Pectin is the main agent that causes jams, jellys and marmalades to set. Pectin is known as a gelling agent. Different fruits contain different amounts of pectin and that pectin level will also vary according to the season and also the ripeness of the fruit.
This really is crucial when making jams and jellies. Usually marmalades have plenty of pectin in the pith (the white part under the skin or rind of the fruit) which is extracted when making the preserve.
The only way to know if you have enough pectin for a good set is to test for it.
Testing for pectin enables you to judge the amount of pectin that has been extracted from the fruit.
If you think the fruit you are using should be adequate in pectin but the test says otherwise, then try simmering for another 5 or 10 minutes and re-test. It may be that you have just not extracted enough pectin from the fruit and this will sort the problem.
What is Required to Test for Pectin
- An ordinary glass or cup
- A teaspoon
- A bottle of Methylated Spirits (available in chemists, hardware stores etc)
How to Test for Pectin
This is a proven standard test for pectin content and luckily it’s hard to go wrong with.
- Take one teaspoon of clear boiling fruit juice and drop into a cold glass or cup, allow it to cool for a minute and then add three teaspoons of methylated spirit and swirl it around or gently shake.
- If a large clot forms from the juice, adequate pectin for a good set has been extracted and the sugar may be added to the fruit and juice
- If there is only a medium amount of pectin, several small clots will form. It is probably going to be worth adding some additional pectin to ensure a good set. With experience you will be able to judge how lacking it is and balance the addition of pectin accordingly.
- If there is very little pectin content it will break into small pieces and additional pectin will definitely have to be added if your jam
If you think the fruit you are using should contain enough pectin but the test says otherwise, then try simmering for another 5 or 10 minutes and re-test. It may be that you have just not extracted enough pectin from the fruit and this will sort the problem.
Do be aware that if you add too much pectin your jam will be too solid, so it comes down to judgement which develops over time rather than just recipes.
For more information on which fruits contain the most and least pectin along with how to make and use your own pectin stock please see: Pectin for Jam, Jelly & Marmalade Making
More in Jams, Jellies & Marmalades
- Jam and Jelly Making Method
- Jam and Jelly Making – Fruit, Acid, Sugar and Water
- Equipment Required for Jam and Jelly Making
- How to Make Marmalade
- Pectin for Jam, Jelly & Marmalade Making
- Making Jams in Microwave & Bread Machines etc.