Pectin is a high value functional food ingredient widely used as a gelling agent and stabilizer. It is also an abundant, ubiquitous and multifunctional component of the cell walls of all land plants. Food scientists and plant scientists therefore share a common goal to better understand the structure and functionalities of pectic polymers at the molecular level. The basic properties of pectin have been known for nearly 200 years, but recently there has been tremendous progress in our understanding of the very complex fine structure of pectic polymers and pectinolytic enzymes. This has been made possible by synergies between plant and food research and by the application of a range of state-of-the-art techniques including enzymatic fingerprinting, mass spectrometry, NMR, molecular modelling, and monoclonal antibodies. With this increased knowledge comes the prospect of novel applications. Producers are beginning to develop a new generation of sophisticated designer pectins with specific functionalities. Moreover, the ability to manipulate pectin in planta would have a major impact on fruit and vegetable quality and processing, as well as on pectin production.