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Making Jams & Jellies with Gelatin

Posted by Lisa Peterson -

Homemade jams and jelly recipes typically call for high amounts of added sugar, but what does the sugar do?

The purpose of sugar in jams and jellies is to assist with maintaining the texture and shape of the fruit, flavor, stabilizing color, and through a chemical reaction, the water from the fruit is "bound" to the sugar molecules slowing down microbial growth. Roughly about 65-68% of jams and jellies are sugar. Without sugar, the flavor of the jam will be different, have a softer texture, and the spread is more susceptible to mold. One sugar-free alternative to making jams and jellies is using unflavored powdered gelatin.

Unflavored gelatin works with jams and jellies just as it would with a fruit mold, giving the product a shape and smooth texture and works a thickening agent. Gelatin is a protein, derived from collagen found in animal bones, skin, and cartilage.

What's the difference between using pectin versus gelatin?

Unlike gelatin, a protein, pectin is a plant based carbohydrate found in the cell walls of fruit. The amount of natural pectin varies between fruits. Fruits naturally high in pectin include pears, oranges, apples, plumb, crabapples, and gooseberries. Commercial pectin is often used in the gelling process for fruits with lower amounts of natural pectin, but too much can mask the natural fruit flavors.

Can both pectin and gelatin based recipes be processed in a water bath canner?

No, jams and jellies made with gelatin should not be processed in a water bath canner or frozen. Sugar-free jams and jellies made with gelatin should be stored in a refrigerator at 41°F or below for up to four weeks. The gelatin will disintegrate when frozen and refrigeration is necessary to maintain gel formation. Pectin is used in scientifically tested water bath canning recipes, but liquid and powder pectin are not interchangeable. Follow the recipe exactly as stated.

Sparkling Strawberry Jam

Makes 1 pint of Jam

2 envelopes unflavored gelatin

12-ounce can strawberry diet carbonated beverage

2 cups strawberries

1 tablespoon granulated artificial sweetener

Sprinkle gelatin over beverage in saucepan. Add berries; simmer 10 minutes. Add sweetener. Beat with mixer until smooth. Pour into jar leaving ¼ inch headspace. Cover. Store in refrigerator.

-University of Tennessee Extension

Refrigerated Apple Spread

Makes 4 half pints

2 tbsp unflavored gelatin powder

1 qt bottle unsweetened apple juice

2 tbsp bottled lemon juice

2 tbsp liquid low-calorie sweetener

Food coloring, if desired

In a saucepan, soften the gelatin in the apple and lemon juices. To dissolve gelatin, bring to a full rolling boil and boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in sweetener and food coloring, if desired. Fill jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust lids. Do not process or freeze. Store in refrigerator and use within 4 weeks.

Optional:For spiced apple jelly, add 2 sticks of cinnamon and 4 whole cloves to mixture before boiling. Remove both spices before adding the sweetener and food coloring.

-USDA, "Complete Guide to Home Canning." National Center for Home Food Preservation

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