Friday, June 22, 2012

Q & A: Homemade low-sugar jam for diabetes

Photo courtesy of USDA and National Center for Home Food Preservation

Q:   Is there a way to make homemade jam for family members with diabetes? M.P. Grandville, MI

A:   Summer is a great time to take advantage of the fresh local fruit, and preserving them for winter eating.  Yes, there are a number of options for making low-sugar jam from fresh seasonal fruit.   According to Michigan State University Extension, making low-sugar types of jams and jellies is a different process and requires specific recipes. It usually does not work to “wing it” and use regular pectin with less sugar, because the jam will not turn out. Food science (chemistry) is a balance between ingredients.  Bet you never thought of your kitchen as a food laboratory, did you?
Here are the options for making low-sugar jams:

Option 1:  Buy the “low sugar” or “light” pectin at the grocery store, and follow the directions on the package insert for best results. This is a different type of pectin (low methoxyl) that thickens jam with a lot less sugar.  In our area, I have seen a light version of Sure Jel and Mrs. Wage’s pectin.  In my opinion, this method has the best flavor.

Option 2: Use regular pectin and add an artificial sweetener.  Use the recipe in the regular pectin for this and follow directions. Some artificial sweeteners such as aspartame do not retain their sweetness in a mixture like this for more than three to four months; don’t plan on it for long-term storage.

Option 3: Use unflavored gelatin as a thickener, by following specific recipes (a couple of recipes using this method are available from the National Center for Home Food Preservation website). This jam must be kept refrigerated.

Option 4:  Boiling or simmering fruit pulp until it thickens and resembles jam. This is similar to the traditional way apple butter is made.

These types of jams have about 5 grams carbohydrate per tablespoon.  Even though you may still be using sugar in the low-sugar jams, it is significantly less sugar, and the carbohydrate content is similar to the light jams available at the grocery store.

Remember, there is also carbohydrate (natural sugar) in the fruit itself, so even if you opted to make a jam with no added sugar, you cannot call it carbohydrate-free or sugar-free.

For those of you who have no time or desire to make your own low-sugar jam, there are some nice options available at the grocery store. I have seen store brand “all fruit” spreads, Smucker’s low-sugar jam, and others. We like the E.D. Smith brand of “More Fruit” preserves (half the calories of regular preserves) found at Costco. There are 6 grams of carbohydrate in one tablespoon (compared to 13 in standard jam).

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