Pectin is a natural thickener and gelling agent. It’s similar to gelatin and often used to make jams and jellies.
If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet and avoid animal products, you might wonder whether you can eat pectin.
This article explains where pectin comes from, whether it fits into a vegan diet, and how it compares with gelatin.
Sources and uses
Pectin is a carbohydrate that’s stored in the cell walls of various plants (1Trusted Source, 2).
It’s derived from the pulp and skins of fruits and vegetables. Some of the best sources include (2):
oranges and other citrus fruits
Pectin is rich in soluble fiber, which forms a gel in your digestive tract. This fiber slows digestion and benefits your health by stabilizing your blood sugar and reducing cholesterol levels.
When you dissolve pectin in water, it traps the available liquid and forms a gel. Adding sugar, acid, or calcium helps form a thicker, more stable substance.
Pectin works especially well for jelling and preserving fruits. It’s also used in sweets and desserts — especially those made with fruit or milk, such as custards, pie fillings, and puddings. The sugars, acids, or calcium in these foods help thicken the final product (1Trusted Source, 2, 3).
To use pectin, combine it with fruit, juice, or milk, along with the recommended amount of sugar and acid, and bring the mixture to a boil. Once cool, it will start to gel.
It’s important to follow the directions on the pectin package, as instructions vary by brand. If you don’t use the correct amounts of pectin, sugar, and acid, your gel may not set.
Pectin is a type of fiber found in fruits and vegetables. It’s used to thicken, gel, or stabilize sweet foods like jams, preserves, jellies, and desserts.
Is it vegan?
Because it’s made exclusively from plants, pectin is vegan. It can safely be used in any form by those following a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Most commercially available pectin is produced from apple pulp and citrus fruit skins. You can buy it in powdered or liquid form.
Alternatively, you can make your own pectin by combining several quartered, ripe apples, some citrus pith (the white skin underneath the peel), 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of lemon juice, and 2 cups (475 ml) of water.
Simmer this mixture for about 40 minutes or until it’s reduced by half. Then strain the liquid and simmer it again for another 20 minutes or until it’s once more reduced by half.
You can store homemade pectin in a jar in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or freeze it in an ice cube tray if you want to keep it longer.
Pectin is completely plant-based and suitable for anyone who’s vegan or vegetarian. Most pectin is made from apples or citrus fruits. You can buy pectin at the store or even make your own.
Pectin vs. gelatin
Gelatin is a common substitute for pectin.
Like pectin, it’s a powder that dissolves in warm water or any other liquid. Once it cools, the liquid forms a gel.
However, gelatin is derived from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals or fish, so it’s not vegan- or vegetarian-friendly (4).
Given that pectin comes from plants, it’s primarily made up of carbs — with just a trace of protein. On the other hand, gelatin contains only protein and no carbs (5, 6).
Yet, gelatin is slightly more versatile because it doesn’t need sugar or acid to gel, so you can use it in both savory and sweet dishes.
If you follow a vegan diet, remember to check the ingredient list on any jams, jellies, or other gelled products to determine whether they’re made with pectin, gelatin, or another gelling agent.
Although both pectin and gelatin are used to thicken foods, gelatin is processed from animal parts. Thus, it isn’t vegan.
The bottom line
If you follow a vegan diet, you can safely eat foods that contain pectin, as this additive is made from plants.
When making your own jams, jellies, or gelatinous desserts, you should use pectin instead of gelatin, which is derived from animals.
You can buy pectin at the store or online — or make your own from apples, citrus fruit peels, lemon juice, and water.