For proper texture, jellied fruit products require the correct combination of fruit, pectin, acid, and
sugar. The fruit gives each spread its unique flavor and color. It also supplies the water to
dissolve the rest of the necessary ingredients and furnishes some or all of the pectin and acid.
Good-quality, flavorful fruits make the best jellied products.
Pectins are substances in fruits that form a gel if they are in the right combination with acid and
sugar. All fruits contain some pectin. Apples, crab apples, gooseberries, and some plums and
grapes usually contain enough natural pectin to form a gel. Other fruits, such as strawberries,
cherries, and blueberries, contain little pectin and must be combined with other fruits high in
pectin or with commercial pectin products to obtain gels. Because fully ripened fruit has less
pectin, one-fourth of the fruit used in making jellies without added pectin should be underripe.
Caution: Commercially frozen and canned juices may be low in natural pectins and make
soft textured spreads.
The proper level of acidity is critical to gel formation. If there is too little acid, the gel will never
set; if there is too much acid, the gel will lose liquid (weep). For fruits low in acid, add lemon juice
or other acid ingredients as directed. Commercial pectin products contain acids which help to
Sugar serves as a preserving agent, contributes flavor, and aids in gelling. Cane and beet sugar
are the usual sources of sugar for jelly or jam. Corn syrup and honey may be used to replace
part of the sugar in recipes, but too much will mask the fruit flavor and alter the gel structure. Use
tested recipes for replacing sugar with honey and corn syrup. Do not try to reduce the amount of
sugar in traditional recipes. Too little sugar prevents gelling and may allow yeasts and molds to
Jams and Jellies with Reduced Sugar
Jellies and jams that contain modified pectin, gelatin, or gums may be made with noncaloric
sweeteners. Jams with less sugar than usual also may be made with concentrated fruit pulp,
which contains less liquid and less sugar. See Guide 7 for recipes.
Two types of modified pectin are available for home use. One gels with one-third less sugar. The
other is a low-methoxyl pectin which requires a source of calcium for gelling. To prevent spoilage,
jars of these products must be processed longer in a boiling-water canner. Recipes and
processing times provided with each modified pectin product must be followed carefully. The
proportions of acids and fruits should not be altered, as spoilage may result.
Acceptably gelled refrigerator fruit spreads also may be made with gelatin and sugar substitutes.
Such products spoil at room temperature, must be refrigerated, and should be eaten within 1
Even though sugar helps preserve jellies and jams, molds can grow on the surface of these
products. Research now indicates that the mold which people usually scrape off the surface of
jellies may not be as harmless as it seems. Mycotoxins have been found in some jars of jelly
having surface mold growth. Mycotoxins are known to cause cancer in animals; their effects on
humans are still being researched.
Because of possible mold contamination, paraffin or wax seals are no longer recommended for
any sweet spread, including jellies. To prevent growth of molds and loss of good flavor or color,
fill products hot into sterile Mason jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace, seal with self-sealing lids,
and process 5 minutes in a boiling-water canner. Correct process time at higher elevations by
adding 1 additional minute per 1,000 ft above sea level. If unsterile jars are used, the filled jars
should be processed 10 minutes. Use of sterile jars is preferred, especially when fruits are low in
pectin, since the added 5-minute process time may cause weak gels. To sterilize empty jars, see
Methods of Making Jams and Jellies
The two basic methods of making jams and jellies are described in Guide 7. The standard
method, which does not require added pectin, works best with fruits naturally high in pectin. The
other method, which requires the use of commercial liquid or powdered pectin, is much quicker.
The gelling ability of various pectins differs. To make uniformly gelled products, be sure to add
the quantities of commercial pectins to specific fruits as instructed on each package.
Overcooking may break down pectin and prevent proper gelling. When using either method,
make one batch at a time, according to the recipe. Increasing the quantities often results in soft
gels. Stir constantly while cooking to prevent burning. Recipes are developed for specific jar
sizes. If jellies are filled into larger jars, excessively soft products may result.
Canned Foods for Special Diets
The cost of commercially canned special diet food often prompts interest in preparing these
products at home. Some low-sugar and low-salt foods may be easily and safely canned at home.
However, the color, flavor, and texture of these foods may be different than expected and be less
Canning without Sugar
In canning regular fruits without sugar, it is very important to select fully ripe but firm fruits of the
best quality. Prepare these as described for hot-packs in Guide 2, but use water or regular
unsweetened fruit juices instead of sugar syrup. Juice made from the fruit being canned is best.
Blends of unsweetened apple, pineapple, and white grape juice are also good for filling over solid
fruit pieces. Adjust headspaces and lids and use the processing recommendations given for
regular fruits. Add sugar substitutes, if desired, when serving.