Kathy’s Corner: Tips for low sugar food preservation
By Kathy Riggs
Though living in an area where home food preservation is prevalent, not everyone shares the same passion to “put up” or preserve fresh fruits due to the added sugar—especially in syrups used to cover fruit and aid in gelling fruit preserves. The good news is that those who prefer eating less sugar or who must consume less sugar due to dietary restrictions, are not without options.
Before discussing other sweeteners, however, it is important to realize that sugar has several purposes in canning fruits including helping fruit retain color and texture. Syrup made with granulated sugar and water is most common for covering fruit prior to processing to preserve color and keeps the texture of the fruit firm. In addition, sugar is used in jams, jellies and other fruit spreads (e.g. butters) to help form the gel (along with pectin) and after processing allows the end product to become shelf stable (does not require refrigeration).
According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHP), using Splenda® instead of sugar should work as a sugar substitute for syrup recipes used in canning fruits because the product is heat-stable. Some people, however, have reported an aftertaste when it has been used in various products, so it’s possible for flavor to change during storage.
When looking for a sweetener to use in jams and jellies, you could also use Splenda® as the optional sweetener in recipes made with a no-sugar needed pectin (low-methoxyl) for flavor.
Also, sometimes a combination of sweeteners is used to change the flavor of the product. For example, light corn syrup may be used to replace up to 50% of the sugar in a jam/jelly recipe that also calls for commercial pectin.
Other natural sweeteners
While fruit can be canned with no sugar added, it is especially important to use fully ripe, firm fruit for best flavor. The use of a pre-treatment using an antioxidant such as ascorbic acid will result in better color when no sugar is used. Consider also that though fruit being prepared for canning can be either hot packed or cold packed, hot packing is preferred to extract the natural liquid and flavor from the fruit.
Unsweetened fruit can be packed in jars and covered with any of the following liquids: use water, the fruit’s own juice, or other unsweetened juice.
Considering reports mentioned above, it’s better not to add artificial sweeteners before canning because they may change the flavor. If you want to sweeten your canned fruit with an artificial sweetener, add it when you serve it.
Although not a sweetener, Clear Jel® is a modified food starch that serves as a thickening agent with similar gelling/thickening properties of sugar in jams and jellies. It also is the recommended ingredient to thicken canned pie fillings. It is heat stable and will not break down over time as do cornstarch, tapioca, and flour. Specific low sugar recipes using this product in jams and jellies as well as pie fillings are available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, www.nchfp.uga.edu . The product can be ordered on-line, is available at some specialty kitchen supply stores, and some County Extension offices.
If you have further questions regarding home canning and other methods of food preservation, contact your local USU Extension Office.
Kathleen Riggs is the Utah State University Extension family and consumer sciences professor for Iron County. Questions or comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 435-586-8132.