I hope that all you lovebirds had a nice Valentine’s Day. I did. I mentioned last week on Facebook that after my hand mixer died, Jay got me an even better, more awesomer kick-ass KitchenAid model for V-Day! Well its pretty dope; I can’t wait to use it. But that day I got a surprise delivery of some gorgeous red roses/white lilies with chocolates in a beautiful set of fancy boxes, too. I hope you all got equally kick-ass gifts. But more importantly, I hope you don’t need a specific day to show/tell someone you love them or buy them nice things, but I digress. Today’s recipe: low-sugar strawberry jam, made with just one half cup of real sugar. How sweet… or half sweet? Semi sweet? Warning: this is going to be a long post, full of information. But if you’re diabetic/know someone who is, if you’re interested in low-sugar canning or if you’re just interested in natural sugar substitutes in general, then read on. Even if you’re interested in making any kind of jam or jelly using a low-sugar pectin… then this post is for you!
A long, long time ago, back in early April of 2011, I received an e-mail from the folks at Xylitol USA asking me if I’d like to try baking with Xylitol. I had heard of it vaguely, but I didn’t know much about it. It intrigued me, so I said yes, I was very interested. I had forgotten all about it, and ironically, the day my uncle Pat was buried, I came home to find a box on my front steps. That box was the Xylitol delivery..The odd thing about that is that my uncle had diabetes for 40 years, and had lost his eyesight and was on dialysis for 12 years because of it. So to receive a diabetic-safe sugar substitute on the day I had to say goodbye to him was a strange little sign to me. So, Uncle Pat, you aren’t able to take part in this little experiment with me, but I know you probably got a kick out of the coincidence of all of it and you’re somewhere eating ALL the sugar-packed desserts & carbs you want without a care.
(Side note: this is why people talking shit about Paula Deen & her diabetes piss me off. Stop saying people deserve a disease- no matter what the reasoning, no matter what the disease- it’s hurtful, ignorant & insulting. And if you say it in front of me, I’ll knock your teeth out. Especially as someone whose lost an uncle & grandfather no thanks to diabetes & has a mother who is a breast cancer survivor. If you have an issue with her pushing a drug, that’s a different debate. But nobody deserves a disease this debilitating & potentially life-threatening, no matter what they do. And yes, it is indeed a life-threatening disease. It can be managed, but ultimately diabetes most likely will take your life. And honestly, if you don’t like her or her recipes, fine… then don’t watch her show & mind your own goddamn business.)
Okay now that I got that off my chest: back to Xylitol. Xylitol is actually really interesting.
Xylitol (from Greek ξύλον – xyl[on], “wood” + suffix -itol, used to denote sugar alcohols; pronounced /ˈzaɪlɪtɒl/) is a sugar alcohol sweetener used as a naturally occurring sugar substitute. It is found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables, including various berries, corn husks, oats, and mushrooms. It can be extracted from corn fiber, birch, raspberries, plums, and corn. Xylitol is roughly as sweet as sucrose with only two-thirds the food energy.
Xylitol was discovered almost simultaneously by German and French chemists in the late 19th century, and was first popularized in Europe as a safe sweetener for people with diabetes that would not impact insulin levels. Its dental significance was researched in Finland in the early 1970s, when scientists at Turku University showed it had significant dental benefits. Today, using hardwood or maize sources, the largest manufacturer globally is the Danish company Danisco, with several other suppliers from China. Xylitol is produced by hydrogenation of xylose, which converts the sugar (an aldehyde) into a primary alcohol.
And for my purposes today, Xylitol is used as a sugar substitute for diabetics…
Diabetes mellitus, often simply referred to as diabetes—is a group of metabolic diseases in which a person has high blood sugar, either because the body does not produce enough insulin, or because cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced. This high blood sugar produces the classical symptoms of polyuria (frequent urination), polydipsia (increased thirst) and polyphagia (increased hunger).
There are three main types of diabetes:
- Type 1 diabetes: results from the body’s failure to produce insulin, and presently requires the person to inject insulin. (Also referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, IDDM for short, and juvenile diabetes.)
- Type 2 diabetes: results from insulin resistance, a condition in which cells fail to use insulin properly, sometimes combined with an absolute insulin deficiency. (Formerly referred to as non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, NIDDM for short, and adult-onset diabetes.)
- Gestational diabetes: is when pregnant women, who have never had diabetes before, have a high blood glucose level during pregnancy. It may precede development of type 2 DM.
Other forms of diabetes mellitus include congenital diabetes, which is due to genetic defects of insulin secretion, cystic fibrosis-related diabetes, steroid diabetes induced by high doses of glucocorticoids, and several forms of monogenic diabetes.
All forms of diabetes have been treatable since insulin became available in 1921, and type 2 diabetes may be controlled with medications. Both type 1 and 2 are chronic conditions that usually cannot be cured. Pancreas transplants have been tried with limited success in type 1 DM; gastric bypass surgery has been successful in many with morbid obesity and type 2 DM. Gestational diabetes usually resolves after delivery. Diabetes without proper treatments can cause many complications. Acute complications include hypoglycemia, diabetic ketoacidosis, or nonketotic hyperosmolar coma. Serious long-term complications include cardiovascular disease, chronic renal failure, retinal damage. Adequate treatment of diabetes is thus important, as well as blood pressure control and lifestyle factors such as smoking cessation and maintaining a healthy body weight.
As of 2000 at least 171 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes, or 2.8% of the population. Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common, affecting 90 to 95% of the U.S. diabetes population.
The box, in addition to having a 1lb bag of Xylitol, also included a cookbook filled with recipes for cheesecakes & buttercreams and muffins and cookies! Xylitol is perfect for using in making baked goods or even jams & jellies for diabetics:
Possessing approximately 40% less food energy, xylitol is a low-calorie alternative to table sugar. Absorbed more slowly than sugar, it does not contribute to high blood sugar levels or the resulting hyperglycemia caused by insufficient insulin response. This characteristic has also proven beneficial for people suffering from metabolic syndrome, a common disorder that includes insulin resistance, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and an increased risk for blood clots.
So pretty much, as excited as I was to try it, after my uncle died my spring/summer was a landslide of drama & the Xylitol got pushed to the back of the pantry. Besides- he was the person I was curious about the Xylitol because of, and he wasn’t here to try any of my experiments with it anymore. Then my grandma passed away, and it was further forgotten. Until recently. Recently, Jay asked me to make some jam for his grandma, who’s diabetic. I said sure, but I didn’t want to make her a full-sugar jam (obviously) so I needed to get a low-sugar or sugar-free pectin. I’d heard really good things about Pomona’s Universal Pectin (which requires no sugar at all to jell but instead is activated by calcium), but I couldn’t find it for the life of me! And I had a hard time finding most of the other low/no-sugar pectin options, if you can believe it. I did have my heart set on Pomona’s, though. And then… ta-da! The natural market by my house had a display of it.
It’s a little different from regular ol’ Certo or Sure-Jell. But not that hard. The calcium water thing seems intimidating at first, but in all honesty it’s really pretty easy to get the hang of. Just an extra step. In my jam I used 50% sugar & 50% Xylitol (for a total of 1 cup; mainly I used real sugar to help keep the color nice & keep it shelf stable & fresh for longer). If you’re going to make a smaller batch, or eat it quicker, you don’t even have to worry about that. However I was concerned that she wouldn’t get around to eating 2 pints of jam within a reasonable amount of time; not to mention I didn’t want the jam to look faded or be too blah. Better safe than sorry. Anyway Jay’s grandma likes strawberry jam, so that’s what she got (remember when I mentioned strawberries & a little experiment I was doing?). I got 2 pounds of gorgeous strawberries for $2.50 at the fruit stand by my house. They were so beautiful, which is rare this time of year. Usually the pickin’s are slim when it comes to nice fresh fruit that isn’t in season. Although Florida is right in it’s strawberry growing season now, & that’s where these are from. I’m just not used to seeing such a nice selection of them here.
The recipe is from Pomona’s; it comes in the box of pectin. Super easy, very quick, and you can use any sugar substitute that measures like sugar (Splenda, Xylitol, etc) to make it sugar-free or you can use honey! You can change the amount anywhere from ¾ cup sugar to 2 cups and ½ cup to 1 cup honey or any variation thereof, including artificial sweeteners. Go nuts. The recipe can also be doubled or tripled according to Pomona’s.
LOW-SUGAR STRAWBERRY JAM (adapted from Pomona’s recipe)
Makes about 4 half-pint jars
- 4 cups mashed strawberries (obviously washed & hulls removed)
- ½ cup Xylitol or Splenda or honey
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons calcium water (instructions & ingredient included in Pomona’s box)
- 2 teaspoons Pomona’s Universal pectin
- Sterilize jars & lids, keeping both hot. Prepare water bath.
- Place strawberries in a large pot. Add calcium water and stir, then bring to a boil. Meanwhile, add pectin to sugar or honey (room temperature) and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
- Once strawberries have boiled, add pectin/sugar mixture; stir vigorously for 1-2 minutes until completely dissolved. Return to a boil.
- Remove from heat. Fill hot jars to ¼”-inch from the top, and wipe rims clean. Place lids & bands on and process for 10 minutes in a water bath. Remove from water and allow to cool. Check seals- lids should be all sucked down. The pectin completes it’s jell once it’s completely cooled. Lasts about 6-8 months on the shelf (depending how much real sugar is used), 3 weeks once opened. Change in color is usually harmless & normal.
The weird thing is no matter how much I skimmed the foam, it seemed to never fully go away. As soon as I poured it into the jars, it was foamy again, so I skimmed them as best as I could with a small spoon… but it didn’t 100% work. Maybe that’s a low-sugar thing? Or a Xylitol thing? No clue. This was my first time using such a low amount of real sugar & a sugar substitute in jam. Although as the jam cooled & settled, a lot of it did “go away”; not sure what the deal is with that.
Anyway, I was pretty proud of myself for making my first low-sugar jam, but I was a bit worried about the flavor. I read online a lot of people saying they made low-sugar jam & it was bland or runny, that got me a bit nervous. However as it cooled it set really nicely, so my worries in that department were for naught. But I was still paranoid about the taste. So I called in the cavalry- my mother was my guinea pig taste tester for the batch, & in her words: “It’s delicious, it tastes just like regular strawberry jam.”
My job here is done. And now I take a bow & make my exit.
Yup- those are cupcake liners. I used cupcake liners to dress the jars up ’cause they were perfect for it. And just as an aside: Jay’s grandma has gone through about 3 jars & it’s only been not quite 2 months. I think she likes ’em.
And that brings an end to a sweet post about low-sugar, but-just-as-sweet, jam.