Cornstarch and pectin are both thickeners used in recipes. The main difference is that cornstarch is a ground flour type thickener, you guessed it, made from corn and is the starch of the corn.
Pectin, on the other hand, is a water-soluble thickener made from again, you guessed it, fruits. Both have grandiose scientific chemical names but that is a basic explanation as neither is a chemical.
How do you substitute them for each other?
How Much Cornstarch Do I Substitute for Pectin?
Substituting cornstarch for pectin and vice versa depends on the recipe. There are some recipes in which one works better than the other. In some recipes, you cannot substitute one for the other as cornstarch really has no flavor at all while pectin has a slightly sweet taste.
Uses of Cornstarch and Pectin
Most pectin is derived from apples, oranges, and quinces, and unlike cornstarch, is best used to thicken puddings and gelatins that are not set up.
If using cornstarch to thicken a pudding or gelatin you will impart a floury taste to it, although the thickening will occur.
It is easier actually to substitute pectin for cornstarch, than vice versa. If a chili, stew, or gravy is not thick enough and you run out of cornstarch to thicken it, you can use pectin although the flavor will be sweeter but not overly sweet.
On the other hand, desserts and some other dishes really do not do well when cornstarch is substituted. The somewhat floury taste of cornstarch can make sweet dishes have an “off flavor” which is not what you are trying to achieve.
Jams and jellies are usually thickened with pectin and pectins also are used as a preservative of sorts in these recipes.
Most home cooks and store-bought jams and jellies rely on pectin for the thick consistency. However, it is better to have a watery jam or jelly than one that tastes floury!
How Much Cornstarch Can I Substitute for Pectin?
While it is not recommended to do so, there can be some cornstarch substituted in sweet desserts and jams and jellies but it requires some knowledge and also some judicious use of it.
To use cornstarch successfully in any sweet dish, especially jams and jellies in place of pectin, you need to do this during the cooking process.
Sugar MUST be added also and a tiny bit of cornstarch such as a quarter teaspoon should be added along with a quarter teaspoon of sugar.
The process is repeated until the proper consistency is reached. Jams and jellies burn quickly and cornstarch thickens more rapidly than pectin. Sugar also burns quickly so this takes a very cautious and deft approach.
You must stir quickly and taste frequently throughout the cooking process.
Pectin can come in either liquid or powder and is not just used in sweet recipes but can be added to tomato sauces to deter bitterness and thicken.
When used this way, measuring is not really necessary. You just use judgment and keep stirring and tasting.
Cornstarch can be preferred in all recipes as it is gluten-free and of course, sugar-free and healthier for those that are diabetic or need to cut back on sugar.
It is a super-water absorber though and less cornstarch will be needed in all recipes than pectin.
Cornstarch must be added slowly while liquids boil. It thickens liquids rather rapidly.
Adding extra liquid when too much cornstarch was added might assist in thinning out the cooking concoction but you can get caught in the “death spiral” of adding liquids, adding cornstarch, and repeating over and over.
4 Ways to Know How Much Cornstarch to Use for Pectin
1. Watch the mixture you are cooking carefully
Less is more with cornstarch. Since it becomes like glue rather quickly you can go from a nice consistency and just 1/10 of a teaspoon more and you have a gummy mess, especially with jams and jellies.
2. Know ahead of time how thick you want a mixture to be
Since you can use cornstarch and pectin in gravies and sauces also, cornstarch will thicken quickly and gravies and sauces must be poured so better a “too watery” gravy or sauce than one that stays congealed in your serving dish. Nothing is more embarrassing than having your gravy “plop” onto your meatloaf!
3. Remember the “pinch test” and employ it
These most seasoned cooks are aware of this type of test and use their fingers to add pinches of items. You can never remove too much of any ingredient, especially a thickener like cornstarch.
If you are used to using pectin as a thickener and try cornstarch use only a pinch at a time and whisk thoroughly after each addition. Cornstarch is more like a sponge than pectin, and a little goes a long way!
4. Do not deviate from the method of adding cornstarch
This means mixing the cornstarch with water and adding it a little at a time each time you add it. One tablespoon of cornstarch to a cup of cold water that has been whisked to remove lumps is how cornstarch must be added.
Even if using the “pinch test” explained above, adjust the water volume and the cornstarch volume accordingly before adding to any mixture if facing a stubborn concoction.
Can I Remove Lumps that Formed From Cornstarch While I Cooked?
It is possible and most cooks have done it somewhat successfully, but it is a tiring and rather frustrating endeavor. Each lump should be popped with a fork or knife and the cornstarch bubble will burst.
You must then keep whisking until the lumps, which are really bubbles or pockets of cornstarch are incorporated into the mixture. You may need to add a little more water in addition.
Even most professional chefs will advise that ensuring the coldest water possible and whisking before adding a cornstarch mixture will prevent lumps. Whisking and popping the lumps once they occur in a mixture is the only way to remove them after cooking.
Conclusion to How Much Cornstarch Do I Substitute for Pectin
You can read thousands of blogs and articles that say how easy it is to use cornstarch but most professional cooks will dispute this. While it is a great thickener it is more difficult to work with than pectin or even flour.
It is less healthy though than pectin and can cause overly thick jams, jellies, and gelatins. The formula for using it must be followed with the use of cold water.
Pectin must also be dissolved in cold water but is more water-soluble, therefore easier to incorporate into the water. In either case, practice makes perfect and that is what makes a good cook!
Frequently Asked Questions About How Much Cornstarch Do I Substitute for Pectin
I Cannot Find Pectin In My Stores. Why is That?
Not all stores carry pectin and many cooks are forced to use cornstarch. Cornstarch can be more affordable and therefore more available. You can order Pectin online if necessary but learning to use cornstarch correctly is an added bonus to any cook.
I Added Cornstarch Instead of Pectin and My Mixture is Lumpy. Why?
You must use the formula of one tablespoon of cornstarch whisked into a cup of cold water. This mixture MUST be added slowly and whisked completely also while cooking. Try not to allow the mixture to boil but rather have a slow simmer.