Why use pectin vs. cook down method?

This is Adam Shimmer, President & CEO of California Ingredients. We have compiled 20 of the most frequently asked questions from our customers. Question 1 is, “Why use pectin vs. the old cook down method?” There are several reasons. The first one has to do with the fact that the cook down method takes a lot of time. You would have to cook at a boil for 20 to 30 minutes to cook the product down to evaporate off enough moisture and also to activate the natural pectins within the fruit. But by doing so you would harm the color, you’ll harm the nutrition, and the flavor of the product. Using pectin allows you to decrease the cook-time significantly, usually down to a minute or two which gives you better color, a better nutritional product, and better flavor. For more information, please see our website, calingredients.com. We are a full service pectin company with standard sugar, low-sugar or no-sugar pectins along with liquid pectins. We handle other industrial gums like xanthan and modified food starch. We also deal in modified food starches. So please see our website. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me at adam@calingredients.com. Thank you.

Why do recipes tell me NOT to double batch?

Question number 2 of 20 frequently asked questions is pertaining to jams and jellies pectin. The question is, “Why do recipes tell me that I cannot double batch?” The reason is because of the cook time. For a single batch recipe they generally call for a 1 minute boil. If you double that recipe, and still only cook it one minute, you will not have sufficient water evaporation. Condense the recipe to the correct brix to make the pectin work or react. But you don’t mathematically increase the cook time the same as you would your recipe. So, the general rule of thumb that I give my customers is if you’re going to use a double batch recipe and the recipe requires a one minute cook time, I would increase it by 50%. So, instead of cooking one minute, cook for 1 minute 30; that gets us in the ballpark. Other than that, the only other way to really determine what the proper cook time would be is to use the refractometer which we will cover later on in a future question. For further information, please see our website, calingredients.com. Thank you.

Which sugar is best for making jams and jellies?

Sucrose is the best for making jams and jellies. The reason is that it has the highest percentage of sugar inversions during the cooking process which is necessary to maintain the highest gel strength possible. When it comes to dispersing agents for pectins… sucrose or dextrose will work just fine. But what we’re talking about is to make sure the main sugar ingredient in the jam is sucrose. That is the most important. The other note I’d like to make is to be aware that if you do change your provider… let’s say you’re using a C & H product and you go to Spreckels product, just realize that there might need to be some tweaking to your recipe because not all sugar manufacturers do everything exactly the same. For further information, please see our website, calingredients.com. Thank you.

Which is better...liquid or powdered pectin?

“Liquid pectin or dry pectin? Is one better than the other?” The answer is they’re both the same. They both use the same pectin. They both will have the same gel strength, flavor, color… Nothing will be different. The main difference between the two is how the pectin is introduced into the recipe. Most of my customers, if they are asking me the question which one is better, from a processing standpoint, I push them toward the dry pectin because it eliminates the step of having to hydrate pectin in liquid before releasing it into the system. Liquid pectin recipes require the pectin to be put into solution because the sugar and the fruit are all put together at once, therefore the pectin has to be prehydrated in water because the sugar’s already in the system and, therefore, the pectin will not hydrate because the brix (sugar content) are too high. With the dry pectin, the processing is much easier because you are just putting it in with other ingredients and it doesn’t take the other step. Regardless, though, some people swear by the liquid pectin, others dry pectin. It doesn’t matter. Whatever feels more comfortable to you is fine. It will work. One’s not really better than the other. It’s really personal preference. My company offers both mixtures for either dry or liquid. For further information, please see our website, calingredients.com. Thank you.

If jam does not set, should I add more pectin next time?

The answer is… really… no. If adding more pectin worked the second time, it isn’t because there wasn’t enough pectin the first time. Within the mix there is acid. And so, by adding more pectin you’re actually dropping the Ph and that, more than likely, is what’s making the pectin react. If you’re having to double your pectin in a sense, or if you have a failure and so you’re trying to fix it by re-cooking it and adding more pectin, there’s a problem. You’re spending more money that you don’t need to, putting pectin into a product that it shouldn’t really need because the amount that you put in the first time should have been sufficient. So, what we really need to do is look over your recipe; find out where the imbalance is; fix that through your only doing it one time, only a one time process because obviously processing your product twice you can double the time, you can double the pectin and it’s not necessary. We can figure out why it’s not working out the first time. You do it the first time, you’re done and then you move on to the next one. For further information about this you can see our website at calingredients.com.

Can I use regular pectin in a low / no sugar pectin mix?

The answer is no and the reason is that standard sugar pectin needs a required brix or sugar content to react. Part of the gel structure of pectin requires, if you will, a failed precipitation which means there has to be a high enough sugar content to want to cause the pectin to want to come out of solution and in so doing cause part of the grab or web effect that creates the gel structure. So, with a low or no sugar recipe there’s not sufficient sugar or solids to create that environment for the pectin to react. For low or no sugar applications, you’ll need to go to a L.M. pectin which is a calcium reactive or metallic ionic reactive; doesn’t have to be calcium but that’s generally what’s used in the industry, to cause the gel structure. The sugar content does play a part in the gel structure, therefore, a low-sugar recipe requires less pectin than a no-sugar recipe because solids are greater, therefore, even though the sugar is not required to make the gel structure happen, it does help in the strengthening of the structure and the rigidity of the gel. For more information, please see our website at calingredients.com. Thank you.

Why is there mold in my jam when I open it?

There are a couple reasons, but the first and main one as I’m showing you here is a two piece lid. Generally what happens is that if there is a leak or a problem with the glue band. Whether it’s a two piece or a single piece they’ll still have a seal band. Also, on the top lip of the jar, if there’s any imperfection in the glass, anything that lets atmosphere in and breaks the seal will generally over time cause mold even in a standard sugar jam. Generally, that is the reason. On occasion it is possible to have an unsterile situation if your fill temperature gets too low. To have a sterile pack you must maintain a 190 degree at fill. Therefore, if you’re filling to low, it is possible that it’s not completely sterilized, therefore, even with a sealed lid under vacuum you still technically could grow mold or have a bacterial problem. So, it’s very important to make sure that your pack is sterile and maintaining 190 degrees at fill temperature. For more information, please see our website at calingredients.com. Thank you.

Why are there sugar crystals?

“Why when I open a jar of jam there’s sugar crystals already?” and also, “If I’ve opened the jar and I’ve only used it for a week or two and there’s sugar crystals forming, why is that?” We’ll deal with the first question first. If you open your jar of jam and there’s already crystals formed, more than likely we have too much sugar in the recipe already; not enough liquid available to keep the sugar hydrated. Second one: If I’ve opened the jar of jam, started using it, a week or two goes by and crystallization starts happening; that’s faster than what it normally should. Eventually all jam and jelly, if left in the refrigerator long enough, the hydrated crystals will form. One to two weeks is too quick and more than likely again as the first question there is too much sugar more than likely in the recipe. For further information, please see our website, calingredients.com. Thank you.

Is the spoon method a good method?

“Is the spoon method a good method to determine whether or not my jam will set or not?” The answer is kind-of. The spoon method will tell you whether or not your pectin is functional and active and it’s there. The downside to the spoon method is that by taking a small amount of product out of your batch, putting it on a spoon and letting it air-dry quickly and then turning it sideways to see if it wrinkles and gels… the problem with that is that it isn’t a true reflection of what’s still in the pot, because the evaporation rate is exponentially higher on it because it’s in a much smaller amount in a much cooler environment. So, even though it is positive if you do see product start to set on the spoon, it isn’t going to be necessarily true that the product will set. So, I would say overall it’s not the best method to use. You’re really not going to know until you pack it off, let it settle the night, and check it the next day to see what you’ve got. For more information about this, please see our website, calingredients.com. Thank you.

Is hot water bath necessary?

The answer is no, it’s not. You have to make sure though that you maintain 190 degrees Fahrenheit at fill. It is also important that you invert the jars to keep the lid up so the glue seal on the lid will adhere to the glass properly. There is also another downside to, well I should say the main downside other than time and processing hot water bathing, is that with certain pectins if your product cools down and starts to set and then you put it into a hot water bath and the temperature is increased to the point where the pectin molecule chain can break a lot of times and it will not relink. So, from a processing standpoint, one, hot water bathing is not necessary if your maintaining 190 degrees at fill and it’s probably problematic in breaking the pectin down. For more information about this, please see our website at calingredients.com. Thank you.

Is it okay to deviate from the recipe?

Do I want to add a little bit more sugar, or add a little bit less… a little more fruit, a little less…” The answer is no. It’s never a good idea to deviate from the recipe or from the procedures of the recipe especially if it is a proven recipe that you know works. If you want to let’s say you have a standard recipe and you want to go to a low-sugar recipe, then we need to do a low sugar recipe. I can help you with that. There’s information on our website that can help you with that. But, the main rule is, if it’s a proven recipe and it works, don’t deviate from the recipe; don’t deviate from the procedures. Stick with it and you’ll have a consistent product. Again, for more information, please see our website, calingredients.com. Thank you.

The question is, “Is it better to use a scale or use volume measures to weigh out my fruit and sugar?”

The answer is it is always better to use a scale. Volume measures are inconsistent and depending on which cups you use, they can vary as well. It’s always best to use a scale. I recommend a gram scale similar to something like this. This is a generic gram scale. It has an accuracy of plus or minus point one (.1). You can pick these up for anywhere from $75 to a couple hundred dollars depending on what fits your budget. It’s always best to measure because regardless of what volume measure that you’re using, if you’re using the scale you’re going to get the same amount every time. Scale is always better for consistency to use over volume measure. For more information about this, please see our website at calingredients.com. Thank you.

What are the 4 Rules of Canning?

First rule; Do I have the right amount of pectin? Is the pectin being hydrated properly? Do I have the right sugar content and/or brix? and, Is the pH where I need to be?” In a standard sugar recipe, these four are extremely critical for the pectin to work right. In a low-sugar recipe, you do have more wiggle room with regard to the sugar content and the pH. But, having said that, again it’s critical that pectin content is the right amount, it’s getting hydrated properly, the pectin is being put into the fruit brought to boil prior to any sugar being added, that the sugar content is correct; meaning the cook-time was adhered to or temperature or brix reading that you’re trying to achieve was achieved, and that the pH is correct. If the recipe calls for citric acid or lemon juice that that was put in and it was the right amount. If you follow those four rules and those are adhered to, you can gel any fruit. For more information about this, please see our website at calingredients.com. Thank you.

When is the BEST time / temperature to add pectin?

The best time is before the sugar is added. The best temperature is at temperatures higher than 160 degrees. The reason is that whether you’re using a standard sugar pectin, a low-sugar pectin or a no-sugar pectin, that process will work for all three. With a standard sugar pectin technically you don’t have to add it. Its high is 160 degrees because there’s not enough sugar in there to make it react. It’s just a good habit to get into using regardless of what pectin you’re using because, therefore, you will never have an issue. If the low or no-sugar pectin is added into the system at too low a temperature and the acid doesn’t set it off, and then you could have pre-set issues and then re-set problems. This way it’s just a good baseline to follow. Do not add the pectin in until after 160 degrees. For any more information on this, please see our website at calingredients.com. Thank you.

What habits will help me to become a good jam / jelly maker?

There are two main ones that I find that people tend to have problems with. One is when you add the sugar in. Always add the sugar in two parts. The reason is that by splitting it into two sections, you allow the batch temperature to remain higher. By only putting in half, it doesn’t drop it down as far which could cause pre-set problems and other issues. So, adding the sugar in twice whether it’s a standard sugar recipe or a low-sugar recipe is a great habit to get into that will help you have more success and more consistency in your product. The other is stirring the product once the pectin is in. Once you’ve got your pectin into your fruit, and you’ve brought it to a boil, you want to keep stirring for a couple of reasons, especially if this is a home-canning situation where you’re doing it by hand. If you’re in a kettle and you’ve got an agitator, great. You’re done. Or if you’re in a kettle situation, let’s say you don’t, and you’re using a wood paddle, well you’re back to the home canning situation, you need to keep stirring because what we don’t want to do… granted in a kettle situation you’re not going to have as big an issue with scorching, but it’s still going to need constant agitation once the sugar has been introduced. You need to keep it moving, so again, so we don’t have a spot set’s or pre-gelling go on. In home canning it’s even more so critical because we have all the heat at the very bottom of the pot. So if we don’t keep stirring it, we’re going to continue to have scorching. It’s going to darken the fruit, it’s going put a bad flavor in it, and you don’t want that. So, once that pectin’s in, you keep stirring it, put the sugar in, keep going, and frankly don’t stop stirring until you’re at the point where you’re ready to turn the heat off and start filling the jars. For anymore information about this, please see our website at calingredients.com. Thank you.

Can I use standard sugar procedures for cooking products?

The answer is yes as long as you follow the procedures that I’ve laid out: maintaining temperature when the pectin is put in, put in sugar in two parts; those procedures will work great for both low or no-sugar. Obviously, a no added sugar there will be no sugar addition. But, still, with the concentrated sweeteners and other flavors that you want to put in, I would suggest waiting until after that’s been put in and hydrated before those are added. For any more information about this subject you can look on our website, calingredients.com. Thank you.

How do I store Pectin?

Pretty straight forward. The best way to store the pectin is cool, dry. So, generally speaking, for a home canner it would be a low point in your pantry. The bag that the pectin comes in… make sure that it is sealed. We want to keep air and/or moisture out of there as much as possible. As long as there’s a good seal, it’s kept in a cool, dry environment, you should get anywhere from 18 to 24 months from the pectin. Even after the 24 months it’s not that the pectin isn’t usable, but the problem is at that point the pectin has degraded to the point where you would start noticing a weaker jell. At that point if you have some left over you can increase it by 10% to get it back and hopefully the easy addition of the acid that’s in the mix won’t affect the outcome and not be significant enough. Again, we’re just trying to utilize everything that you’ve got and instead of throwing the product away. For any more information about this, please see our website at calingredients.com. Thank you.

What is brix?

Brix is the term used a lot within the jam and jelly manufacturing industry, among others? Brix is actually the reading of total soluble solids within a batch. A soluble solid, for example sugar is a soluble sold… you take sugar, you put it in water, it will clarify. You can’t see it. You remove the water from the sugar. You cook it off. It will re-crystallize. It is a soluble solid. Fruit has natural sugar, natural acid. Those are soluble solids as well. So, the brix reading is a combination of all of those that come together. So, when you say that you want 65 brix, that is the sugar that’s added, it’s the natural sugar in the fruit, it’s the natural acid in the fruit, and also if there’s any additional lemon or citric acid that was added it certainly would be part of the soluble solids as well. For more information on this, please see our website at calingredients.com. Thank you.

What instruments would best serve me as a new jam / jelly maker?

This is question 20 of 20 of our frequently asked questions. “What instruments would best serve me as a new or small jam and jelly maker that’s looking to expand in both size and product line?” Two meters I would recommend highly. The first is a refractometer. This is an atago H 93. It’s fairly inexpensive. You can generally get this meter for under $200. It’s accurate, temperature compensated, and heat resistant. You can use this during the cooking process or while it’s already cool at room temperature. Won’t hurt it… very accurate. Highly recommend it. Second meter is a pH meter. The model that I recommend is an Okton Tester 20. And again, it’s fairly inexpensive, under $150. The accuracy is high enough to make it worthwhile for jams and jellies. It is very important that you read the bulb instructions for maintenance. Whether it’s a handheld or a bench type meter, bulb maintenance is very very important for accuracy and life of the bulb. A second thing when purchasing the pH meter, you have to make sure that you also purchase buffing solution, buffer 7 and buffer 4 for calibration purposes. If you have any other questions or comments, please see calingredients.com. Also feel free to e-mail me at adam@calingredients.com. We carry a full line of pectins, standard, low-sugar, no-sugar, liquid pectins. We handle modified food starches, cellulose gums, xanthan gums, and if there isn’t something on the list that you need, we can still more than likely help you with it. So, feel free to contact us and thank you.

How do I cook to brix?

This tags on to question 18. How do you cook the brix? There are three main ways. The first way and most commonly used is time. We have an established recipe. The time that is called out on the recipe works. You cooked to that 1 minute or 2 minutes or 4 minutes, whatever it calls for to get it established it’s going to work for you. The problem is that when you increase the batch weight, now your cook time becomes a variable; you don’t know what it is. So, I first recommend a refractometer. This one here is fairly inexpensive. It’s an Atago H 93. Temperature compensated; will work well with hot products and cold products. It’s very accurate. And then you can use this to cook to your desired brix and at the same time monitor how much time it took to get there. So, at that point you can start cooking the time but you’ve established what that time is using this. The other method would be to use the thermometer to cook to a particular temperature. In order to do that you would have to know the elevation fairly accurately for that to work. The other is the thermometer. The thermometer has to be very accurate. We’re talking about an accuracy of plus or minus .01 to be accurate enough to actually cook to temperature. You’re looking at probably $300 to $400 thermometer, minimum to get that type of accuracy, but that is another way to do it. For more information about this, please see our website, calilngredients.com. Thank you.