Pectin is a polysaccharide substance found in the cell walls of many plants and fruits. Pectin is a natural part of the human diet, although it is not thought to contribute much nutritionally. As a type of soluble fibre, it does contribute to digestive health and may help reduce blood cholesterol levels. Commercially, pectin is rendered into powder and often used in food as a gelling agent, especially in jams. Some fruits and vegetables are especially rich in pectin.
Importance of Pectin
The main uses for pectin are as gelling agents, thickening agents and stabilisers in food, fruit juices and dairy beverages. Pectin allows for the consistency found in jams, jellies and marmalades. Pectin is also a good substitute for vegetable and edible glues. Because pectin is soluble fibre, it promotes digestive health by expanding and inducing movement through the intestinal tract and out the bowels. Thus, it is used for constipation and diarrhoea. According to the book “Biochemical, Physiological and Molecular Aspects of Human Nutrition", pectin can also reduce blood cholesterol levels by increasing viscosity in the intestines, which leads to reduced absorption of cholesterol from bile or food sources. Anecdotally, pectin is also helpful for nausea.
The richest source of pectin is from citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruits. According to the “American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide,” up to four per cent of the dry weight of oranges is pectin, whereas about 30 per cent of citrus peels is made of it. In fact, the main raw materials for commercial pectin production are dried citrus peels, which are plentiful by-products of fruit juice production.
Apples are another very good source of pectin, with most varieties containing between one and two per cent of it by dry weight. The pectin is within the skin and pulp of apples. Apple pomace, a by-product of juice production, is another major source of raw material for commercial pectin production. According to "Advanced Nutrition: Macronutrients, Micronutrients and Metabolism", due mainly to eating citrus fruit and apples, the average person consumes about 5g of pectin daily.
Other good sources of pectin include guavas, plums, peaches, gooseberries, sugar beets and cherries. About one per cent of the total weight of apricots is pectin, whereas carrots contain between one and two per cent. Sources with lower amounts of pectin include peas, beans, potatoes, grapes, strawberries and some other small berries.