Pectin: The Enemy You Never Knew You Had

Pectin can be a problem for many liqueurs and infusions. I’ve seen an infusion of super market strawberries turn an attempt at Tequila Por Mi Amante into a wobbling jelly shot. I’ve seen over extracted infusions of cranberry develop little precipitated pectin flecks that looked sort of like mold. I’ve also been tempted by certain ingredients but shied away because of their pectin. There are tons of “trash” fruits out there that would make gorgeous liqueurs if their pectin could be removed.

I’d say the supreme example of pectin removal out there is the gorgeous beach plum gin from Greenhook Ginsmiths in Brooklyn. Most people would start making such a liqueur with a 40-45% alcohol gin, but they would develop a pectin problem. Pectin would be half way in solution and instantly clog any kind of filter it was run through. GreenHook (presumably) starts their liqueur with uncut gin straight from the still (or possibly cuts it only slightly), and after a long maceration, the pectin precipitates to the top as a floating scum that can be separated. With enough pectin separated, their liqueur can be polished with a filter. Using patience instead, Greenhook never has to centrifuge anything.

Many simple research papers detail the process of pectin removal and the ethanol precipitation technique is used on an industrial level to shock the pectin out of citrus peels so it can be collected and refined for other uses.

Recently I had come across Aronia, another high pectin fruit. I was given sugared and steam extracted Aronia juice to explore. Steam extraction, because of the heat, yields a juice with a higher pectin content than other juicing methods like basket pressing. I never worked with the fruit itself so I’m not sure what forms of juicing are viable or if the best product would be created by infusion with ethanol then pressing (and possibly careful distillation of the press cake to start the next batch).

I calculated the amount of ethanol it would take to bring the juice to 20% ethanol with the 95.2% ethanol Technical Reserve from Industry City Distillery in Brooklyn. The spirits were floated on top of the juice and a blob of pectin appeared at the point separating the juice and ethanol. Once the mixture was better integrated, large blobs of pectin would appear as the liquid was swirled around the canning jar. Ultimately, I chilled and centrifuged the liqueur for 20 minutes at 4000 G’s. A significant amount of pectin was left behind on the bottom of the centrifuge cups, but some remained in the liquid. I had no significant volume to go through a conventional filter so I sent it through my Acme centrifugal juicer lined with coffee filters. The resultant liqueur could be swirled in a glass with no globules of pectin appearing. The pectin free character of Aronia is particularly beautiful.

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To take the technique further and try to inspire others to go into the liqueur business, I thought I’d take some jams, jellies, and marmalades and see if I could convert them into liqueurs. I didn’t just want people to see orange peels turned into orange liqueur, I wanted them to see their own orange peels converted into orange liqueur. A bar regular gives me more Seville orange marmalade every year than I can possibly use. I took a portion of her marmalade and blended it with Technical Reserve. The idea is for the ethanol to pull all the flavor from the liquid bound in the pectin and make parting with the pectin very easy. The pectin was able to be centrifuged away and refined by a filter.

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Why go to the trouble? Yes I know a scoop of Marmalade can be delicious in a drink. It is primarily an nth degree exercise so when pectin is encountered in other contexts you will have more ideas of how to deal with it.

IMG_4979A delicious Pegu Club with the orange liqueur.

What about enzymes? Methanol is an unfortunate byproduct of the enzymatic breakdown of pectin. So its best to brute force as much of the pectin out of solution as possible plus trying the filter before resorting to enzymes. It might also be best to immobilize the enzymes (pectinex) in alginate beads so they can easily be removed and reused, but more on this in the future.

Who else specifically could we inspire to make some liqueurs? There is a Trappist monastery call St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, MA and they help finance the monastery by selling jams (they also just recently started making a Trappist ale). They produce a Damson plum jam whose fruit I presume they grow themselves. Pectin removal techniques make it possible to convert their jam into a Damson plum gin. The gin I used was an 80% alcohol hopped gin and it was added 1:1 with the jam. It was centrifuged and filtered with satisfactory pectin removal. The results are fun but it would be nice to increase the concentration slightly. Some of the freshest notes might have also been lost when the fruit was cooked by the monks. But all in all, it was a fun to drink success that hopefully will inspire people to look at their fruits differently now that alcohol laws are changing and its easier to become a licensed farmer/distiller.

IMG_49841 oz. Amrut two Indies rum
1 oz. hopped Damson plum gin
1 oz. lime juice
.5 oz. Campari
dual float of 151 & Mezcal

One more thing to note is that it is hard to keep track of where you are in terms of alcohol and sugar content. A portion of the product will have to be sacrificed to measure those variables and parameters possibly adjusted for the next batch to hit certain targets.

6 thoughts on “Pectin: The Enemy You Never Knew You Had

  1. When I was doing experiments dehydrating liqueurs, I suspected that liqueurs containing pectin gummed up the sugar and were the cause of them not crystallizing like other liqueurs without pectin-containing ingredients.

    Do you think adding PectinX to those liqueurs would fix that problem? I have a centrifuge but it’s a tiny one and I’m already starting with liqueurs.

    Camper

  2. Hi Camper.

    I suspect you were not encountering pectin at all. you were probably encountering invert sugars that would not crystalize. I know with sugar cane they try and harvest and press as fast as possible to maximize easily crystalizable sugar before it starts to invert and not crystalize. other factors effecting your results could be trace amounts of surfactants like glycerins that are used to keep terpenes in solution which would otherwise cloud or separate.

    I’m wary of enzymes like pectinex. they are seductive and well hyped but probably not helpful to a liqueur. the beach plum liqueur is absolutely gorgeous and I’m pretty sure uses no enzymes.

  3. Andries van der Walt July 30, 2015 — 11:19 am

    Having just read the article about pectin, I have an interesting problem.
    I have unsuccessfully tried to ferment tangerines that have been whole fruit (skins and everything) mashed. Something inhibits fermentation, my suspicion is that it is either the citrus oils or the pectin. I assume that it is not a pH problem (pH of 3.4) or a lack of fermentable sugars. Do you have any ideas?

  4. from what I’ve read, your problem is likely from the citrus oils in the peels. I have a post that contains the selected writings of Jamaican fermentation chemist S.F. Ashby and he has a section on making orange wine that explains the phenomenon.

    http://bostonapothecary.com/selected-writings-of-fermentation-chemist-s-f-ashby/

    cheers! -Stephen

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