Canning 101: Pectin Verses Clear Jel

pectin

I recently got a question from a reader asking about the difference between pectin and Clear Jel. She was primarily curious because when she researched pricing, she found that Clear Jel was significantly less expensive than the pectin options she was finding. Could they be used interchangeably, she asked?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

While they both have thickening properties, they act upon the fruit in jams and jellies differently. Pectin is a water-soluble fiber that is divided into very fine particles. When heated with a sugar solution, it takes up position, bonds with the sugar molecules and expands in a way that makes it nearly impossible to separate out from the rest of the product, thus creating a stable, gelled preserve.

Clear Jel is a modified cornstarch that is recommended for canning because it doesn’t lose its thickening powers after extended heating (conventional cornstarch starts to break down at high heat and also doesn’t thicken high acid liquids well). Clear Jel thickens by creating bonds between the water molecules and the starch molecules. As you heat those bonded molecules up, they continue to expand until they form a network of sticky bonds that keep the liquid thick. It’s a very different process that how fruit pectins thicken, and were you to compare a well-set cherry jam and a cherry pie filling, you’d easily be able to see the difference in consistency.

Note: Please know that I’m not a scientist and that I’ve explained this to the best of my ability. If there are any food scientists out there who feel like they could do a better job of makes these differences even clearer, please get in touch. I’d love to feature your post.

Related Posts:

42 Responses to Canning 101: Pectin Verses Clear Jel

  1. 1
    Allison says:

    I have read that commercial pectin comes from a variety of lime; after making a great deal of lemon items (we have them all over the place here in AZ), I found a recipe for homemade pectin with the leftover rinds. Can this be used, in equal parts, for the commercial pectin?
    Thanks for the 411 on the two – I never understood what Clear Jel was!

  2. 2
    Mama Urchin says:

    I always say pectin is what makes a jam or jelly gel. Sometimes we add commercial pectin, sometimes the pectin comes from the fruit but either way pectin is what gives the distinctive jelly property.

    I do use clear jel in canning, when I’m canning pie filling. In fact I like to use it for pie filling when I make pies from fresh fruit as well. It is a remarkable product but as you say, not the same kind of product as pectin.

  3. 3
    Michelle says:

    Thanks for the insight. I am in the process of shuffling through a few marmalade recipes that use varying amounts of commercial pectin and natural, this sheds a little light on the differnces.

  4. 4
    Kim says:

    I’ve seen recipes that use clear jel instead of pectin. There”s a pdf floating around the internet that supposedly tells how to do it which I’ve seen but not saved. Cost or not a modified food starch is something I’d prefer to use minimally. But if you are looking to save costs on pectin you might take a look at Pomona Pectin. Not only does one box do multiple batches, it also allows you to cut back on sugar, use honey or agave, or sugar alternatives. It also lets you choose to do smaller batches and adjust the amount of pectin accordingly. I switched over years ago and have never gone back. With few exceptions my jams/jellies are made with at least 50% less sugar than the recipes call for which results in a healthier food with a much better flavor!

  5. 5
    Mavis says:

    Can you explain how the too will look different? When is the best time to use each? I’ve found that the Clear Jell leaves a weird taste in my jam. Is that just in my head, or is that something you’ve experienced as well? Also, do you have a pluot jam recipe? I just gathered a decent number of pluots, and I thought it would be fun to make them into a jam, although I haven’t found too many recipes I like. Thanks so much!

    • 5.1
      Marisa says:

      Mavis, you wouldn’t use Clear Jel in jam (it is different from Sure Jell). Clear Jel thickens in the same manner that conventional cornstarch does, so that the resulting liquid looks like stiffer juice. Pectin sets more in the manner of gelatin.

  6. 6
    Pete says:

    There are a plethora (LOVE having an excuse to use the word!) of thickeners out now, each having properties which work well in some situations. Not a food scientist at all here, but am currently trying some experinents to figure out which works best where.

    BUT, if you are buying ClearJel be very careful about whether you are getting instant (which works wonderfully to make your own instant pudding, for instance) or cook type (used for, ta-da, things which are cooked prior to canning/freezing).

    Have used quite a lot of ClearJel in the past couple of years with great success in canned sauce types of things. The resulting product going into the jar invariably has a kinda unapplealing gelatinous texture, but that usually disappears with final use. I just usually use a fairly small amount, but often use it to “cheat!” That is to thicken something early instead of cooking it completely down.

    Am looking forward to someone explaining the entire science behind this all! What I’ve found so far is sketchy, but I am satisfied that the “modification” of the cornstarch for ClearJel is not something for me to fear, or run from rather than to ingest it! Others will disagree, but it is working well in this household.

  7. 7
    Kelly Cory says:

    Thanks for this! I had pectin on hand… but, since I am making apple pie filling to be canned, I’ll run to the store and get the right stuff!

  8. 8
    Jessica says:

    I wonder if I don’t mind my jam a bit runny, can I eliminate the pectin?

    • 8.1
      Marisa says:

      You certainly can skip the pectin if you don’t mind a runnier consistency. Just stick to smaller batches and make sure to cook it to 220 degrees F.

  9. 9
    LaNae Shaw says:

    Can I use clear starch to can freezer jam?

  10. 10
    Morgan says:

    I have frozen extra pie filling made with Clear Jel and defrosted it later with no change in the texture or thickness of the filling.

  11. 11
    heidi says:

    I have a recipe that calls for 1 cup flour. How can I use clear jelly instead. Its jalapeno mustard and I made 11 jars and now I am concerned about flour use. Can I put in fridge and use quickly. I want to make this again but want to use clear jelly to feel safe.

    • 11.1
      Marisa says:

      Heidi, I’d recommend searching out a new recipe rather than trying to convert. I’ve got no idea how you would convert a recipe that calls for 1 cup of flour. I’ve never heard of a preserve using that much flour for thickening.

  12. 12
    Donna says:

    what did they use in the old days when they didn’t have clear gel>

  13. 13
    K Krewer says:

    Is Clear Jel sold in stores? I usually buy it on line but need some in a couple of days.

    • 13.1
      Marisa says:

      It’s typically only sold in stores located in areas where there’s a lot of canning going on. I’ve gotten it at stores in Lancaster County, PA, but I never see it in Philadelphia.

  14. 14
    John D says:

    Does anyone know if Arrowroot powder can be used interchangeably with ClearJel as a thickening agent? I am not entirely comfortable with using ClearJel, since it is a “processed” product. (I know it’s supposedly just cooked cornstarch. But is that absolutely all it is, or do they add something–an anti-caking agent, for example?) I apologize, but I just don’t trust the FDA one bit.

  15. 15
    Eric says:

    There is much confusion about Clear Jel, probably because it is not readily available in most stores (but can be ordered online easily.) The important thing to know is that there are 2 types that react quite differently, Regular and Instant. Regular is heat activated. It works like regular cornstarch, only it holds up better, with less flavor. It’s primary use is in canning because it is so stable at room temperature. If jam is cooked with the regular instead of pectin, it can be re-heated to adjust thickness by adding more or adding water. Regular breaks down if frozen, after activated, so it can be used in uncooked fillings that are frozen, then cooked, but it can’t be cooked, then frozen. It also is great in hot sauces and stir-fry because it has less flavor and (I think) a better texture than regular cornstarch.
    Instant gels upon contact with moisture. To avoid lumping, it is mixed with other dry ingredients, typically sugar, then added to the fruit. It freezes well. This is a great advantage with fruit pies and fillings, because it sets before adding to a crust so it prevents sogginess, and the fruit doesn’t need to be pre-cooked. Prepare a crust, add liquid ingredients to fruit, mix the Instant with the sugar and spices, stir into the fruit and fill crust. The pie can then be frozen, unbaked and baked without needing to thaw. Instant breaks down if baked twice, but you can heat up a piece of pie in the microwave without it becoming runny.
    I like using the instant for jam. I crush fresh berries with a bit of lemon juice, mix the sugar with the instant and stir in. Done. It just takes a bit of experimenting with small batches to get the thickness right with each fruit. I don’t know how it compares to traditional jams because I don’t can or use pectin, but it’s great for preserving the fresh fruit flavors. I make large batches and freeze several jars. Doesn’t require any additional processing, so it’s very quick, and I have blackberry and strawberry jam all year.

  16. 16
    Eric says:

    Oh, for those interested in the science, Clear Jel appeared on the market soon after WWII, with the growth of manufacturing and large-scale commercial food production. You’ve been eating it all your life, it’s labeled “modified cornstarch” or maybe just cornstarch. It is the starch from waxy maize, which has greater stability than regular cornstarch. It is “modified” so that the fibers are soluble and link together better. I believe this is similar to how you modify regular cornstarch when you add water to it, then heat it. It’s chemical structure is modified, but it doesn’t require addition of chemicals or other ingredients.

  17. 17
    Lorrie says:

    So could I just make my own “clear jel” substance by adding cornstarch to water and then heating it? It would be a lot more readily available than this wonderful ClearJel that can’t seem to be found anywhere but online.

  18. 18
    Kathy says:

    I have arrowroot starch on hand for general thickening purposes, but haven’t canned for a long time and was wondering if this would work in place of Clear Jel for canning apple pie filling. Thanks.

    • 18.1
      Marisa says:

      Kathy, arrowroot starch isn’t recommended for canning, as it’s not able to hold up to lots of heating and cooling.

  19. 19
    iHeartQuilting says:

    Thanks for the useful info. I have a whole bushel of apples for pie filling that need to be handled quickly and can’t find the Clear Jel locally yet, in the Philly suburbs. I’m going to try a few places tomorrow, and hopefully I can beat the impending softening in the box. :)

  20. 20
    Annie says:

    ShopRite carries Certo Sure Jell. I just bought it today.

  21. 21
    Mandy says:

    So I know this response is a little late to the topic, but for those of you having issues finding Clear Jel locally, try Amazon.com. I use it to get citric acid since its not readily available where I live. Looks like you can get Clear Jel for $10/1lb on average just from browsing.

  22. 22
    Sally says:

    In Oregon, I purchase quantities of Clearjel from the local Extension Service, connected with Oregon State University, which publishes info and recipes for fruit pie fillings, jams, etc. (PDFs can be found online.)

  23. 23
    JJ says:

    I found Instant Clear Jel at my local cake decoration shop, which also supplies candy makers. If you have such a shop in your area, it’s worth a call to see if they carry it. (And BTW, Sure Jell is not the same as Clear Jel.) Locally, it’s way, way cheaper than online. Online suppliers are really expensive. Anyway, in Portland, Oregon, it’s The Decorette Shoppe.

  24. 24
    ruth says:

    I just made blueberry jam. I cut way back on the sugar. Used the pectin. Added clear jell to thicken. Turned out excellent. I never measure just guess.

  25. 25
    Kristen says:

    It is true that modified cornstarch has been around for over 50 years, but what has changed in the last 20 years is that almost all corn and soy in this country is now GMO. And thus, all products made with corn and soy contain GMOs.

    That I do NOT like. Are there any European products, perhaps, that are GMO-free?

  26. 26
    Skyelydoo says:

    If any of you who are searching for Clear Jel have Amish communities nearby, it is almost always available in their local stores.

  27. 27
    Athena says:

    I found the PDF that says you can use Clear Jel in jams and jellies. You use 7-8 Tbsp. I just made my first batch of strawberry jam and used about 4 tbsp. and it gave it a nice texture and thickened up nicely. I had a recipe where I just mash up my strawberries and then add sugar and bring to a boil until it goes into the gel stage. It was taking a while and it was reducing almost by half and still seemed a little runny to me even if it would have set after it cooled—so instead of me risking actually scalding my precious strawberries (LOL) I opted to get a little help from Clear Jel. What little was left over that I couldn’t put in jars was thickened nicely and holding up well so the jars I have processing right now should set great! I opted to not add too much Clear Jel because I made only four 1/2 pint jars and still am not sure how strong it really is.

  28. 28
    jp says:

    I am a guy who likes to help my wife in the kitchen with larger efforts like canning. The thing that urks my wife is I love to experiment…but getting creative …it makes a chore more fun for me.

    Canned jams are a let down when my modified recipes do not gel after canning (my fault).

    Yesterday I did some experiments with fresh picked strawberries and rhubarb (and special additives of my own). I was very pleased that it all thickened beautifully using clear jel. I will continue to used it.

    My thoughts are…for those who want “glistening” or “translucent” jellies…maybe pectin is best. For syrups or “opaque” jams and jellies and pie fillings, clear jel is a easy choice. My jam turned out to be a smooth rich look…kinda like thick tomato paste. That might not be what some cooks are looking for, but, I like it being thick and it tastes fine…I did not have to over boil my experiments to get it to thicken.

    Happy cooking! —JP

  29. 29
    cc says:

    A starch-thickened jam will be much like a pie filling. Some people don’t mind that; others do. People who are looking for a low-sugar jam love the flexibility of a starch-thickened product, as it isn’t nearly as exacting as a pectin-based product and you can use very little sugar. The color won’t be as clear (although adding some apple juice improves the clarity), but it is much less expensive to use.
    One thing to be careful of, is how the jam is processed. A pectin jam goes thin when heated, so the heat transfers very easily–a starch-thickened fruit product is always thick once it is taken to boiling temperatures, so it takes a long time for heat to penetrate adequately. I process starch-thickened jams 30-45 minutes (just like pie filling) to ensure they will keep well.

    Ultra Gel is a product you might be interested in checking out–it is an instant modified food starch (non GMO, gluten-free) that stirs into hot or cold products easily. Makes the best freezer or canned “jams” ever!! Check it out at carnetfoods.com and look at the recipes.

  30. 30
    kathy says:

    clear jel can be used to make jam, but you need to know how to do it. I have shared a link. http://www.foodsafety.wisc.edu/assets/pdf_Files/using_clear_jel_03.pdf

  31. 31
    Kay Laffranchi says:

    Does anybody have a good jalapeƱo jelly-jam reciepes that uses clear jel. I’m new at this and I would really like to use clear jel. Thank you

Leave a Reply