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NancyH

Is Pectin Dangerous?

17 posts in this topic

A friend of mine, who makes wonderful jams, among other things, is considering eliminating pectin from her recipes after reading this:

"Most pectins have preservatives, including sodium or potassium benzoate. Preservatives are what are known as biocides. As an organic farmer and consumer, I don't want biocides in my food. According to Wikipedia ( http://www.facebook.com/l/;en.wikipedia.or...odium_benzoate) "in combination with ascorbic acid (vitamin C, E300), sodium benzoate and potassium benzoate may form benzene, a known carcinogen. Heat, light and shelf life can affect the rate at which benzene is formed." Seems like pectin is the last place you'd want to put any benzoates. No thanks!""

Does anyone know if this is true? Don't organic jams have pectins in them? Someone who knows, please educate us!


"Life is Too Short to Not Play With Your Food" (coined while playing with my food at Lolita).

My blog: Fun Playing With Food

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A friend of mine, who makes wonderful jams, among other things, is considering eliminating pectin from her recipes after reading this:

"Most pectins have preservatives, including sodium or potassium benzoate. Preservatives are what are known as biocides. As an organic farmer and consumer, I don't want biocides in my food. According to Wikipedia ( http://www.facebook.com/l/;en.wikipedia.or...odium_benzoate) "in combination with ascorbic acid (vitamin C, E300), sodium benzoate and potassium benzoate may form benzene, a known carcinogen. Heat, light and shelf life can affect the rate at which benzene is formed." Seems like pectin is the last place you'd want to put any benzoates. No thanks!""

Does anyone know if this is true? Don't organic jams have pectins in them? Someone who knows, please educate us!

I can't speak to the chemistry of commercially available pectins. I do know that some fruits contain natural pectins (e.g. apples). This being said, pectins are used in all sorts of commercially prepared foods and I haven't keeled over yet.


Steve Lebowitz

Doer of All Things

Steven Howard Confections

Slicing a warm slab of bacon is a lot like giving a ferret a shave. No matter how careful you are, somebody's going to get hurt - Alton Brown, "Good Eats"

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Checking my supply of pectin products, it looks like only the liquid pectin has sodium benzoate in it; the powdered ones I have on hand do not. (Most soft drinks do, however.) If it's something you're really worried about, you can make a pectin stock jelly out of apples and use it to beef up low-pectin fruit jams and so on. I just tried this for the first time (using the recipe in Christine Ferber's Mes Confitures), but I haven't actually used it yet, so I'm not sure how well it will work!


Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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UK Certo contains only water, pectin from apples, a touch of sodium citrate to balance the acidity and a sniff of SO2 as a preservative (like in bottled wine).

Hence it needs to be stored cool, refrigerated after opening, and used within 7 days.

http://www.certo.co.uk/FAQ.htm

The concerned friend might be interested to read this (quite short) piece about the quantities of benzene from sodium benzoate.

http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/about/153

The UK Food Standards Agency has stated that people would need to drink more than 20 litres of a drink containing benzene as an impurity to get the same level of exposure as from the environment.
I think there are better (or rather worse) things to worry about.

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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it's fear mongering at it's finest. there's no danger. A biocide implies that it actively kills something, whereas the mechanism of action of benzoates is to prevent or retard their growth. Typical use levels of sodium benzoate is in the tenths of a percent, and in order to revert to benzene, it needs to be exposed to ridiculous temperatures (far greater than your stove will achieve).

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Some other ways to avoid biocides:

-don't eat any salt

-don't eat anything that's been exposed to smoke

-don't eat any herbs, spices, onions, garlic, or other aromatic vegetables

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Some other ways to avoid biocides:

-don't eat any salt

-don't eat anything that's been exposed to smoke

-don't eat any herbs, spices, onions, garlic, or other aromatic vegetables

thats where I was headed, ha.

Seriously, as sebastion put it, we are talking about very very small amouts, so small that they're probably going through your system without even coming into contact with your body, being trapped inside the pectin.

If the benzoate is in the tenths of a percent of the pectin and you are only putting in about 1.5% or less of your specific jam, that decreases the amoutn of benzoate dramitically. I would assume a person would need to consume jams or jellies only with no other diet for decades, and still the effect would probably be nil, though I do think you would have diabetic problems.

-fear mongering-

there are far more and great things to fear. sounds like somebody needs a hobby :biggrin:


Edited by chiantiglace (log)

Dean Anthony Anderson

"If all you have to eat is an egg, you had better know how to cook it properly" ~ Herve This

Pastry Chef: One If By Land Two If By Sea

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Some other ways to avoid biocides:

-don't eat any salt

-don't eat anything that's been exposed to smoke

-don't eat any herbs, spices, onions, garlic, or other aromatic vegetables

Add to that list -- dont eat any fruits, vegetable or other plants. All plants produce endogenous pesticides to prevent or reduce their being consumed by pests. There are about 5,000-10,000 natural pesticides in our diet. Anyone who is interested in this can start by checking out a classic paper on this subject:

Ames et al, 1990. Dietary pesticides (99.99% all natural). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 87, 7777-7781.

Anyone concerned about exposure to benzene and wanting to reduce that exposure should first and foremost avoid proximity to automobiles, since exhaust is by far the largest source of exposure to humans. You wont avoid it altogether though since all outdoor air contains benzene, in concentrations ranging up to 30 parts per billion. This is actually much higher than the level of benzene found in drinks containing both ascorbic acid and sodium benzoate, which have rarely been found to contain levels of benzene above 5 parts per billion. See for instance:

http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodSafety/FoodCon...e/ucm055815.htm


"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

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There are several things going on here...

Pectin is merely a polysaccharide; like starch, or chitin, or cellulose. There is absolutely no danger in it.

Now, potassium benzoate, like all preservatives, is a biocide, and many consumer brands of pectin have preservatives mixed in with the pectin. Biocide is a very generic term that is described for any substance that kills microorganisms and pest. Preservatives preserve by killing off bacteria that would otherwise grow within your food and spoil it. Saying that because we in-avoidably consume a wide array of biocides and we shouldn't be concerned about any and all biocides is an oversimplification. The reality of course is that some biocides are worse *much worse* then others...

However, there is a rational intermediary between being terrorized by any and all food additives and being completely thoughtless of what we put in our foods. Recently, preservatives like sodium benzoate & potassium benzoate have come under attack with new concerns about food safety; if possible it would be advisable to avoid using pectin that has those preservatives mixed in. At this point there is evidence that suggests there is a public health problem with these preservatives, but at the same time its an unavoidable substance in our daily diet, and while we should avoid the unnecessary consumption of these chemical preservatives, we shouldn't vacillate ourselves over uncertain public health concerns.

Taking a tempered approach means we should utilize chemical preservatives when necessary and avoid them when not; jams are very susceptible to bacterial growth and spoilage, if you are making jams commercially its advisable to add a preservative to maintain a level of consistency for your product and improve shelf-life. If you are making jams for yourself, and are not worried about long shelf-life, or are confident in your own techniques that reduce the variables that contribute to spoilage, then there is nothing wrong with avoiding the use of chemical preservatives.

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There is lots of semi-informed stuff on the net about foods and additives. Bold assertions are made by people who know little and don't know what they don't know.

A great example is all the nonsense about glutamate being bad for those who are gluten sensitive. The sole basis for this concern is the similarity of the names of the compounds...not their structure or their activity.

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A great example is all the nonsense about glutamate being bad for those who are gluten sensitive. The sole basis for this concern is the similarity of the names of the compounds...not their structure or their activity.

Haha WOW, I have not ever heard/read anyone claiming that, but that is PREPOSTEROUS. Wow. I can't believe people are that stupid.

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Many of them are allowed to vote too. :rolleyes:

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Taking a tempered approach means we should utilize chemical preservatives when necessary and avoid them when not...

Absolutely.

My reasoning in this case: IF we assume that benzoate is especially harmful to people (I'm suspicous of this but open to the possibility), we're still dealing with a preservative used in minute amounts in pectin, which itself is used in minute amounts (fractions of a percent by weight) in jams and jellies, which themselves are usually served in small portions and eaten only occasionally.

So if we were going to crusade against preservatives in general, or benzoate in particular, pectin would be close to the bottom of my list of battles worth waging.

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