While hundreds of sugary, scrumptious recipes exist for making colorful, fruity spreads and toppings, I receive emails from many of you seeking lower-sugar recipes to deal with diabetes or just for better health. So, while I enjoy my practically all-sugar strawberry freezer jam almost daily, the focus of this article will be on making jams and jellies with reduced or no sugar. For those who prefer the traditional sugar-fruit spreads, like I do, jump ahead to the Recipe Box or peruse any book on canning or the insert from a box of pectin for recipes. For the rest of you, read on to explore the low or no sugar options available in the world of bread spreads!
The Ways and the Means
I've learned of four methods for making fruity concoctions without all the sugar:
1) make jam with a no-sugar-needed pectin for refrigerator or freezer storage;
2) use gelatin to thicken the jam and store in the refrigerator;
3) use a low-methoxyl pectin for jams and jellies with longer shelf-life (can be processed); or
4) bake fruit with just enough sugar to taste for soft refrigerator or freezer jams. Below you'll find the details for making the type of jam that will suit your health or storage, while keeping your sweet tooth away from the cavity-zone.
And just because they're lower in (or free of) sugar, doesn't mean they won't make enchanting gifts. Test out a few of the recipes under each method, then package your favorites in charming jars and top with a bow. When your friends open their jars of jam or jelly for their morning toast, recalling your thoughtfulness, your simple gift will keep giving day after day.
1. No-Sugar Needed Pectin
Available in major supermarkets or stores that sell canning products, this type of pectin comes with recipes and instructions on creating spreads using little or no sugar. You can add artificial sweeteners to taste and still enjoy a good set. Keep in mind, though, that artificial sweeteners may lose some of their flavor when stored over three weeks. If using, make sure you only make enough jam or jelly that can be used in that amount of time. Store jams/jellies made with no-sugar pectin in the refrigerator or freezer.
To use, sprinkle the pectin over the prepared fruit or liquid (for jelly) while stirring gently. This helps prevent a lumpy appearance. You may wish to add a touch of sugar just for that lovely glitz or sparkle that sugar adds to fruit. Jams made without any sugar often appear dull or pale in color. However, they'll still taste good. Use really ripe fruit for a sweeter jam. The less ripe the fruit is, the more sweetener you'll have to use to disguise the tartness.
See pectin package inserts for additional instructions and recipes.
2. Gelatin Thickened Spreads
Best for refrigerated spreads that you'll use up quickly, jams made with gelatin cannot be heated or processed. They can be made without too much toil or effort and are best when used within one month of making. The following recipes will award you to beautiful, sugar-free spreads.
Spicy Apple Spread
Makes 4 cups
2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin powder
4 cups unsweetened apple juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 sticks cinnamon
4 whole cloves
2 tablespoons liquid low-calorie sweetener
Food coloring, optional
In a saucepan, sprinkle the gelatin powder over the apple juice, lemon juice, cinnamon sticks and whole cloves. Let stand for 5 minutes to soften. Bring the juice to a full rolling boil (cannot be stirred down) and boil for 2 minutes to dissolve gelatin. Remove from heat. Discard cinnamon sticks and cloves. Stir in sweetener and food coloring as desired. Fill jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust lids. Do not process or freeze. Store in refrigerator and use within 4 weeks.
Variation: For plain apple spread, don't add cinnamon sticks or whole cloves.
Makes 3 cups
2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin powder
1 (24-oz) bottle unsweetened grape juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons liquid low-calorie sweetener
In a saucepan, sprinkle gelatin powder over grape juice and lemon juice. Let soften for 5 minutes. Bring to a full rolling boil (one that cannot be stirred down). Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir in sweetener. Fill jars quickly, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust lids. Do not process or freeze. Store in refrigerator and use within 4 weeks.
Makes 1-3/4 cups
4 oz. dried apricot halves (30 medium size)
3 cups cold water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind
1-1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder
1/4 cup cold water
Liquid low-calorie sweetener equivalent to 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond flavoring
Quarter apricot halves and place in heavy saucepan with 3 cups cold water, lemon juice, orange juice, and rind. Cover. Bring to a boil; turn heat to low and let simmer gently (partially covered) for about 40 minutes or until apricot pieces break up and mixture is soft and thickening. You'll need to stir the mixture constantly during the final 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, sprinkle gelatin over 1/4 cup cold water in a large bowl. Let stand at least 5 minutes to soften. Pour hot apricot mixture over gelatin mixture and beat gently with a wooden spoon until well mixed and of paste-like consistency. Cool to lukewarm. Stir in the liquid sweetener and almond flavoring. Blend well. Pour into small jars; adjust lids. Do not process or freeze. Store in refrigerator and use within 4 weeks.
3. Low-Methoxyl Pectin
Regular jams and jellies require pectin, acid and sugar to set up. Some fruits contain enough pectin and acid naturally to set up without adding more, but you still need to add quite a bit of sugar to get a good set. (See Table 1 below if your curiosity is getting the best of you!) For fruits that don't contain enough pectin or acid naturally, store-bought or homemade pectin and lemon juice or vinegar can be used to ensure a good set. But, still, you'll need to add a lot of sugar to make up for the third member of the gelling trio!
This is where low-methoxyl (LM) pectin arrives on the scene. Made from the rinds of citrus fruits, LM pectin relies not upon the usual gelling trio (pectin, acid, sugar), but upon calcium salts to set luscious jams and jellies. Because sugar isn't required for a good set, you can opt out on this ingredient altogether, or add just enough for sparkly color or flavor. You cannot, however, use artificial sweeteners with LM pectin as they break down when heated, and these jams and jellies have to be cooked. Because of their low-sugar content, jams/jellies made with LM pectin are especially fruity and fresh in flavor.
Another naturally occurring product in fruits is calcium. The degree of ripeness, the variety of fruit, and other factors makes the amount of calcium contained in each batch of fruit unpredictable. For this reason, you always need to perform the jelly test when using LM pectin to ensure your jam/jelly is cooked thoroughly enough. Even if you've used a recipe before with great results, test your fruity mixture before bottling to ensure you won't end up with runny syrup instead of a spread. If your jam doesn't pass the test, you'll need to add more calcium solution (1-teaspoon at a time). Test again and repeat the addition of the calcium until your jam/jelly is nicely thickened.
Jams and jellies made with LM pectin can be stored in the freezer or processed in a boiling water bath for longer storage according to altitude: half-pint or pint jars: (0-1000 ft) 5 minutes; (1,001-6,000 ft) 10 minutes; (above 6,001 ft) 15 minutes. After opening, use within 2-3 weeks and store in the refrigerator.
I've included one recipe below for LM-pectin. Additional instructions and recipes for using LM pectin will come with the product. You can find it in some health-food stores or order it through the Walnut Acres Company, 1-800-433-3998. As of this printing, an 8-ounce bag runs for $9.89 and makes about 30 pints of jam/jelly. A 1-pound bag costs $15.99 and will make about 60 pints.
You'll notice that some spread recipes require no added pectin or acid (lemon juice, vinegar). While pectin and acid are found naturally in all fruits, some fruits have a high enough pectin/acid content to gel without help. The chart below will give you an idea of what your pectin needs will be when making spreads from various fruits:
|Sufficient Pectin/Acid Content
||Sometimes Need Added Pectin/Acid
||Always Need Added Pectin/Acid
Makes 7-1/2 cups
3 quarts blueberries
3 1/4 teaspoons dry LM pectin
3/4 cup honey
6 teaspoons lemon juice
*6 1/2 teaspoons dicalcium phosphate solution
Remove stems from blueberries. Crush fruit one layer at a time or grind. Stir LM pectin, 1 teaspoon at a time, into the honey. Don't add the honey to the pectin or you'll end up with a lumpy mass that won't dissolve.) In a wide pot, combine fruit and lemon juice. Bring to a full boil (one that can't be stirred down). Stir the pectin-honey mixture into the fruit and return to a full boil. Immediately stir in the calcium solution and remove pan from heat. Do this quickly as the pectin looses its power if overcooked. Test the jam using the jelly test. If it passes, bottle it immediately into sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Process in a boiling water bath according to altitude. See above. If jam doesn't pass, stir in 1-teaspoon calcium solution and test again. If mixture cools while testing, reheat quickly. If it becomes gummy, thin it with 1/2 cup of juice at a time and retest.
*To make the calcium solution, mix 2-1/2 teaspoons dicalcium phosphate powder (comes with LM-pectin) into 1 cup water in a small jar. Adjust lid tightly and shake to combine. Store in the refrigerator and shake well before adding to the jam/jelly.
4. Baked Jams
This method of jam making, or should I say jam baking, creates softly thickened spreads using about 1/8 of the sugar of regular recipes. While not as thick as you may be accustomed too, you do get to take the driver's seat when it comes to adding sugar. These recipes use no pectin, either. They are thickened in the oven and are basically foolproof. Using the jelly test will help you know when to remove the syrupy-looking mixture from the oven to bottle for refrigerator or freezer storage. If, when the jam cools, you find that it is too runny for you, simply return it to the oven and bake it until it suits your appetite. If it is too thick, reheat it and add a little water.
Baked Berry Jam
8 cups berries (raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries, blueberries, strawberries)
1 1/4 cups sugar (or to taste)
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Rinse, drain, and dry berries. If using strawberries, slice them first. Mix fruit, sugar, and lemon juice to taste. Place on a 10x15" baking pan (with sides). Bake, uncovered, at 375 F for about 10 minutes or until berries release juice. Place ceramic saucer in freezer for jelly test. Reduce oven temperature to 325 F. Set the timer for 20 minutes. Stir mixture gently to moisten berries with juices when timer goes off. Reset timer for another 20 minutes; continue baking and stirring when timer goes off until the mixture (berry juice) placed on the chilled ceramic saucer leaves a track when your finger passes through it. Approximate baking time: 1 hour for blueberries, 1-1/2 hours for other berries. Cool jam. If necessary, reheat and continue baking if it isn't at desired consistency. Spoon into bowls or jars. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Makes about 2-1/2 cups blueberry jam and 1-1/2 cups jam for other berries.
Baked Stone Fruit Jam: Use 2 pounds peaches, nectarines, plums, or apricots, about 2/3 cup sugar, and 3 tablespoons lemon juice. For peaches, remove skins by immersing in boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain, cool, and peel. Cut fruit from pits, coarsely chop, and then mix with sugar and lemon juice before placing on baking pan. Bake for about 45-55 minutes after the first 10-minute baking interval. Makes about 2 cups jam.
Sugar Free Baked Jam: To make these recipes with no added refined sugar, sweeten the fruit with reduced apple juice concentrate to taste. Pour 1(16-ounce) can of frozen apple juice concentrate, thawed, into a saucepan. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Boil for 4-8 minutes or until concentrate reduces to 1-1/4 cups. Chill up to 1 week if not using right away. Replace the sugar with the reduced concentrate cup for cup or sweeten just to taste.
* DVO welcomes your kitchen hints and cooking or nutrition questions! Email us and we'll post your hints and Q/A's in upcoming newsletters! *