Difference between: gelatin and pectin

Gelatin versus pectin: what is the difference between these two thickening agents?

As always, let us start at the beginning, with their definitions. Be forewarned that they will not put you in the mood for eating.

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Definitions:

  • Gelatin: a nearly transparent, faintly yellow, odorless, and almost tasteless glutinous substance obtained by boiling in water the ligaments, bones, skin, etc., of animals, and forming the basis of jellies, glues, and the like; an edible jelly made of this substance
  • Pectin: a white, amorphous, colloidal carbohydrate of a high molecular weight occurring in ripe fruits, especially in apples, currants, etc., and used in fruit jellies, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics for its thickening and emulsifying properties and its ability to solidify to a gel

We can conclude from the definitions alone that the primary difference between gelatin and pectin is that one is derived from animals, and the other is fruit or plant-based, respectively. Both are elements that thicken, gel, or otherwise provide stability for foods and additional products. And, both are available in powdered or liquid form.

Although the definition mentions pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, when it comes to food, pectin is mostly used just with jams and jellies; gelatin is found in many different kinds of foods, such as yogurt, marshmallows, certain desserts, and more.

Of course, because gelatin is a protein that comes from an animal it is not an viable option for vegetarians or vegans. Oddly, at one point it was supposedly even derived from horse hooves.

According to DifferenceBetween.net, the best gelatin comes from the first processing of a pigskin. “This gelatin has a great gelling capacity and is almost clear. It also has a mild flavor.”

Indeed, gelatin typically does not have any taste to it at all. Pectin is often neutrally flavored as well. Although, it can have an affect on the taste – using pectin in the powdered form can reduce the overall cooking time, allowing natural fruit flavors to shine through.

While gelatin is a protein, pectin is a carbohydrate. Pectin can be found in the rinds and pulps of fresh fruits such as apples and oranges – it is what holds the fibers of the fruits together. In fact, pectin is actually found in all fruits, but the amount can vary.

As mentioned before, pectin is almost always used with the production of jams and jellies.

Here is my question: Can you substitute gelatin for pectin in said jams and jellies? Canning is a complex process that requires following directions and ingredients to a tee in order to ensure a safe food product. Substituting ingredients with canning must be done carefully, if at all.

According to Food In Jars, no, you cannot use gelatin in jelly-making (although they do not specify jam).

Colorado State University Extension (I imagine the organization is similar to Cornell’s Cooperative Extensions here in New York State) implies that you can in fact use gelatin in place of pectin: “Jams and jellies can be made somewhat satisfactorily without added sugar but tend to resemble more of a gelatin-fruited dessert than a true jam or jelly. Such products generally are sweetened with unflavored gelatin, gums, or modified pectin.”

My Substitutions Bible, strangely, mentions using pectin and gelatin together: use 4 tsp powdered pectin and 1 tbsp unflavored gelatin powder or granules in place of liquid pectin.

I also consulted my Ball Blue Book of Canning, which made absolutely no mention of gelatin at all as far as I could find.

However, they do give us a few fun facts on pectin:

  • Under-ripe fruits contain more pectin than fully-ripe fruits.
  • Many recipes require the peel and core to be used when preparing fruit for a juice, because the pectin is amassed in these areas.
  • There are three types of pectin that are not interchangeable: classic, liquid, and low or no-sugar needed.

Based on the aforementioned information on substituting gelatin for pectin it would appear that it is a safe swap to make, in terms of canning. However, one would have to bear in mind that such a change-out could affect the end product in terms of flavor and gelling consistency. 

If you would like to check out the difference between jams, jellies, and preserves, we have a Difference Between for that.

8 thoughts on “Difference between: gelatin and pectin

  1. Thanks for the post. Exactly what I was looking for. I can’t find gmo free pectin, but I do have gmo free gelatin.

      1. Hi Neal – Unfortunately it’s more complicated than that. After doing a bit more reading, it looks like subbing one for another in jams and jellies is okay, and there is info on that here.

        But if it’s something other than jams or jellies you’re making it’s not recommended to make a substitution.

  2. My family has been using gelatin to make jams and preserves for decades, however, these are often made and then stored in the fridge or frozen. I have found gelatin to have a lower melting point than pectin. My family grows much of their own produce. Great Grandma would make Mock Strawberry Preserves using fresh Figs, Sugar and Strawberry Jello. My Aunt makes Muscadine grape jelly by simmering fresh whole grapes in a pan until they are soft and mushy. She mashes them, adds sugar to taste, then adds gelatin or grape jello so you don’t need as much sugar. Now, muscadine grapes have thick shells and are nothing like table grapes, they have more naturally occurring pectin and don’t really need anything added to them, it just lowers the overall sugar level and makes it set faster. Figs, from my experience, are quite soft and need a firming agent to get them to gel, and in this case, jello is a good sub.

  3. Can you use pectin instead of gelatin in making bird seed feeders? How much liquid do you use to mix a pack of pectin for this, if possible? Thanks

    1. Hi Deb – I’m afraid I do not know the answer to that. I’d recommend reaching out to someone more bird-knowledgeable. You could try the ladies who work at this bird/nature store local to me, I interviewed them for a birding article once, their website is here: http://saratogasprings.wbu.com/ Hope that helps!

  4. I have a envelope of unflavored gelatin and 1 box of pectin. If I am making layered jello can I add pectin to the unflavored gelatin and get the same “wiggly” texture like the other layers? If so how much pectin would I add to the gelatin?

    1. Hi Sally – I apologize for the late response, I’m currently on a maternity leave and checking my site less often. Yes, I do believe you can add pectin to the gelatin and get the same kind of consistency. According to The Food Substitutions Bible, you would substitute 2 tbsp liquid pectin with 1 tbsp unflavored gelatin powder or granules.

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