Pectic enzymes or what are also referred to a pectinases, are enzyme compounds that cleave or breakdown the natural pectin found in both apples and pears. Generally, pears have higher levels of natural pectin. Pectic enzymes are often produced naturally during fermentation by yeast, but as is common, the amount will vary by yeast strain. The answer to the question of whether you need to use pectic enzymes in your process is simply “no”. Pectic enzymes are not required to make hard cider. As is common, whether you should consider using them is more complex.
Search the site for pectin if you want more detailed articles on pectin and pectin enzymes. As a quick overview, pectin is a compound found in plants that provides it structure and support. It is a polysaccharide, which means it’s a carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are made up of simple sugars like glucose and fructose. Pectic enzymes, which break down pectin, are naturally created by yeast during fermentation. They are proteins that act as catalyst to encourage various chemical reactions. Adding pectic enzyme will accelerate the breakdown of pectin found in your juice and cider. Why would you want to consider this? The top reasons are pectin haze and aroma.
There are two common ways pectin can impact your cider. The most obvious is pectin haze. Pectin is opaque and when it is suspended in your cider, it creates cloudiness or haze. This is different from a protein haze or suspended yeast. Protein haze usually occurs when you chill a drink and is more common in beer because cider doesn’t normally have a lot of proteins. The proteins flocculate and create opaque clumps or haze. As the drink warms, the clumps dissipate and the drink become less hazy. Yeast can also create haze when they are suspended. In this case, cold will cause them to flocculate and settle out. If you chill a clear cider and it becomes cloudy, you most likely have excessive protein. If you chill (cold crash) a cider and it becomes clearer, you probably had suspended yeast. If you chill a cloudy cider and it stays cloudy, you probably have pectin. Adding pectic enzyme when preparing your fruit or directly to your juice will break down this pectin and prevent haze. The haze is an aesthetic issue so adding it isn’t needed but may be desirable if you want a crystal clear cider.
As previously noted, pectin can be broken down by yeast during fermentation. This can result in the creation of esters, which will add aroma. However, this is also a common pathway for the creation of methanol. Methanol is not desirable because it creates formaldehyde, which is toxic to human. The human body processes out small amounts that are common from eating fresh fruits and vegetables. That also includes the small amounts found in fermented products like cider and perry. However, this becomes a bigger concern and is one of the dangers of distilling alcohol because you are concentrating the alcohols. If done improperly, you can concentrate methanol to a lethal level. Research(1) has shown that there are two ways pectin can be broken down, esterase and depolymerase (i.e. lyase and hydrolase). The esterase is the pathway that creates methanol. The depolymerase is a pathway that doesn’t. Both can produce more aroma compounds, but check with your supplier. Using a depolymerase enzyme, you can improve aromas and reduce the risk of methanol production.
Ultimately, pectic enzymes are not required, but if you notice your cider or perry is persistently cloudy or you’re worried about methanol production, treating with a pectic enzyme that performs a depolymerase process would be a good option.
(1) P. Blumenthal and associates, Methanol Mitigation during Manufacturing of Fruit Spirits with Special Consideration of Novel Coffee Cherry Spirits, Molecules, 26, 2585, 2021
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