Skip to Content

What thickens apple butter?

Apple butter is a delicious spread made from cooked down apples that has a thick, rich consistency. The texture comes from natural pectin found in apples. Pectin is a water-soluble fiber that acts as a gelling agent and thickener. When apples are cooked down into a pulp, the pectin is released from the cell walls and forms a gel as it cools. However, if the apple butter isn’t thick or spreadable enough, there are some simple tricks to help thicken it up further.

What is pectin?

Pectin is a carbohydrate found naturally in the cell walls of fruits and vegetables. It helps bind plant cells together and gives plant structures rigidity and firmness. The highest concentrations of pectin are found in citrus fruits, apples, quince, plums, gooseberries, and cranberries. When these fruits are cooked into jams, jellies and spreads, the heat breaks down the plant cell walls, releasing the pectin. As the fruit pulp cools, the pectin cross-links and forms a gel, giving the product a thickened, spreadable texture. The amount of naturally occurring pectin determines how easily a fruit will set into a jelly or jam consistency.

How does pectin thicken apple butter?

When apples are cooked down with sugar and spices to make apple butter, the heat breaks down the cells walls of the apples, releasing pectin. As the apple pulp mixture cools, the pectin molecules link together and form a gel matrix that thickens and gives apple butter its rich, spreadable texture. Apples contain a relatively high amount of pectin compared to other fruits. Generally, firmer, under ripe apples contain more pectin. The tart Granny Smith variety is often used for making apple butter since it has higher pectin levels.

What if my apple butter isn’t thick enough?

If your finished apple butter still seems a little runny, there are a few tricks you can use to thicken it up:

  • Add an apple jelly packet – Pectin is commercially extracted from apples to make apple pectin powder or liquid. Adding a pouch of apple pectin or a few tablespoons of liquid pectin will increase the gelling power.
  • Mix in an extra teaspoon of lemon juice – The acidity helps activate the pectin.
  • Add a grated apple – Grating introduces more raw apple fiber and pectin.
  • Cook it down further – Continue to simmer the apple butter to evaporate off more liquid.
  • Chill it – Pectin gels better at cooler temperatures. Letting the apple butter chill in the refrigerator overnight helps it set.
  • Add a slice of bread – Bread contains amylase enzymes that help pectin gel. Let a slice sit in the apple butter as it cooks.

What ingredients help thicken apple butter?

Aside from apples, which provide the main gelling pectin, there are a few ingredients commonly added to apple butter to help thicken the texture:

  • Sugar – Sugar enhances pectin’s gelling properties. White granulated sugar is commonly used.
  • Lemon juice – The acidity from lemon juice helps activate the pectin molecules to form thicker gels.
  • Spices – Warm spices like cinnamon and cloves add flavor, but the powders also contain polysaccharides that can help thicken the apple butter.

What’s the best apple to use for thick apple butter?

For apple butter with the thickest texture, choose apple varieties that are higher in natural pectin:

  • Granny Smith – Granny Smith apples have the highest pectin content compared to other popular varieties.
  • Jonathan – Jonathan apples contain less pectin than Granny Smith but more than sweeter varieties.
  • Honeycrisp – Honeycrisps have a decent amount of pectin and provide sweet apple flavor.
  • Jonagold – Jonagold is a hybrid of Jonathan and Golden Delicious with a good balance of sweetness and pectin.

Varieties like Red Delicious, Fuji, and Gala are lower in natural pectin and will make a runnier apple butter.

Can I use applesauce to thicken apple butter?

Applesauce contains pectin from cooked apples that can help thicken up apple butter. For every 1 cup of apple butter, stir in 1/4 cup of unsweetened applesauce. The applesauce introduces more pectin and absorbs extra moisture. Make sure to add the applesauce at the end once the apple butter has finished cooking and cooled slightly so the sauce doesn’t break down too much from extended heating.

Does adding more apple thicken apple butter?

Yes, adding more raw grated apple is an easy way to introduce more natural apple pectin into your batch of apple butter. The extra fiber also helps absorb water and thicken up the consistency. For a 4 cup batch of apple butter, try grating 1 large tart apple and stirring it in at the end of cooking. The more apple you add, the thicker it will become.

Can I use pectin powder to thicken apple butter?

Pectin powder is an easy solution for thinning apple butter. Pectin powder is made from extracted apple pectin that has been dried and ground into a fine powder. To use, mix 1-2 teaspoons of pectin powder into the finished apple butter over low heat until dissolved. Allow to cool and refrigerate until set up. The pectin powder will bind extra water and create a thicker gel. For quicker thickening, opt for an instant pectin powder formulated for low-sugar recipes.


Achieving the perfect thick, rich texture is easy with these simple tips for thickening up homemade apple butter. Rely on the natural pectin in apples by using high-pectin varieties, grating in fresh apple, or adding unsweetened applesauce. Commercial pectin powders can also quickly boost the gelling power. Acidity from lemon juice helps too by activating the pectin. With the right ingredients and techniques, you can give your apple butter that dreamy, spreadable texture.

Thickening Method Amount to Add
Apple pectin powder 1-2 tsp
Lemon juice 1 tsp
Grated apple 1 large apple
Applesauce 1/4 cup per 1 cup apple butter

Apple butter is a classic fall comfort food. Its distinctive thick texture comes from the natural pectin found in apples. When apple pulp is cooked down, the pectin is released and forms a spreadable gel as it cools. If your homemade apple butter needs some help with thickening, rely on high-pectin apples, extra applesauce, lemon juice, or commercial pectin. With the right techniques, you’ll achieve perfect apple butter texture. Be sure to can or refrigerate your homemade apple butter to enjoy its flavor and velvety richness all season long.

How long does apple butter last in the fridge or freezer?

Properly stored apple butter will last 1-2 weeks in the refrigerator. For extended storage, apple butter can be frozen for 6-8 months. To freeze, portion apple butter into freezer-safe containers leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Seal, label with the date, and freeze. When ready to use, thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using.

What’s the best way to store apple butter?

Apple butter can be stored in sterilized jars, plastic containers, or freezer bags. For short term storage, keep apple butter refrigerated in an airtight container for 1-2 weeks. For longer term storage, ladle apple butter into freezer containers and freeze for 6-8 months. Apple butter can also be canned in a water bath canner for shelf-stable storage at room temperature for up to 1 year.

Can you substitute applesauce for apple butter when baking?

Applesauce can be used as a substitute for apple butter in some baking recipes, though the texture may turn out slightly different. Use an equal amount of unsweetened applesauce and reduce any liquid in the recipe by 2-3 tablespoons since applesauce contains more moisture. Baked goods made with applesauce tend to be denser and more cake-like compared to using apple butter which lends a lighter, fluffier texture.

What are some serving ideas for apple butter?

Apple butter is delicious served in both sweet and savory applications:

  • Spread on toast, biscuits, scones, or muffins
  • Fill or top pancakes, waffles, or crepes
  • Swirl into oatmeal or yogurt
  • Use as a glaze for meat like pork chops or chicken
  • Stir into white beans, pureed sweet potatoes, or mashes cauliflower
  • Blend into vinaigrettes and salad dressings
  • Mix into cookies, breads, cobblers, crisps and pies
  • Layer into sandwiches and paninis

Can you make apple butter in a slow cooker?

Yes, apple butter can be easily made in a slow cooker! Simply combine sliced apples, apple cider or juice, sugar, and spices in a slow cooker and cook on low heat for 8-10 hours. Stir occasionally until apples are completely broken down. Then cook uncovered on high for 1-2 hours, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches desired consistency. Adjust sweetness and seasonings as needed. The extended slow cooking evaporates moisture and concentrates flavors for rich, caramelized apple butter.

What are the health benefits of apple butter?

Apple butter made from 100% apples provides fiber, vitamins, and minerals:

  • Fiber – The pectin fiber in apples promotes healthy digestion and gut health.
  • Vitamin C – Apples offer immune-boosting vitamin C, with about 5mg per tablespoon of apple butter.
  • Potassium – Apple butter provides small amounts of potassium to support heart health.
  • Polyphenols – Compounds in apples may help regulate blood sugar and offer antioxidant effects.

Opt for unsweetened or lightly sweetened versions to limit added sugar. Enjoy apple butter in moderation as part of a healthy diet.

Is apple butter gluten free?

Plain apple butter made from just apples, sugar, and spices is naturally gluten free. However, some commercial apple butters may contain thickening agents or flavorings that can contain gluten, such as barley malt. Always check the label and look for a gluten free certification if avoiding gluten. For guaranteed gluten free apple butter, make your own at home with gluten free ingredients.

Can you use apple jelly instead of apple butter?

Apple jelly can be substituted for apple butter in some recipes, though the texture and flavor profile will be different. Apple jelly has a smoother, jelly-like consistency without chunks of fruit. It also tends to be sweeter and has a brighter apple flavor compared to rich, caramelized apple butter. For best results, use an equal amount of apple jelly and reduce any other liquids in the recipe by 2 tablespoons to account for apple jelly’s higher moisture content.

What’s the difference between apple butter and apple sauce?

The main differences between apple butter and apple sauce are:

  • Texture – Apple butter is thick and spreadable like nut butters. Applesauce has a thinner, spoonable consistency.
  • Ingredients – Apple butter contains added sugar and warm spices. Applesauce is generally unsweetened without added spices.
  • Cook time – Apple butter is slow cooked for hours until caramelized. Applesauce takes 10-25 minutes to cook.
  • Uses – Apple butter is considered a condiment for spreading. Applesauce is more often used for cooking or eating as-is.

What’s the difference between apple butter and apple jam?

The differences between apple butter vs apple jam include:

  • Ingredients – Apple jam uses finely chopped apples. Apple butter uses apples cooked down into a smooth puree.
  • Texture – Apple jam has small bits of apple. Apple butter is completely smooth.
  • Flavor – Apple jam tastes bright and tart. Apple butter has deeper, richer caramelized flavors.
  • Uses – Apple jam is used more like a condiment. Apple butter is considered a spread.


Apple butter is a classic fall specialty that’s simple to make at home. Look for tart, high pectin apples like Granny Smiths and enhance gelling by cooking down the apples into a concentrated puree. Adding extra apples, lemon juice, or pectin powder can help thicken up apple butter to the perfect spreadable consistency. Store apple butter in the fridge or freezer and enjoy its sweet, appley flavor on everything from toast to pork chops. Whip up a batch of homemade apple butter this season using these tips for fabulous texture and taste.