What Is Pectin? Is It Vegan?

A guide to pectin as part of a vegan diet: uses and what products to avoid.

Pectin powder with marmalade on wooden cutting board
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Have you ever spotted “pectin” on a list of ingredients and wondered whether or not it’s vegan (or, even, what it is)? Although not exactly a household name, pectin is actually completely plant-based and used in many different products found throughout kitchens and grocery stores around the world.

Technically speaking, pectin refers to the soluble fiber that’s found in most non-woody plants, particularly apples, plums, apricots, and citrus peels or pulp. The ingredient is commonly added to foods as a thickener, especially in jams, jellies, and preserves. Most of the commercially available pectin you see in stores—in either powdered or liquid form—is produced from either apple pulp or citrus skins.

Treehugger Tip

Pectin can be used as a vegan substitution for gelatin, which is derived from the skin, bones, and tissues of animals or fish. Gelatin doesn’t need sugar or acid in order to form a gel, unlike pectin, which is why it’s often used in a wider range of products.

Dried gelatin and dried pectin both produce thick, gel-like consistencies when exposed to water (only pectin is unique in that it comes entirely from plants).

Why Pectin Is Vegan

Powered or liquid pectin is made up mostly of carbs and is extracted from within the cell walls of fruits and vegetables, where it helps maintain strength and flexibility. It is considered one of the most complex macromolecules in nature (molecules that contain a large number of atoms, like protein) and is usually extracted from citrus fruits using chemical or enzymatic methods.

Fruits and vegetables that have a firmer texture will generally have high pectin levels while those with softer consistencies have lower levels. Additionally, produce that is ripe will have lower pectin levels than unripe ones.

You’re more likely to find pectin extract included in sweets and candies, since it needs sugar to create the gelatinous texture. Fruits that naturally produce high levels of pectin on their own, such as citrus, will need less added sugar and pectin extract to make products like jelly and jam. In contrast, fruits with lower levels of natural pectin will need more of both.

Did You Know?

Researchers are exploring the use of pectin as a sustainable food packaging material due to its natural flexibility and biodegradability, and it's been found to be strong enough to serve as a barrier to moisture and oil.

Products to Avoid That Include Pectin

Person shopping for yogurt at the grocery store
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While pectin is primarily used as a gelling agent and stabilizer in the food industry, it is also sometimes used as an emulsifier (acting as a surface agent to keep the solution mixed together). So, although pectin in itself is vegan, it might show up in products with other non-vegan ingredients—especially when it's used for protein stabilization in dairy-based desserts.

Pectin is sometimes also used as a fat or sugar replacement in processed, low-fat foods. Think custards, flavored milk, reduced-fat cheese, and drinkable yogurt.

Vegan-Friendly Products That Include Pectin

Apricot preserves made with pectin
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Pectin is typically labeled by name, but it is sometimes listed as E440 or even E440(i) and E440(ii) to distinguish its chemical composition. This plant-based polysaccharide is primarily used to thicken jelly, jam, preserves, and marmalade, but it also has applications in products like jellied cranberry sauce, jello, and gummy candies.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Can I make my own pectin?

    Homemade pectin is relatively simple to make. Most recipes require boiling and simmering a mixture of water and chopped fruits that are naturally high in pectin, before straining through a cheesecloth or jelly bag.

    Homemade pectin doesn’t last as long as the powdered or liquid forms you buy at the store, however, so it’s best used right away.

  • Is there pectin in non-dairy yogurt?

    There are non-dairy yogurt brands that use pectin as a thickening agent and many homemade yogurt recipes use pectin to make it more creamy without the dairy.

  • Is there pectin in cough drops?

    Yes, some brands of cough drops use pectin to coat the throat and reduce irritation and swelling, often as an alternative to honey or menthol.