Butter makes food taste better, and when it’s made from fruits and veggies, slathering it on bread and muffins is good for you — especially if it’s also low in sugar!
Inspired by the letter “P, I developed a couple of low-sugar fruit butters: East Asian pear and sweet potato.
Just foolin’ about the letter “P.” The actual inspiration was to make healthy holiday gifts that were out of the ordinary. Apple butter is the norm, but the flavor of pears takes this spread to another level. Plus, this is a way to use up leftover cans of sweet potato puree from Thanksgiving.
In addition to a toast topping, these confitures are delicious with plain yogurt at breakfast and paired with ice cream for dessert – sprinkle on walnuts for a delicious dose of healthy fat! My son has used pumpkin butter in his granola. He mixes it thoroughly with the cereal and then spreads it on parchment or oiled foil and bakes it in a 350 F oven until almost dry.
These preserves could be adapted to use as baby foods for infants older than 6 months old. Simply remove most of the flavorings, sugar, and sweetener and simmer to let the flavors concentrate and caramelize.
Pumpkin and apple butter can be found in many grocery and specialty stores, but lower sugar versions of fruit butter are not as widely available. One of the reasons may be that sugar does more than add sweetness to these spreads. It gives the fruit butter a longer shelf life by reducing the product’s available water, and it enhances the texture, making it a thicker and more spreadable condiment.
FRUIT BUTTER KEEPS PEARS AND APPLES FRESH
The preservative function of sugar is how fruit butter, especially apple and pear butter, was created. Combining sugar with the fruit purees helped keep them fresh for the winter.
The stabilizing effect of sugar combined with the high natural acidity of apples theoretically yields a fruit spread that can be stored at room temperature with few worries (that is, if packed into sterile jars.) This also holds true for pears although they are not as naturally acidic as apples. With the addition of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, which have extremely low pH levels, the concoction keeps even longer.
(Neutral pH is 7.0; the scale is 0 to 14. A pH below 7 is in the acid range. Any item that has a pH above 7.0 is more alkaline.)
Since the butter recipes in this blog have reduced sugar levels, it is best to store all of them in the refrigerator. It is doubtful that botulism (from Botulinum toxin) will grow at a pH level below 4.6, unless it has access to protein-rich food. Apples, with a pH level of 2.9 – 3.3, and pears, with a pH of 3.6-4.0, are unlikely to foster the growth of this deadly toxin. However, pumpkins and sweet potatoes are a concern for microbial growth since they are not as acidic.
Tracing the origins of apple and pear butter
Although apple butter is associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch in America, it was first made by monks in Medieval Europe, who wanted a preserve that could be stored longer than apple sauce.
The syrupy version that was made with pears was popular in Belgium as sirop de Li`ege while a similar form made with apples in the Netherlands is called appelstroop. It’s also commonly known as black butter (l’e ni`er beurre), especially in the Jersey Channel Islands where licorice is a prominent ingredient of the condiment.
Making a healthier fruit butter
To replace part of the sugar in these butters and make them a good choice for people with diabetes, I used Truvia, which is a granular product that combines erythritol with the natural sweetener stevia. The brown sugar variety of Truvia pairs well with most of these flavors. Please let me know what kinds of results you get if you experiment with other types of sweeteners!
The recipe below for East Asian Pear Butter is my favorite. My sugar-reduced version was inspired by Elise Bauer’s Pear Butter on her site, Simply Recipes. It features warm winter and Indian spices whose flavors stand out against the brightness of the lemon juice and fruit. Because the sugar is low, it does not have a very thick texture. After pureeing, It should be cooked until most of the water has evaporated so that it is spreadable.
I cored the fruit before cooking and achieved a very smooth product by using a Chinois to puree the fruit and extract the skins. I think the pear butter gets more intensity by contact with skins during the cooking step, so leave them on! Bauer says that a food mill is also a good tool for pureeing the fruit. She leaves the seeds and core intact during the simmering step, which saves time.
Click on the following link to find a recipe for low-sugar Vanilla Sweet Potato Butter.
East Asian Pear Butter
- large saucepot or slow cooker,
- Chinois or foodmill
- reamer or lemon squeezer
- measuring cups and spoons
- 4-5 pounds chopped Bartlett or ripe Anjou pears skins on, cored
- 1 star anise pod
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
- 2 + cups of water
- 1 cup of lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon of lemon zest
- 1/2 cup brown sugar Truvia
- 1/2 to 1 cup of granulated white sugar depending on sweetness of pears
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom not green cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
- In a large pot, combine pears, star anise pod, ginger, water, lemon juice, and zest. The pears should be mostly, but not completely covered with liquid. Bring to a boil; then, reduce heat and simmer until pears are almost falling apart. This could take 30 to 60 minutes.
- Using a food mill or Chinois with a pestle or large wooden spoon positioned above a large bowl, force soft pears through to puree. Remove and discard skins and star anise.
- Place pear puree in a large thick-bottomed pan or slow cooker. For each cup of puree, add 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar Truvia and 1-2 tablespoons of granulated white sugar. Be conservative! Add spices. Stir to mix seasonings and sweeteners. Taste; adjust spices and sweetness by adding more Truvia or sugar depending on the sweetness of the fruit.
- Cook until thick over low to medium heat if using a pot. Use the high setting on the slow cooker, and place lid halfway on so moisture can evaporate. Stir often to prevent sticking. The butter will be done when it is no longer runny and when placed on a cold plate, the edges have little to no liquid surrounding them. This will take 1-2 hours on the stovetop and about 6 hours in the slow cooker.
- Toward the end of the simmering time, sterilize 6 jars and lids in the dishwasher by running them through a short cycle. Alternatively, jars can be sterilized in a boiling water bath on the stovetop: Place jars and lids in a large pot filled with water, which should cover them. Bring to a boil and continue to boil for 15 minutes. Turn heat off and let them cool. Remove to a clean kitchen towel with tongs that have been dipped in the boiling water.
- Pour thickened pear butter into prepared jars and screw the lids on, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace at the top.
- Store in the refrigerator after cooling, or follow proper canning procedures and store at room temperature.
Copyright © 2019 Jani Hall Leuschel