Clear Jel® vs Sure Jell

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®

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

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).

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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25 thoughts on “Clear Jel® vs Sure Jell

  1. Wondering if I can open kettle tomato preserves without using sure jel?

    Are there any tomato preserve recipes wihout butter.

    I have open kettled all my tomatoes and have done so for years and never had any problems.
    I am 75 and comfortable with doing so.
    Now would like to try my hand at some tomato preserves as easy as possible. Difficult to find products in local hyvee stores.
    Would like to make as simple as possible as my grandmother and mother would have done.
    Any Advice would be appreciated .
    Thank You

  2. Victory, I cannot advise on open kettle canning except to say it is not a safe canning method. For nearly 40 years open kettle canning has been advised against. The reason open kettle canning is no longer recommended is that the food is not heated adequately to destroy the spoilage organisms, molds and yeasts that can enter the jar while you are filling the jar, and it does not produce a strong seal on the jar. This method is not safe! Processing jars in a boiling water bath or in a pressure canner drives air out of the jar and produces a strong vacuum seal. It is especially dangerous when used for canning tomatoes or tomato products where the acid level may be low enough to allow bacterial growth. Never open kettle can low acid foods (meats, vegetables, soups) that should be pressure canned. Just because a lid “pops,” it doesn’t mean the contents inside the jar are safe. The time saved with open kettle canning is not worth the risk of food spoilage or illness. My grandmother used to open kettle can, too; as soon as new recommendations were made, she moved forward with the advice of science. I hope you will reconsider also.

  3. My recipe calls for clearjel but then has an asterisk that says it’s optional.
    In the directions it says to mix the clearjel with the sugar and then mix with cream. If it says it’s optional does
    that mean I don’t have to use it or does it mean I can substitute the sure jell? It’s for
    a cake roll filling.

  4. Susan, thank you for contacting AnswerLine. From the information provided in your message, I suspect the answer is “yes” to omitting the Clearjel. However, my answer is conditional as I don’t know your recipe. Further, you do not say if it is instant Clearjel or regular Clearjel that is suggested for use. Since you are making a filling for a cake roll, my suspicion is you are making a whipped cream filling. If that is the case, then it is instant Clearjel that is being used to stabilize the whipped cream. Instant Clearjel is a modified food starch made from corn that thickens instantly when it comes into contact with liquid. By mixing a small amount in with the sugar for your whipped cream, you sweeten and strengthen the cream at the same time. Stabilized or strengthened whipped cream holds up much longer. If you are making a cooked filling with cream, then you would use regular Clearjel; Clearjel or another thickener would be needed to thicken the filling.

  5. I made apple pie filling for canning and the recipe called for cornstarch however it didn’t thicken very much. Can I use Clearjel to thicken it more if I already used cornstarch? Thank you.

  6. Hi Maria, thank you for contacting AnswerLine. Cornstarch should NOT be used for any pie filling that is to be canned. All the reasons why are given in the blog. If you have already canned the pie filling, use it quickly and when you do use it, add additional thickener (in this case cornstarch is probably the best choice) before baking. If you haven’t canned it, please put it in the freezer and again when you use it, add additional thickener to help you pie set up properly. In the future, please use a recommended and tested recipe for canning. The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a USDA approved site with researched based recipes.

  7. I have a large plastic bag that is marked Sure Gel. How can I test it to see if it is Clear Gel? I am thinking my aunt mislabeled it. It is probably 2 years old, so maybe it would be best if just pitched out. Thank you.

  8. Hi Judy, a bag marked ‘Sure Gel’ is somewhat unlikely. A bag marked ‘Clear Gel’ is more likely. I am unaware that Sure Jell is sold in bulk while Clear Jel is. Clear Jel is white and resembles cornstarch while Sure Jell is granular and not pure white. Assuming that it is Clear Jel (cooked not Instant) you can test using 1/4 cup Clear Jel to 1 qt of water. Bring to a boil. It will thicken slightly upon cooking, but it thickens even more as it cools. When cooled, it should have the consistency of pie filling. Even though Clear Jel manufacturers list 1-2 years for best results, I personally have found that it is usable for longer. Thank you for contacting AnswerLine.

  9. I understand Clear Jel is a modified waxy maize starch. I am a chemist (organic, retired) and would like to know exactly how the starch is “modified.” There are many modified food starches as you know produced by various processes for different functions.

    Dextrin (INS 1400), acid-treated starch (INS 1401), alkaline-modified starch (INS 1402), bleached starch (INS 1403), oxidized starch (INS 1404, E1404), enzyme-treated starch (INS 1405), monostarch phosphate (INS 1410, E1410), distarch phosphate (INS 1412, E1412), acetylated starch (INS 1420, E1420), hydroxypropylated starch (INS 1440, E1440), starch sodium octenyl succinate (OSA) starch (INS 1450, E1450), starch aluminium octenyl Succinate (INS 1452, E1452), cationic carboxymethylated starch

    I am interested in specifics of Clear Jel. Can you define this product in chemically relevant technical terms? For cooking vs. non-cooking applications? Is it E1412, for example, for cooking applications?

  10. I am not able to help you with the specifics of Clear Jel. Prior to writing this blog, I did an extensive literature search to learn more about the processing to create the modification. As a consumer scientist, I am well aware that there are many modified food starches but do not have a strong chemistry background to ascertain anything more than it is a modified corn starch. Further, it has been rendered by the USDA as the only product acceptable for use with home canning (reasons explained in blog). If you are able to resolve your question with further research, I would be only too happy to learn more about the productvif only to quench my own curiosity.

  11. Should I toss my cherry pie filling since I used Sure Gel instead of Clear Jel. I used the same amount that was called for for the clear jell.

  12. Hi Tammy, the pie filling cannot be canned if you used Sure Jell. Sure Jel and Clear Jel are very different products and cannot be used interchangeably. If you have not made too much, it could be used for a fresh cherry pie–as in no bake–filling is put into a prepared crust and refrigerated or you could use it to top ice cream or cake. You might be able to think of other ways that it could be used similarly as essentially you have some kind of a gel. It could also be frozen for later use but I am not sure of the quality after freezing; it will be safe to eat but may watery or seperate. Thanks for contacting AnswerLine.

  13. My jelly did not “set” and would like to know if after opening a jar, would it be ok to add lnstant Clear jel to thicken before eating on toast, etc. Thank you. Dianne

  14. Cherry jelly was cooked with Ball fruit pectin and most probably wasn’t cooked long enough or not enough pectin added. I am not interested in reprocessing the jelly since it was hot water bathed after cooking, it jelled beautifully on the spoon and the pan before jarring. Thank you.

  15. Hi Dianne, I truly do not know if using instant clear jel will work after opening; it certainly will help thicken but I have no idea how it will mix with the Sure Jell in the jelly. The usual method is to recook it when you open a jar. Besides not being cooked long enough or insufficient pectin, it could be that there was not enough acid. You can add 1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice to a cup of jelly. Heat the jelly and lemon juice to boiling and boil until the gelling point is reached (220°F or 8 degrees above boiling at an elevation of 1,000 feet above sea level or lower. If you’re at an altitude higher than 1,000 feet above sea level, you can determine the temperature of your gelling point by bringing a pot of water to a boil. When the water boils, check the temperature on your candy thermometer and add 8 degrees. This is the gelling point for your altitude.) Remove jelly from heat, skim if necessary, and pour back into the jar. After cooling, it is ready to use. I’ve done this myself and it really doesn’t take very long so watch the temperature carefully. This will work even if the issue wasn’t acid.

  16. Can you use clear gel instead of sure gel for making jelly?
    If so, what is the measurement of clear gel compared to a box of sure gel?

  17. Hi Wanda, Clear jel will not make jelly; rather you will get a clear thicken fruit juice–not a gel. Pectin is needed to produce a gel so Sure Jell or a similar product is what you must use. Thanks for reaching out to AnswerLine.

  18. I made a chicken pot pie filling recipe that is for canning that called for Clear Jel and after making it, it seemed very thick for canning. I added more broth than called for so it would be less thick but it was definitely thick. Is this ok to can something so thick? It was a very thick consistency and then called for half and half to be added after opening and heating.

  19. Hi Susanna, this is a hard question to answer as I do not know the source of your recipe and if the source is a tested, science-based recipe. After an extensive search of reliable sources, I could not find a tested recipe for canning chicken pot pie using Clear Jel. If it is from a reputable source, then following the directions without change is imperative for a safe product. Starch inhibits heat penetration in the canning process so the exact amount for the processing time/pressure is highly important. Further, Clear Jel usually thickens as it sets over time.

  20. I have a recipe for peach jam with pineapple that calls for Clear Jel as a thickener. Since Clear Jel is not suitable for jams, can I substitute Sure Jell for Clear Jel using the same amount?

  21. Hi Linda, Clear Jel and Sure Jell are two entirely different products so they are not interchangeable nor can you substitute one for the other. I suggest that you look for a different recipe that specifically uses Sure Jell. Clear Jel should not be used for jam; an exeption might be if it were to be freezer jam but it will not have the consistency of a true jam. Kraft Foods (Sure Jell) has an Apricot Pineapple Jam on it’s website; perhaps that is a place for you to start.

  22. Hello, I’m wondering if I can bottle peach pie filling without the clear gel? I want to thicken it when I make my pies. Thank you!

  23. Hi Tamara, thank you for reaching out to AnswerLine. Yes, you can make your peach pie filling without the clear gel and thicken it when you make your pie. Process as if you are using Clear Jel.

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