We get a lot of questions at AnswerLine about Clear Jel and Sure Jell. Because their names are so similar there is confusion for two very different products. Clear Jel and Sure Jell are trade names of two thickening agents used in canning and gelling, respectively. In addition to having different uses, Clear Jel is not shelf-accessible to most while Sure-Jell is easily found among the canning supplies. Let’s explore what these two products are and how they should be used.
Clear Jel is a waxy maize or corn starch that has been modified to resist break down under high temperatures and different pH levels. Therefore, it is an ideal thickening agent and is widely used commercially. Clear Jel is recommended for home canning of pie fillings as it will not break down as the pie filling is cooked in preparation for canning, heated during the canning process, and heated a third time as the pie is baked. Products, including pie fillings, thickened with Clear Jel also freeze well.
Cornstarch, tapioca, or flour should not be used in canned pie filling. These thickeners are not suitable because they tend to clump during canning and cloud on the shelf rendering the pie filling unappetizing and unable to thicken when baked. Pie fillings made with Clear Jel also increase the safety of the products. Because Clear Jel remains clear and does not clump, heat is better able to penetrate the contents of the jar evenly to kill bacteria and other contaminants during the boiling water canning process. Jars of pie filling will keep the same consistency after processing, remain shelf stable for at least 12 months, and bake into a perfect pie by simply pouring the filling into a crust and topping as desired. There will be no starch or flour taste in the filling.
There are two types of Clear Jel, Regular and Instant. Regular must be used for canning. Instant Clear Jel will thicken foods without heat; it thickens when liquid is added. This makes Instant Clear Jel useful for thickening a room temperature sauce or dressing. Regular, on the other hand, requires heat. Regular can also be used for thickening fresh pies and everyday foods. If preparing a gravy or sauce, mix Clear Jel with a small amount of water and gradually add to the hot mixture, stirring constantly. Or, everything can be mixed together cold and then heated (stirring constantly) to thicken. Regular Clear Jel can be used to replace cornstarch or flour as thickening agent in cooking or baking, but cornstarch or flour should not replace Clear Jel for canning.
While there is plenty of praise for Clear Jel, it is not readily available. For those who live near an Amish grocery, it is likely available there. The best source is to shop online to find a supplier. Therefore, one needs to think ahead and allow time for purchase and/or shipping if Clear Jel is to be used. Clear Jel is recommended, but not required for canning. The thickening can be skipped with the filling canned without; when used, a regular thickener can be added as if preparing a fresh pie.
There is differing information on the shelf life of Clear Jel; most agree that in a tightly closed container, it should be good for 1 year in the pantry but some list up to 2 years.
Sure Jell is pectin. Pectin is a type of starch, called a hetero-polysaccharide, that occurs naturally in the cell walls of fruits and vegetables giving them structure. Most commercial pectins, made from apple pomace or citrus rinds, are sold as a dry powder or in liquid form. When combined with sugar and acid, pectin makes jams and jellies develop a semisolid, gelled texture when they cool.
Pectin is available in various forms for regular, low-sugar, and freezer jams and jellies depending upon the type of methoxyl used. High methoxyl is the most common type and used for high sugar jams and jellies; it needs to be cooked to a temperature of 220 F in combination with acid and sugar to form a gel. Low methoxyl is generally the type used for low- or no-sugar preserves as it relies on calcium (provided in the pectin package) rather than sugar to set or gel. (Liquid pectin is only offered in a regular version and is similar to the regular dry pectin.) Because pectins behave differently, it’s best to use the product listed in the recipe being used or follow the pectin insert directions carefully to assure success.
Sure Jell and other pectin products are readily available where canning supplies are sold. Sure Jell or other pectin products are not suitable for pie fillings.
Powdered pectin can be kept in the pantry and is best used within a year; after that time, it may not perform as well. Unopened liquid pectin is good for a year in the pantry; if opened, it should be refrigerated and used within one month (Still Tasty.com).