruit:  $2.32

It's a lot cheaper per batch to use the bulk Dutch Jell All Natural Lite pectin - the low sugar pectin and sugar cost 35% LESS than the regular pectin and sugar, even though the low sugar pectin by itself is more expensive.  [Keep in mind that we haven't calculated the cost of the fruit, just the pectin and sugar.]

4.  Additives:  There's more than pectin in some of your pectins.  Check the ingredients.   Most pectins contain a form of dextrose, which is a sweetener with fewer calories than sugar.  It is also used as a thickener.   Citric acid is used to raise the acidity of the jam so that the pectin can do its thing and jell your jam.  Other acids are:  Calcium ascorbate, which is a combination of calcium and ascorbic acid or Vitamin C; and Fumaric acid, an organic acid found in nature.  Potassium Sorbate is a preservative.   Monocalcium phosphate is an inorganic leavening agent that causes foaming.   I've listed the ingredients of each brand of low sugar pectin below.

Low Sugar Pectins: The breakdown
Here's a handy table that breaks down the cost according to how much each type of pectin costs per cup of fruit that it jells.   These prices do not include shipping.   I've also listed the extra ingredients, so you know what's in your pectin.

Ball Low Sugar:   1 Tb will jell 1 cup of fruit
cost [box]: $ .57/cup of fruit jelled
cost [bulk jar]: $ .58/cup of fruit jelled
ingredients:  dextrose, fruit pectin, citric acid, calcium ascorbate

Sure Jell Low Sugar:  1 Tb will jell 1 cup of fruit
cost [box]: $ .74/cup of fruit jelled
ingredients:  dextrose, citric acid, fruit pectin

Dutch Jell All Natural Lite: 1 Tb will jell 1 cup of fruit
cost [available only in bulk]:  $ .23/cup of fruit jelled
ingredients:  dextrose, pectin, citric acid

Mrs. Wages:  1 Tb will jell 3 cups of fruit. [1 box = 12-15 cups fruit]
cost [box]:  $ .25/cup of fruit jelled
ingredients:  polydextrose, fruit pectin, maltodextrin, fumaric acid, potassium sorbate, monocalcium phosphate

Pomona's:  1 Tb will jell 4 cups of fruit.  [1 box = 16-20 cups fruit]
cost [box]: $ .25/cup of fruit jelled
cost [bulk]: $ .23 / cup of fruit jelled
ingredients: low methoxyl citrus pectin. [In separate packet for low acid fruit] monocalcium phosphate

So.   Now you know.   When you see pectin that you want to use, get a lot of it and store it.  If you don't have a lot of choice to begin with then make the best decision you can based on your needs at the moment, which might be 'I'm here at this store right now and that's the only pectin I can get'.   That's a great reason to use a certain brand of pectin.   


  1. Thanks for the info. Very informative- I printed it out to keep in my kitchen for future reference. I hope to make some jelly this summer.

  2. This will be in the book, right? :)

  3. Thanks so much for all the good information. I'm taking this to show my Master Food Preserver class. I've been experimenting with Pomona's and like the results so far, much more fruit flavor without all the sugar.

  4. Excellent information--thank you! It is interesting to know that different brands of pectin are available in different areas of the country. I have switched to bulk pectin which I get from an Amish store, but I don't know if it is Dutch Jel. It is simply labeled "fruit pectin." The store owners tell their customers to use 5 Tbls. in any recipe that calls for a box of regular Sure-Jel.

    After reading what you have said here, I think I'm going to try using the low sugar versions this summer, though.

  5. Wow! Thank you for this information! I've always grabbed Sure-Jell, because it was convenient, but I really wanted a no-sugar/low sugar pectin. I went will Ball, again because it was convenient, but I will be looking for one of the lesser expensive brands! Thank you!!

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  7. Have you tried the Ball recipe page with the pectin calculator? I'm used to using the low- or no-sugar Sure Jell, based on convenience, and each recipe calls for a different amount of fruit and sugar for the one package of pectin. Now the Ball pectin calculator calls for the same amount of fruit and sugar for any type of fruit, and also includes water in the recipe, which was not a standard for Sure Jell. Just wondering how the results have been. I like that the Ball low- or no-sugar pectin can use even less sugar than Sure Jell, but I hate experimenting with expensive fruit from the farmers' market!

    1. Yes, I have. I didn't like the way it turned out. Plus, we can't count on internet connectivity. Much better to use the simpler method of 1 Tablespoon low-sugar pectin to 1 cup fruit. I got much more consistent results that way.

      As long as you use a Low- or No-sugar pectin [Ball, Sure-Jell, Dutch All Natural Lite] you can use as little sugar as you like.

  8. This just in from food science: This is a great post! I thought you might also be interested to know that the dextrose is used to cut the pectin so it's easier for you to measure. That blending step also prevents "fisheyes" from forming in the jam--blobs of pectin that jel on themselves and refuse to dissolve. I am guessing that the monocalcium phosphate is there to be a calcium source for the low sugar pectin. It may also have some anti caking abilities. The leavening functionality isn't critical for jam as you well know! I hope things are going great for you!

    1. Hi Liz! I've been thinking about you! Thanks for weighing in on this.

  9. Could you tell me how much low sugar pectin to use with juice for jellies? Using pomegranates and the Ball jam maker machine - have tried just using less sugar and it does not work very well. Thanks!

  10. We've used Certo for over 5 years as a health supplement. I've looked at this presentation, which is quite good, and the comments. A web search for bulk pectin brought up only the Dutch bulk pectin with dextrose and Pacific pectin which looks to be the best deal. Pacific pectin powder sells for $53/3lbs, min order, and each pound equals 30 boxes of Certo. Think the company has been around since the 60's and may be involved with West Coast commercial food prep. Surprised it didn't show up here.

  11. P.S. on Pacific Pectin: they can provide pure pectin powder, too, for about $17/lb and it's twice as strong as pectin in mixes. It's called 150 grade pure pectin. One qualification: it won't mix readily with water, unless it's hot, but it's another source and you don't have to worry about added ingredients.

  12. Can you clarify "bulk Dutch Jell"? I've found it on Amazon at 10 lbs. for $135 (free shipping) and WebstaurantStore at 40 lbs. ($24 shipping). What is your source and price?


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