Want to Make Sweet Spreads, but Don’t Want to Add Sugar?

Classic jams and jellies are typically sugary sweetened spreads, but we know that fruits have enough natural sugars to make them taste sweet even without adding table sugar. But even with a satisfactorily sweet flavor, how do you get the ideal jellied consistency of traditional jams and jellies without adding sugar? In addition to the many recipes for sugar-added jams and jellies, you have plenty of options for making (and canning) sweet spreads without added sugar.

So do you think it’s as easy as grabbing a box of regular pectin from the store shelf and just leaving out the sugar from one of the recipes that comes with it? Well, if you do that, then you’ll likely end up with a drippy, runny product because regular pectin depends on the addition of sugar to form the gel structure that makes a spreadable jellied texture.

Instead of making a mess, try a tested recipe using one of these four methods for making no-sugar-added jams and jellies. Or, try each of these methods and repeat the one you like best — you may want to experiment a while before finding your favorite final product.

Method One: Use Specially Modified Pectin. These products can be found in the canning section on store shelves, with label description such as “light” or “no sugar needed”. Follow the recipes included in the packaging, which often present options for using less sugar, no sugar, or alternative sweeteners like fruit juice or honey. Recipe directions also include a canning process so that the product can be stored at room temp.

Method Two: Use Regular Pectin With Special Recipes. You might come across a tested recipe that calls for regular pectin with no added sugar, but please note that there is still a small amount of sugar already in the pectin product itself. These recipes typically call for the addition of a sugar substitute, so be aware that flavor changes may occur in the sugar alternatives from the heat of cooking and canning, as well as from storage. For example, aspartame may lose its sweet flavor within 3 to 4 weeks.

Method Three: Long Boil. Simply boil down fruit pulp until it reaches a spreadable consistency. The final product is not technically jellied because it will not have a pectin gel. However, the texture will be thick and spreadable. While boiling the fruit, you may add a small amount of sugar or sugar substitute to taste for extra sweetness if you wish. An example of a long boil method for making a fruit spread is Peach-Pineapple Spread (which also works with nectarines, apricots, and/or plums). Expect this method to require a slightly longer boiling water bath process time than full sugar jams and jellies, as more heat is needed to make up for the lack of the preserving effect of the sugar as well as the pectin gel structure binding up water.

Method Four: Use Gelatin. For refrigerator storage only, gelatin is effective in making spreads which call for fruit juice to flavor and sweeten. Sugar substitutes can also be added, if desired. Try this Refrigerated Apple Spread or Refrigerated Grape Spread. Be sure to use these recipes within 4 weeks.

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4 thoughts on “Want to Make Sweet Spreads, but Don’t Want to Add Sugar?

  1. Tilly Frueh

    I’ve been using Clear Jel to make most of my jams and jellies this season. This way I am able to use as little sugar or none at all. I love having control and the results so far have been wonderful. ~ Tilly

    1. nchfp Post author

      Modified corn starch (like Clear Jel) does not depend on the same concentration of sugar to form a gel, if any added sugar at all with some fruits, so it makes sense to use in low-to-no sugar recipes. Since the spread would not have sugar to aid in its preservation, it may require a slightly longer than usual process time for long-term room temperature storage. These products could very well be thickened fruit purees and will not fit the definition of a pectin jam or jelly, even though it produces a spreadable, gel-like consistency. However, we do not know of tested recipes using Clear Jel for making canned low-to-no-sugar jams and jellies, and have not developed any ourselves, so we are unable to make specific recommendations for its use at this time.

  2. Rebecca

    Shouldn’t there be a fifth method? Using the pectin found in the fruit naturally? Or using some apple as a pectin additive? Or what about pectin product’s that use citric acid to activate. I feel like you covered several okay options, but there are alot more out there.

    1. nchfp Post author

      The pectin found in fruit naturally is brought out by a long boil method. Some fruits do not contain enough natural pectin to produce any gel-like structure, while others contain much more (for example, apples and citrus fruits). The pectin found naturally in fruits has to be in the right chemical form/structure as well as concentration, so overcooking can destroy its ability to form a gel. Be aware that pectin in over-ripe fruit will not form a strong gel and also that a gel is formed when pectin bonds with sugar molecules, so jams and jellies made with just the pectin found naturally in the fruits will not form a pectin gel without a certain amount of added sugar. Fruits boiled down without added sugar are really a thickened fruit puree — which is why they are termed fruit spreads instead.

      If you plan to use the long boil method and add apple to a recipe in order to extract its pectin, then remember that pectin in concentrated mostly in skin and core. You could remove these sections after the boil, before filling jars.

      As for citric acid, it is an ingredient in many pectin products, including both regular pectin and specially modified for no-sugar-added pectin. It is used to increase the acidity of the mixture. Acidity also effects the ability of pectin molecules to form a gel, so it is often added to aid in the gelling process. It is fine to use specially modified or regular pectin products with citric acid in them.

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