Many of us are in the annual canning frenzy as the summer bounty bursts forth. That means making jams, jellies, pickles and other treats for the long winter. Many recipes, like mustard pickles, pie fillings and sauces require the addition of a thickener. The product most widely cited in modern recipes goes by the brand name of ClearJel. What is ClearJel? How is it used in food preservation? What are the pros and cons? Let’s take a look.
ClearJel is a corn starch derivative sometimes called a “cooking starch”. It comes in two forms: regular and instant each with a specific purpose. Regular ClearJel requires heat to activate the starch which makes it the type used for canning purposes. Instant ClearJel will thicken without heat so it used for items such as fresh pie fillings. The product can be ordered online and bought at some stores like Misty Meadows in Conn.
The advantages of ClearJel over other thickeners like flour or regular corn starch are numerous. First, because it thickens upon cooling, it does not affect heat penetration during processing which is important from a safety point of view. It does not break down or become thin and liquids will not separate or curdle. And it’s shelf like is very good. It has no aftertaste, is less expensive than pectin and is neutral in terms of pH. The only disadvantage is that some people find it thickens too much. The University of Wisconsin food scientist recommends using 75% of the amount of recommended ClearJel to eliminate the problem.
ClearJel is good to lightly thicken relishes, sauces, salsas and mustard pickles. It can also be used instead of pectin in all jams and jellies that are cooked or frozen. The University of Washington suggests Substituting 7 tbsp ClearJel for regular pectin in cooked jams and jellies and 3-4 tbsp ClearJel for pectin in freezer jam. ClearJel does not dissolve easily so add a bit of sugar to it before mixing in. If using the product for a gravy, mix it with water first and then add the slurry to the liquid.
For canners and home cooks, ClearJel is a very effective thickening product that has many advantages and almost no disadvantages. It isn’t easy to find but is well worth the search. If you like a smooth, clear, stable, and tasteless approach to thinking jams, jellies, relishes, pie fillings or sauces, this is the product to add to your pantry.
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