Fresh take on old recipe cuts down on sugar intake

Pepper juice infusion

Dear TEAM: I’m currently working on a batch of red pepper jelly and want to use considerably less sugar. When using Certo, how much can sugar be reduced before the product won’t gel? Does it help to boil it longer? — Betty Terschuur

Dear B.T.: Making jams and jellies with less sugar is timely because many individuals are trying to reduce the amount of sugar they are eating.

With all recipes using pectin, the ingredient amounts and cooking times must be carefully followed to ensure a good gel so the sugar cannot be reduced. Some older recipes using less sugar have a long cooking time but there is a loss of flavour and colour quality.

Traditional pectin recipes require the sugar specified in the recipe to produce a satisfactory gel. There are specially modified pectins that are labelled as light, less sugar needed or no sugar needed.

These pectin packages contain recipes that give options for the amount and type of sweetener that can be used.

The pectin types and brands cannot be interchanged in the recipes and some require no sugar at all.

For flavour, some sweetening is recommended for most jams and jellies.


Jelly options

The following recipe is a red pepper jelly made with Bernardin No Sugar Needed Fruit Pectin.

It is a jelly with a full-bodied pepper flavour along with a subtle hint of sweetness.

Dried crushed peppers add more heat if desired.

This jelly can be served on crackers on its own or with cream or goat cheese and can also be used as a glaze or a marinade on chicken or pork.

When I made this jelly, I added a teaspoon of dried crushed pepper flakes along with the vinegar and juice for a hotter flavour. I also used Splenda, which measures the same as sugar.

  1. It yields about three one cup (250 ml) jars of unsweetened jelly or four one cup (250 ml) jars of sweetened jelly.
  • 2 c. coarsely chopped, 500 mL 
red or green bell 
  • 3 1/2 c. white cranberry 875 mL 
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red 5 mL 
pepper flakes 
  1. In a blender or food processor, puree peppers with 1/2 cup (125 ml) cranberry juice. Combine pepper puree, remaining cranberry juice and red pepper flakes in a stainless steel saucepan.
  2. Bring to a full rolling boil, cover and remove from heat. Steep and cool about 30 minutes. Pour mixture into a dampened jelly bag or cheese cloth-lined sieve suspended over a deep container.
  3. Let drip at least one hour to collect pepper infusion. Measure four cups (1000 mL) and set aside.
  • 1/4 c. white balsamic 50 mL 
  • 1 pkg. Bernardin No Sugar 49 g Needed Fruit Pectin
  • 1/2 tsp. butter or margarine 2 mL 
(to reduce foaming), optional
  • 1/4 tsp. cardamom 1 mL
  • 1 1/2 c. granulated sugar 375 mL 
or Splenda
  • food colouring
  1. Place required number of clean 250 mL mason jars on a rack in a boiling water canner, cover jars with water and heat to a simmer (180 F/82 C). Set screw bands aside. Heat sealing discs in hot water (180 F/82 C). Keep jars and sealing discs hot until ready to use.
  2. Place the four cups (1,000 mL) of pepper infusion into a large, deep stainless steel saucepan, then add vinegar and cardamom. Stir in pectin until dissolved. Add butter, if using.
  3. Stir frequently and bring mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat.
  4. For no added sweetener jelly, boil one minute at a full rolling boil.
  5. For lightly sweetened jelly, gradually stir in sugar or sugar substitute sweetener. Return mixture to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down and boil one minute.
  6. Remove from heat and add a few drops of food colouring, if desired. Quickly ladle jelly into a hot jar to within 1/4 inch (0.5 cm) of top rim (head space). Wipe jar rim to remove food residue. Centre hot sealing disc on clean jar rim. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight. Return filled jar to rack in canner. Repeat for remaining jelly.
  7. Ensure that jars are covered by at least one inch (2.5 cm) of water. Cover canner and bring water to full rolling boil before starting to count processing time.
  8. At altitudes up to 1,000 feet (305 m), process jars 10 minutes. For elevations more than 1,000 feet (305 m), add 2 1/2 minutes extra boiling time for each additional 1,000 feet (305 m). When processing time is complete, remove canner lid, wait five minutes, then remove jars without tilting and place them upright on a protected work surface. Cool upright, undisturbed 24 hours. Do not tighten screw bands again.
  9. After cooling, check jar seals. Sealed discs curve downward and do not move when pressed. Remove screw bands, wipe and dry bands and jars. Store screw bands separately or replace loosely on jars, as desired. Label and store jars in a cool, dark place. For best quality, use home canned foods within one year.
  10. For jelly with a hotter punch, prepare pepper juice infusion with a slightly increased quantity of crushed pepper flakes, or substitute one or two chopped, seeded jalapeno peppers for a portion of the sweet peppers. In deciding how much to sweeten this jelly, consider that the hotter the taste the more sweetener you may need to counter the heat. If jalapeno peppers are added, you may not want to go sugar or sweetener free.
  11. Peppers are a low acid food so the vinegar is added to increase the acidity.
  12. Source: Ann Deobald is a home economist from Rosetown, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. Contact: