If you have ever canned jelly or fruit preserves, you have probably used pectin. Pectin is found in many plants and it has some unique properties.
The word pectin comes to us from the Greek word for “congealed” and with good reason. Pectin converts liquids into jelly, much the way gelatin does, the difference being that gelatin is made from animal skin and bones, and pectin is made from plants.
Pectin is found in most fruits, to one degree or another:
But fruits are not the only plants that contain pectin. Carrots hold an average 1.4% pectin. Commercially, most pectin is made from citrus peels and apple pulp. Soft fruits, such as grapes and strawberries also contain pectin, but at very low levels.
How do plants use pectin?
Pectin is a structural chain of molecules used in cell walls. Pectin is a major component of cellulose, specifically a layer called the middle lamella. The middle lamella is an outer layer to plant cells that is used to bind cells together. This allows plants to grow larger. The level of pectin present in a plant varies over time due to factors such as plant age and seasonal changes.
As fruits ripen, the pectin begins to break down, which is why the fruit becomes softer. A similar process occurs during abscission, when parts such as leaves naturally die and fall from the plant. In some desert plants, pectin has been shown to help repair DNA by creating a mucous layer that captures dew.
How do we use pectin?
Pectin is used for more than jelly making. Pectin also provides dietary fiber and it acts as a thickening agent and stabilizer for desserts, cosmetics, and medicines. Pectin also binds to cholesterol and slows the rate at which we absorb glucose. This is especially true when the pectin is from apples and oranges. You know that old saying about an apple a day? I guess they were right!
The pectin found in apple pulp is also one of the best throat lozenges I know. The mucilaginous pectin provides a surprising amount of soothing relief. Next time your have a sore or scratchy throat, skip the menthol (an irritant) and slowly eat an apple.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!