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Clear Jel vs. Sure Jell in Canning

Difference between Clear Jel & Sure Jell - LivingHomegrown.com

Clear Jel® and Sure Jell® are trade names of two products used in canning in two VERY different ways. But because their names are so similar, there is often some confusion between them.

Additionally, Clear Jel is not very easy to find and is unknown to many newbie and even intermediate canners.

So in post I cover…

  • What these two products are
  • How they are used (and not used)
  • Where the heck you can get this elusive Clear Jel that advanced canners talk about.

The difference between Clear Jel and Sure Jell - LivingHomegrown.com

What is Clear Jel?

Clear Jel (spelled with one “L”) is a modified food starch that is used as a thickening agent in canning recipes. It is  most commonly used in canned apple pie filling,  but can also be used in other pie fillings, other preserves, canned soups, etc.

It is actually a modified corn starch (NOT regular corn starch) that is resistant to breaking down under high temperatures and various pH levels. It has no flavor and comes as a white powder.

The advantage of Clear Jel is that it is able to thicken the food evenly (without lumps) even when it is subjected to the sustained temperatures of the canning process. (Water bathed or pressure canned)

When used in canned pie filling, it will bake into a beautiful pie with just the right amount of thickening and you never even know it is there.

Clear Jel has nothing to do with the safety of your canned product.

Note on Instant Clear Jel:

For canning, you want to stick with regular Clear Jel – Not instant. (Instant Clear Jel is clearly marked as such.)

Instant Clear Jel will thicken foods without heat and is good for cooking up a quick, room-temperature sauce, etc. But it does not work as well for canning because it breaks down when heated for long periods of time.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Other Thickeners in Canning:

You don’t want to use a traditional pie thickener like regular cornstarch, tapioca or even flour in your canned pie filling because you would be very unhappy with the results.

Those thickeners tend to gum up and get lumpy during the heating process of sealing the jars. Other times, they gum up while sitting on the shelf.

Either way, when you open the jars later you have a very unappetizing filling with lumps that won’t thicken well when baked.

From a safety standpoint, it would be okay to use them.

But don’t!

What is Clear Jel in Canning - LivingHomegrown.com

Do You HAVE TO Use Clear Jel?

NO – You do not have to use it!

What I tell my canning students is that in most recipes, you can skip the thickener all together and can up your recipe without it. Later, just add a regular thickener when you open the jar to make the pie.

This eliminates the need of tracking down Clear Jel.

Skipping it has no bearing on the safety of the recipe.

But make a note on the jar that you need to add a thickener at baking time. And when you do, be very gentle as you stir it in so you don’t mush up the softened fruit.

Also note: If you are trying to stay 100% organic, Clear Jel is not organic. This means it is probably GM corn (as is most corn in the USA). In fact, any corn product listed on any food package (corn starch, corn syrup, corn flour) is usually genetically modified unless it is organic.

If You Skip The Clear Jel:

How much thickener would you add at baking time?

Just open the jar and add whatever amount of thickener you would normally add for a pie of that size.

For me, this means stirring in about 1-2 Tbsp. of flour at baking time (9-inch pie).

Or…don’t add any thickener at all. You just end up with more juice running on the plate.

But hey, a piece of crust is the perfect thing for slopping that up!

Where to Buy Clear Jel:

I have never found Clear Jel in a regular supermarket or health food market. I just don’t think enough people use it to warrant most stores keeping it on the shelf.

So if you are like me and you don’t have a local, super cool market packed awesome canning supplies, then you can order it online.

Here are some sources:

Sure Jell vs Clear Jel in canning - LivingHomegrown.com

Then What is Sure Jell???

Sure Jell is standard pectin. It comes in a standard and a low-sugar version.

It is used to gel or “set” your preserves such as jam and jelly.

It has been around FOREVER and is one of the most common pectins on the market. You can find it at most grocery stores.

But it would NOT work as a pie filling thickener!

It would turn your filling to JAM.

Personally, I rarely use Regular Sure Jell pectin only because it requires a lot of sugar to get the set. I like to use low sugar varieties of pectin (Pomona is my favorite) or no pectin at all.

But both types of Sure Jell work well, are easy to find and easy to use.

Difference between Clear Jel and Sure Jell - LivingHomegrown.com

At Your Next Cocktail Party of Canners:

So, the next time you are mingling with a group of advanced canners, you can now chime into the conversation with confidence and say something like…

“And that grocery store clerk even suggested that I just substitute regular cornstarch for the Clear Jel®!! Can you imagine? That would be SO jacked up.”

You’re welcome.

Tell me in the comments:

If you could can up ANY pie filling and store it for later, what kind of pie would it be?

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.