For Better Living: Food Preservation Without Sugar

Canning Fruit

Recipes for canning fruit usually call for adding sugar or sugar syrup. While sugar helps hold the texture, shape and color of fruit, it is primarily added for flavor. It is not needed to prevent spoilage. You can safely can all fruits in water or in fruit juice by following reliable canning directions for preparing and processing the fruit. Substitute water or fruit juice for the syrup or sugar pack.

When canning without sugar, use high quality fruit. Overripe fruit will soften excessively. Take special care to follow steps that prevent darkening of light-colored fruit. Several treatments may be used to prevent fruit from darkening. One is to coat the fruit as it is cut with a solution of 1 teaspoon (3 g) crystalline ascorbic acid or 3,000 mg crushed vitamin C tablets per cup of water. Another is to drop the cut pieces in a solution of water and ascorbic acid, citric acid or lemon juice. Use 1 teaspoon (3,000 mg) ascorbic acid, 1 teaspoon citric acid or 3/4 cup lemon juice to 1 gallon water. Commercial products may also be purchased to prevent darkening.

For best results, prepare fruits to be canned without sugar using hot-pack methods. However, use water or regular unsweetened fruit juices instead of a sugar syrup. Juice made from the fruit being canned works well. To prepare, bring thoroughly ripe, crushed fruit to a simmer over low heat. Strain through a clean jelly bag or cloth. Blends of unsweetened apple, pineapple and white grape juice also are good filling over solid fruit pieces.

Another way to cut back on calories is to substitute plain water for the sugar syrup. This reduces the calorie content of canned fruit by approximately 280 calories per pint.

Adjust headspace and add lids. Process jars of fruit packed with water or fruit juice as for fruits packed with syrup. Use USDA recommended procedures and timetables that have been adjusted for altitude.

Freezing Fruit

All fruits may be frozen without added sugar. Sugar is not needed for the preservation of frozen fruits, but it does help the fruit maintain quality longer.

Berries and fruits such as cherries, plums, dates, grapes, melon balls and pineapple chunks that do not darken when exposed to air are best frozen in single layers on trays, then packed into freezing bags or containers. These fruits may be served partially thawed, giving some juice, but with some frozen firmness still remaining in the fruit itself.

Light-colored fruits such as apples, peaches and apricots freeze well in unsweetened juice or water. Pack them in rigid containers, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace for square pint containers and 1 inch for quart containers. Retard darkening of light-colored fruits by one of the methods discussed on canning fruit without sugar. Artificial sweeteners, if available, may be added to the water in an amount equal in sweetness to a sugar-sweetened syrup. Make a small batch to test for acceptability before freezing large quantities.

Preserving Jams and Jellies

Sugar helps in gel formation, serves as a preserving agent, and contributes to the flavor of jams and jellies. It also has a firming effect on fruit, a property useful in making preserves.

Jams and jellies can be made somewhat satisfactorily without added sugar but tend to resemble more of gelatin-fruited dessert than a true jam or jelly. Such products generally are sweetened with a non-nutritive sweetener and gelled with unflavored gelatin or modified pectin. Jams with less sugar than usual also may be made with concentrated fruit pulp that contains less liquid and less sugar.

Two types of modified pectin are available for home use. One gels with one-third less sugar. The other is a low-methoxyl pectin that requires a source of calcium for gelling.

To prevent spoilage, process jars of low-sugar jams and jellies longer in a boiling water-bath canner than regular jams or jellies. Carefully follow recipes and processing times provided with each modified pectin product. Altering the proportion of acids and fruits may result in spoilage. Low-sugar jams and jellies also may be stored in the refrigerator for use within three to four weeks or in the freezer for longer storage.

Note: Sugar-free jams and jellies contain the carbohydrate that is naturally present in the fruit. Commercial low-calorie jelling mixes may provide additional carbohydrates in the form of maltodextrin or other saccharides. Jams and jellies made with artificial sweeteners and unflavored gelatin or added pectin generally provide 8 to 12 calories (2 to 3 grams carbohydrate) per tablespoon. Those made with a commercial low-calorie jelling mixture such as maltodextrin provide 16 to 20 calories (4 to 5 grams carbohydrates) per tablespoon.

Reduced-Calorie Peach-Pineapple Spread

4 cups drained peach pulp (procedure below)

2 cups drained, unsweetened crushed pineapple

1/4 cup bottled lemon juice

2 cups sugar (optional)

Note: This recipe may be made with any combination of peaches, nectarines, apricots and plums, and without sugar or with as little as 2 cups.

Yield: 5 to 6 half-pints

Procedure: Thoroughly wash 4 to 6 pounds of firm, ripe peaches. Drain well. Peel and remove pits. Grind fruit flesh with a medium or coarse blade, or crush with a fork (do not use a blender). Place ground or crushed fruit in a 2-quart saucepan. Heat slowly to release juice, stir constantly until fruit is tender. Place cooked fruit in a jelly bag or strainer lined with four layers of cheesecloth. Allow juice to drip about 15 minutes. Save the juice for jelly or other uses.

Measure 4 cups of drained fruit pulp for making spread. Combine the 4 cups of pulp, pineapple and lemon juice in a 4-quart saucepan. Add up to 2 cups of sugar, if desired, and mix well. Heat and boil gently for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir enough to prevent sticking.

Fill half-pint or pint jars quickly, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace. Wipe rims; adjust lids and process in a boiling water bath. Process half-pints for 20 minutes at 1,001 to 6,000 feet or 25 minutes at 6,001 to 10,000 feet. Process pints for 25 minutes at 1,001 to 3,000 feet, 30 minutes at 3,001 to 6,000 feet, 35 minutes at 6,001 to 8,000 feet, or 40 minutes at 8,001 to 10,000 feet.

Remove jars from canner and cool overnight upright on a rack or towel. Label and store in cool, dark, dry place.

Refrigerated Low-Calorie Grape Jelly With Gelatin

2 Tbsp unflavored gelatin powder

1 bottle (24 oz) unsweetened grape juice

2 Tbsp bottled lemon juice

2 Tbsp liquid artificial sweetener, to equal 1 cup sugar (read label if substituting dry artificial sweetening agent)

Yield: 3 half-pints

Procedure: In a saucepan, soften gelatin in the grape and lemon juices. Bring to a full rolling boil to dissolve gelatin. Boil 1 minute and remove from heat. Stir in sweetener. Pour quickly into hot, sterile half-pint jars, leave 1/4 inch of headspace. Adjust lids. Do not process or freeze — store in refrigerator and use within four weeks.

Source: University of Colorado Cooperative Extension

—Sandra Cain cna be reached by calling 910-862-4591.