Pectin Powder: The Fruit Thickener

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Pectin was discovered by Louis Nicolas Vauquelin in 1790 but it took more than three decades for another French scientist named Henri Braconnot to isolate it. He discovered that it was the main component in fruit that was responsible for the congealing properties that enabled gelling when the fruit was boiled with sugar. Among his discoveries were that sugar was crucial to the gelling, as was the pH. It was also Braconnot who came up with the term pectin from a Greek word for congealing or solidifying.

The discovery and isolation of pectin made the production of jams and jellies more efficient, but the knowledge of how to make them had been around for centuries. Housewives routinely dealt with gluts of fruit by combining those fruits known for their gelling properties with other fruit with other non-gelling fruit to make jams and jellies. For example, crabapples have long been known to cause preserves to gel. Crabapples could be combined with other fruits like strawberries that had little pectin and thus little gelling ability.

After Braconnot’s work, pectin would be identified as a polymer of galacturonic acid in the early 20th century.

The extraction of pectin on a commercial scale only began in the early 20th century. Pectin extract was first commercially produced in Germany. Shortly after that in 1913, production began in the US. Citrus fruit peels are among the best sources. By the 1930s, the pectin was extracted from apple pomace and citrus peel. At this point in history, pectin extract was sold in liquid form. In the modern era, pectin is available primarily as pectin powder.

Pectin powder flavor profile

Because pectin powder comes from the pith of citrus fruit, you can expect it to be bitter. Sugar helps to neutralize the bitterness in addition to helping with the gelling process. The more pectin you add to a recipe, the more sugar you will need to add to hide the bitterness.

Health benefits of pectin powder

Pectin powder is more than just a gelling/thickening agent, it provides important nutrients like:

  • Fiber: Pectin powder is a rich source of soluble dietary fiber.
  • Minerals: Pectin powder is a modest but not insignificant source of iron. It also contains a significant amount of copper and smaller amounts of manganese and zinc.

Pectin’s properties make it effective for treating and preventing health conditions like:

  • High cholesterol: The fiber in pectin may be beneficial for lowering cholesterol levels. At least one study has shown that 15 grams of it each day can reduce an individual’s level of low-density lipoprotein by up to 10 percent.
  • Cancer: Fiber is known to help with the prevention of intestinal cancer. The results of research on pectin show that because of its fiber content, it has the potential to inhibit the growth of tumors.
  • Diarrhea: Pectin is used in various parts of Asia as a treatment for diarrhea.
  • Diabetes: Like other sources of fiber, pectin can slow the breakdown of starches and sugar. Because of this, it slows the rate at which they are absorbed thus preventing spikes in blood sugar that can lead to type 2 diabetes.

Common uses

Pectin powder’s primary use is in canning fruit. It serves as a gelling agent that gives jams and jellies their spreadable consistency while also acting as a preservative. Pectin powder can be used as an all-purpose thickener in various other dishes as well. Use it in soups and sauces if you don’t want to use a starch thickener. It is also effective for thickening dairy-based sauces without causing them to curdle. If you are worried about your homemade mayonnaise separating, adding some pectin powder can prevent this.