Pectin is the basis for most ‘gelled’ substances, like jellies, jams, and some natural skin-care and hair-care products. It is derived of plant based materials, with most that is readily available coming from citrus products such as grapefruits, oranges and lemons.
Pectin, from the Greek pectikos; meaning “congealed, or curdled” was first isolated and identified in 1825 by a scientist named Henri Bracconot. It was found in structural cells of terrestrial plants and was labeled as a heteropolysaccharide.
Pectin is a natural part of the human diet, but not necessarily essential to life, as it does not provide any nutrients to speak of. When digested, it is sent to the lower intestine basically intact and has been found to be an excellent source of dietary fiber. But pectin is not only a good source of fiber, it has been found to significantly reduce the blood cholesterol levels, due to the fact that it does not break down much in the digestion process. It lends to an increased viscosity in the intestines causing less absorption of cholesterol from bile or food.
Some sources of pectin are apples, quince, plums, gooseberries, oranges and other citrus fruits, these are considered to be ‘hard fruits.’ While these hard fruits provide much pectin, ‘soft fruits’ such as strawberries, grapes and cherries contain very little pectin. The main materials for pectin are found in dried citrus peel, apple, or pomace, both of which are by products of fruit juice production. Pomace, made from sugar-beet is used rarely, while the others are used more often.
Pectin production can take several hours during which the ‘protopectin,’ (which is the actual product gathered,) loses some of it’s branching and chain length and goes into solution. Hot diluted acid, with a pH level of 1.5-3.5 is added and after the several hours discussed before is filtered and concentrated in a vacuum. Then precipitated by adding ethanol or isopropanol. There are several other methods of extracting protein, none of which have been found to be more efficient than the one discussed above. Globally, there are about 40,000 metric tons of pectin produced every year.
More uses for pectin are as a thickening or stabilizing agent in food wherein it may be used to stabilize certain protein drinks, such as yogurt, or even as a fat substitute in baked goods. However pectin is used, it is good for the human body, aiding in digestion and even lowering cholesterol in some cases. It can be found at most ‘big-box’ stores world wide.