Pectin, also known as soluble fiber, is complex polysaccharides that are found in the cell walls and primary layer of plant tissues. Its main components are galacturonic acid and glucose, both sugars commonly found in plant cells. It was first discovered and defined in 1825 by French chemist Henri Braconnot.
Pectin can be separated into three categories depending on the method of extraction used: soluble, polysaccharides, and non-soluble fibers. Soluble pectin consists of 50% of the pectin content of fruits and vegetables. Pectin that is extracted using a steam distillation method yields plasma (mainly water) pectin beads. Beaded pectin does not include water but instead contains mucilage-like, cholesterol-like, fibrillar protein-like, or albumin components. The other two categories of pectin are polysaccharides and non-soluble fiber, which can be extracted through different methods.
Most pectin manufacturers process it through either powder or liquid ingredients. Although there are some companies that still process their pectin through pasteurization or through smokehouse conditions powder pectin remains the most popular form of processing. By powder-extraction, the particles are filtered through a sieve to remove smaller particles that are soluable. The solvents used in this process yield powdery products, which are further processed through various additional steps to produce gel-like and foam-like products.
Gel-like products formed from the solvents and washed off using a strong detergent are calling pectin and are available as gels, breads, cakes, and puddings. These products contain small quantities of pectin but high amounts of water content. As for the foam-like products, they have very little pectin and are rich in water, sugar, or starch. They are applied as additives to food such as sauces, custards, ice cream, meat, and fish, especially to those that have a lot of fruit content. In fact, fruit juices are often made with pectin to preserve them and for use as an alternative to fruit juice, when fruit juices are not readily available.
In the past, pectic acid was thought of as a buffer or preservative for the preservation of foods. In fact, it was used as a natural preservative because it is so similar to the sweetness of natural fruit, without any artificial processes. Because of its great preservation qualities, the ancient Romans favored using pectic acid as a food substance and even included it in their standard food list. The Romans were ahead of other civilizations in making use of pectin, even though the Chinese had already found ways of using it for preserving foods.
The benefits of pectin include its ability to retain moisture. It prevents the fruits from drying out after they have been picked. Some studies showed that there might be a link between pectin and prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is associated with diets rich in fiber and high levels of animal fat. However, this study has been disputed, and experts do not believe that the high pectin levels in meat caused the cancer.
There are also studies showing that there could be a link between pectin and colon cancer. The pectin in the orange and grapefruit contain fiber, which could help prevent colon cancer. Similarly, pectin could prevent or reduce the risk of colorectal cancer and breast cancer. Some studies also show that when pectin is added to the cereal or blended in with juice, that it could reduce the formation of blood clots.
Pectin can also be used for making jelly, jellies, ice creams, and sherbets. It can also be added as an ingredient to lip balms, facial balms, and eye gels. Jellies made with pectin are widely available today. For those who want to add the pectin to their diet, there are many juices, smoothies, and pills containing pectin that are available on the market.