What is Pectin?
In cooking, pectin is used as a thickening agent, and could be considered one of the most natural types around. The first version of this substance available for purchase was derived from apples, which have a high amount of it. There are other fruits that naturally contain this gelling agent, including many plums and pears. The properties of pectin were discovered and identified by the French chemist and pharmacist, Henri Braconnot, and his discovery soon led to many manufacturers making deals with makers of apple juice to obtain the remains of pressed apples (pomace) that were then produced in a liquid form.
Pectin is a complex carbohydrate, which is found both in the cell walls of plants, and between the cell walls, helping to regulate the flow of water in between cells and keeping them rigid. You’ll note some plants begin to lose part of this complex carbohydrate as they age. Apples left out too long get soft and mushy as pectin diminishes.
This is great news for people who are having extended trouble with irritable bowel syndrome or are getting over a bout of diarrhea because the presence of this substance in apples is considered some of nature’s best medicine. Doctor’s frequently prescribe the brat diet for patients with this condition (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast). Either whole apples or applesauce can help end these nasty stomach conditions by providing that extra thickening agent in the gut. In fact, one of the leading medications for this problem, Kaopectate®, used pectin as one its main “active” ingredients, though the ingredients changed in 2002.
You will find this thickening agent in other medications. Luden’s® uses it as a main ingredient in many of its cough drops. Cosmetic companies also make use of the ingredient, particularly when they’re looking for natural or non-animal alternatives to bind substances together.
More often, though, you’ll find pectin available in powdered form to be used when making jams and jellies. Today it may be made from apple pomace or from orange peels, and it’s usually available in powdered rather than liquid form. It doesn’t add flavor to the dishes you use it in, and it does work extremely well as a thickening agent. This complex carbohydrate is also used in a variety of commercially prepared foods to bind these foods together more effectively. You’ll find it in products like yogurt, chocolate milk, and in a number of commercial baked goods.
Can I use pectin by itself for health purposes?
After all these years of using pectin as a thickening agent for making jellies and jam I never knew it was made from fruit. I guess I never stopped to wonder what it was made from. I just know that when I get ready to make a batch of jelly, I need to use pectin.
I have always used the powdered pectin, but I have also seen liquid pectin for this purpose too. Since I have always had good results using the powder form, I will just stick with that. I would be frustrated if I tried something different and my jelly didn't turn out right.
I am most familiar with pectin when I use it when making my strawberry jam. I usually find this in the baking aisle of my grocery store but sometimes in spring when the strawberries are in season they are sold out. It can be kind of tricky to get just the right amount of pectin when making jam. If it turns out too runny, I know I didn't add quite enough pectin.
@anon270741-- That is encouraging to know your IBS is under control. Hopefully eating the apples is one of the reasons why. There must be a lot of truth to that old saying that an apple a day keeps the doctor away.
I also have IBS but never realized that eating apples could be so beneficial for this condition. For the most part I eat a pretty bland diet and this seems to keep the IBS from flaring up.
I have IBS and eat a few apples (including the seed and everything else except the end core). At the moment the IBS is well under control.
Pectin absorbs lead from your blood through your gut so the lead won't cause damage to your brain,heart and other soft organs or deposit in your bones. Lead causes ADD and ADHD so pectin might help people with neurological damage from lead exposure. Lead exposure also causes colon cancer so pectin might help to prevent colon cancer. An apple a day will keep the doctor away!
@cmsmith10- In addition to the benefits pectin provides for the skin, pectin is also used to lower blood lipoprotein levels. High levels of lipoproteins can result in clogged arteries, so the pectin essentially assists in lowering risk of heart disease.
As the article mentions, pectin is a crucial aspect of jam making. I tried my hand at mulberry jam a few months ago and neglected to use the gelling agent. The end result was watery, smashed berries with tons of sugar collected at the bottom of each jar. Definitely include pectin to ensure a thick consistency for fruit spreads.
If you want to freeze your fruit, adding pectin to it (fresh fruit or boiled) before freezing it, helps maintain its texture when frozen and then thawed.
Also, fruits high in pectin are highly beneficial to firm and tone skin. One at-home recipe is for facial toner. Boil a small green apple (remove seeds and cube the apple) and a half cup of water. Once cooked, remove your apples from heat and allow them to cool. Strain this through a mesh strainer. Add about a fourth of a cup of witch hazel to it. Mix it all together and dab it onto a cotton ball and apply to your face. Works great!
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