Home > Breakfast, Lunch, Preserving, Recipes, Techniques, Vegan, Vegetarian, Waste Minimization > How to make strawberry jam from scratch, WITHOUT SUGAR OR ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS

How to make strawberry jam from scratch, WITHOUT SUGAR OR ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS

I started this blog to help people do kitchen things that are different, unusual, or downright difficult, things that are neglected topics in the world of food instruction.  With the plethora of book, blogs, YouTube videos, etc out there, it’s usually pretty easy to find information and/or instructions on many, many things, even if actually doing them isn’t exactly easy.

Making traditional strawberry jam (or even novel recipes with sugar as sweetener)  is one of those topics that’s extraordinarily well covered.  While I hesitate to say there is nothing new to add to the subject, it’s safe to say that *I* personally have nothing new to add to the subject.

But making strawberry (or other fruit) jams without sugar, and without artificial sweeteners, well, that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.  While I have no health reasons for wanting sugar-free jam, I personally just don’t like how sweet traditional jams are.  For a few years, I tried reducing the amount of sugar in traditional recipes, and wound up with tasty syrup.  My jam just wouldn’t set.  I tried recooking it with more pectin, to no avail.  For two years, I poured my strawberry jam onto toast and sandwiches instead of spreading it with a knife.  So in 2010, I made my last batch of strawberry jam.  Until today.

What happened between then and now was a simple but life-altering discovery: Pomona Pectin.  It is different than the pectin you can buy most places – that pectin only works if the correct amount of sugar is added, so that after cooking there is not enough water present to keep added pectin dissolved, and thus upon cooling, the pectin will gel.  Pomona is a calcium-activated pectin, so when calcium (included with the pectin) is added, it will gel regardless of the amount of sugar present.  Now that you know the secret, you can Google it and read up on the topic yourself.  What I will tell you is that while Pomona pectin works like magic, it IS different to work with and requires some experience and experimentation if you want to wander off the reservation and make your own recipes.

Let me show you how I made some strawberry jam with honey today.  Note that it is NOT my intention to teach you to make jam, or to do basic canning; I assume you are competent in this regard already.  I’m also not trying to teach specific recipes, though I hope you will like mine and the variations of it described here.  The point of this post is to teach you how to do what you know how to do already, except WITHOUT SUGAR.

Here are the main ingredients: 3 lbs strawberries, some mint from the garden, local honey, and the Pomona pectin with its calcium activator (more detail on that on a minute). Not pictured is a little lemon juice and some Meyer lemon rinds. I also added cracked black pepper and balsamic vinegar (separately and together) to a few jars.

My friend Katie sent me some Meyer lemon rinds from her tree. I use them in everything. They are beautiful and tasty.

OK, this snap technically has little to do with making jam, but I wanted to point out the difference in waste you achieve by using a huller instead of a paring knife. the difference is about 4 grams per berry. Doesn’t sound like much, except when you consider that for every hundred berries, you wind up with almost an extra pound of fruit using the huller. That lesson is consistent with the other thing we want to teach here: how to minimize waste and thus cost.

This post isn’t really about the basic mechanics of making jam, but at this point I mashed the fruit (3lbs), added 2c honey, 3 TBSP chopped mint, and a few TBSP lemon juice, then cooked gently for about 10 minutes. If you are planning to use sugar, don’t add it just yet – you can use it as a carrier of sorts for the pectin powder. Now we’re ready for the pectin, but adding it is a multi-step process that definitely *is* possible to screw up, so pay attention.

First you will need to dissolve the pectin powder (NOT the calcium) in hot water, mixing well to dissolve. IF YOU ADD THE POWDER DIRECTLY TO THE FRUIT IT WILL CLUMP AND RUIN YOUR JAM. Seriously. Guess how I know? If you are adding sugar, you can mix the sugar and pectin powder at this point, and fold it into the fruit, but that is still potentially problematic for clumping. Dissolve in water and you will be happy. In this case, I used 6 tsp pectin powder and 3/4 cup very hot water.

Here’s what it looks like dissolved – like a thick paste. Fold the paste into the cooked fruit.

Now you need the calcium activator. Add 1/2 tsp calcium power to 1/2c water and mix well.

Here’s the calcium water. You won’t use it all at once, and it keeps for months. I add about 4x as many tsp calcium water as I do pectin. In this case I used about 20 tsp calcium water – just add it to the fruit mixture containing the pectin. You should notice the jam begin to start setting. It won’t get stiff. Use the plate test to judge whether the set is sufficient – before starting, put a ceramic plate in the freezer. When you reach this step, take the plate out, and shmear a tsp of the jam on the plate. It will set to the consistency you will get in the jar. If set is insufficient, try adding more calcium water. If that doesn’t do it, add more dissolved pectin. Iterate till it’s right.

Jar your jam in the usual way. Here’s the batch I made today. This jar had a little cracked black pepper and balsamic vinegar added. The set was perfect, and the jam is delicious – not too sweet!

I do try to include costing info with each post to refute the notion that cooking with fresh, high quality ingredients is expensive.  I bought the strawberries at the farmers’ market for $12.  I buy my honey by the half gallon, and estimate I may have use about $3 worth.  My mint was free from my garden, but if you bought it I would have paid about $1.  The lemon juice and pectin may have been $1.  So for about $17, I got (12) 4-oz jars and one large (32-oz) jar (ran out of small jars!).  So 80 ounces of jam for $17 is $0.21 per ounce.  That’s about $1.70 for 8 ounces, which is a typical supermarket size that will run you from $3-5.  And the store jam won’t taste as good, or be as good for you.

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  1. Dawne F
    May 12, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Do I absolutely have to use honey to get it to set right? Thank you so much for posting this!

    • May 13, 2012 at 2:36 am

      No, you do not have to use any sweetener at all. The pectin is calcium-activated.

      • Dawne F
        May 13, 2012 at 4:36 am

        Thank you!

  2. Barbara
    June 13, 2012 at 4:22 am

    HI
    Where did you buy your pectin I buy the pomona at the health food store but I make 50+ jars of jelly. My strawberry jam seperated with fruit at the top and jam on the bottom I hot bath for 8 min’s than the last batch only 6 mins and okay do you know why?

    • July 17, 2012 at 3:13 am

      Hi Barbara

      I bought the pectin from Amazon.

      Jim

    • July 17, 2012 at 3:17 am

      On the fruit float, macerate the fruit with some sugar, and make sure the fruit is crushed, not chopped. Also, you can invert the jar midway through the cooling time.

  3. Barbara
    June 13, 2012 at 4:25 am

    HI

    Also than where do you get the calcium for the water mix if not pomona’s

    • July 17, 2012 at 3:18 am

      I’ve never used more that the calcium that comes with the pectin.

  4. Barbara
    June 13, 2012 at 4:37 am

    I just reread your blog and looking at your pictures of the pectin packages are large, the box I buy is around $5.00 and only makes around 8 pints. Very small amount and I always use the pectin up and have lots of calcium powder left over.

  5. Chris
    December 27, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Hi Jim, I just read your inspiring blog about marmalade making without sugar. I currently use Mangoes and I dont want to use any POMONA or other addititional items. Keep in mind that Mangoes are high in pectin already when processed in a ripe state. Do you think I just could use concentrated juice (lime, apple, etc) to get around with sugar? I am not quite sure how much the fruit : juice combination should be to start with. Would you have some feedback?
    Best Chris

    • August 2, 2013 at 12:16 pm

      Hi Chris

      Not sure about how mango pectin would be activated. You could try addition of a little calcium carbonate and see if that works.

      Best,
      Jim

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