Jams, Jellies, and Preserves - What's the Difference?Jul 11, 2023
Fresh fruits are one of the delicious benefits of summer. Even though it’s possible to buy most fruits year-round, it’s not the same as getting them within hours, or even minutes, of when they have been harvested from the tree or bush.
When the fruit is in season, it looks, tastes, and smells so appealing it’s almost impossible to resist. Why would you want to?
Purchasing fruit in season is cheaper, too. Producers need to sell their cherries, berries, and apricots before they spoil.
You can take advantage of the abundance and lower prices of seasonal fruit by preserving it through canning, freezing, drying, and/or making jams and jellies.
If you are new to preserving your own food, fruit spreads like jams and jellies are an easy way to get started. But first you must understand the difference between your options so you know what best fits the needs of your family. And you won’t be disappointed by the results.
The four basic ingredients of fruit spreads
Fruit spreads have four common, and usually necessary, ingredients. They require fruit (obviously), sweetener, pectin, and naturally occurring acid.
The most frequently used sweetener is sugar, but honey or corn syrup are sometimes substituted. There are even special recipes for using sugar replacements. A good option for those trying to control their sugar intake.
Pectic is a soluble fiber found in the cell walls of fruit. It is the “secret sauce” that gives jams, jellies, and other fruit spreads their thickness. It is found in most fruits and especially abundant in apples, grapes, and plums.
Pectic is required in the majority of jam and jelly recipes. However, it can be replaced with lemon juice. It requires a longer, slower cooking period before processing. Packaged pectin usually requires the addition of some lemon juice to fruit preserves.
The lemon juice may be included to supplement the naturally occurring acid since there are varying levels of acid within the different types of fruit. And the riper the fruit, the less acid. Which explains why using overripe fruit like berries, plums and apricots can result in a botched batch of jam.
7 different types of fruit spreads
I’m willing to bet you had no idea there were seven different types of fruit spreads. Most of use the terms jam or jelly interchangeably for just about any sweet addition to our toast.
Occasionally someone might request marmalade. But when was the last time someone you know asked you to pass the peach preserves or requested apple butter for his homemade biscuit?
The main difference between the varying types of fruit spread is in what form and how much of the fruit is actually used. Two other differences would include the type of fruit (marmalades) and mixed fruits or spices (compote or chutney).
Let’s find out what’s what
Jelly is the only fruit spread made without the pulp and seeds of the fruit. It has a clear, gelatin-like consistency. And it is a messy process to get it that way. The fruit must be chopped or crushed then strained to remove all bits of fruit, seeds, and peel (if any).
Although the end results of jelly-making are both beautiful and delicious, I only make jelly from raspberries (for my daughter) and jalapenos (for me). It’s a great deal of work. Fortunately, jelly, if processed and sealed properly, can last for a couple of years. No need to go through the process every year.
Jelly is great served in sandwiches. It spreads easily and isn’t as likely to ooze out the edges as jam likes to do.
Jam is probably the most common fruit spread and tends to be the generic name used for all types. But it does have its own distinct personality.
Jam is made with crushed or finely chopped fruit. If using berries, seeds are included, which makes some berry types better for jelly. No one likes jam with more seeds than fruit.
Jam is also softer, and slightly more runny than jelly. Which is why my husband insists on having peanut butter on each slice of bread before adding the jam. He doesn’t like the jam making his bread soggy.
Homemade berry jam on homemade bread or fresh biscuits are perfect partners for breakfast.
You may never have heard the term preserves in relation to jams and jellies. The term has been used interchangeably with jam for years and I think jam has won the popularity vote.
The only difference between jam and preserves is the size of the fruit pieces. In preserves, the fruit pieces are chunkier, and for small fruits like berries, they are often left whole.
Preserves are soft, sweet, and chunky. They don’t make the best sandwiches because of the large bits of fruit. However, spooned over ice cream, plain cake, or crispy waffles, it makes a fine dessert or breakfast treat.
The first time I experienced marmalade was in a restaurant as a youngster. It wasn’t something my mother kept around the house. So I was almost a teenager before I learned you can make “jam” out of oranges.
Marmalade is more like a hybrid of jam and jelly. It has the clear look of jelly but includes pieces of orange rind. Despite being very sweet, you can detect a little bitterness in the flavor.
Because marmalade is made with oranges and includes bits of orange rind, there is no need for pectin. Personally, I’ve never made it. But my grandmother made it once in a while.
It is pretty good on biscuits, scones, and cornbread.
Fruit Butter is usually made from apples or pears. It is cooked at a low temperature for a long time before it is processed. The long, slow cooking time reduces the fruit to a smooth consistency similar to applesauce, only thicker and sweeter.
Apple and pear butter do not require pectin. Many people make apple butter in their crockpot or cook it all day in a large pot on the stove. My grandmother used to cook her fruit butter in the oven, setting the temperature low and stirring every thirty minutes or so. When the butter was the right consistency, she filled her jars and processed them for a few minutes.
My grandmother always added a little cinnamon to her apple butter. That is an option. I loved her apple butter with homemade biscuits.
Compote can be made with fresh or dried fruit and is usually served right after you make it. It is not processed like jam, jelly, or marmalade for later use.
When making compote, you would make a simple syrup of sugar and water, cook slow and low until it thickens, and then add whole fruit. More than one type of fruit can be added. Some recipes also call for spices like cinnamon or nutmeg.
You definitely wouldn’t use compote in a sandwich. It is primarily used as a dessert topping for things like ice cream, yogurt, waffles, pancakes, and angel food cake.
I never really thought of chutney as a type of jam or jelly. But really, that’s what it is. I’m sure someone will debate this. Like jam, it begins with chopped fruit but also includes spices and a little vinegar. Dried fruit is also frequently included.
Chutney uses less sugar than regular jam and is usually served as a condiment. I love it with pork and the mango version makes a great dipping sauce for prawns.
3 ways to make and store
The most common way to make and store fruit spreads is to cook and process in them in a water bath canner.
After cooking the jam, jelly, or preserves following the recipe directions, the mixture is poured into glass jars, placed in the water bath canner and processed (basically boiled) for several minutes. The length of time depends on the fruit.
And if something goes on in the process — use as syrup, fruit topping like preserves or compote, or recook and process. Visit this site for tips on how to save runny jam. https://foodinjars.com/blog/canning-101-how-to-save-runny-jam/
The benefits of canning your jams and jellies are that they have a longer shelf life, the glass jars are reusable year after year, and they can be stored wherever the temperature stays moderate (not below freezing or above 75/80 degrees or so).
The drawback can be having the room to store your fruit spreads if you make multiple batches and have limited space.
Canning works best for jams made from peaches and apricots, jellies, and fruit butters. And, of course, just about any berry.
An easy quick way to make and store jam is to make freezer jam. Following the recipe exactly, cook up the jam and pour into plastic containers with tight-fitting lids. Store in your freezer.
The benefits to making freezer jam include the ease compared to canning, being able to use just about any small size and shape of plastic containers, and reusing the containers from year to year. I also find the flavor of freezer jam is much better.
The drawbacks to freezer jam are the space it takes up in your freezer, it tends to be a little runnier than processed jam, and it must be thawed before use. And in my opinion, it really only works well for jam made from berries.
Make and serve
Some fruit spreads can and should be made and served right away, no processing or freezing. Like compote and chutney. Again, follow the recipe closely. Serve right away. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.
Now that you are familiar with the different types of fruit spreads, you can make a decision on what type of spread you would like to make and how you will process (or not) and store it. You will need to find a good, reliable recipe. You can best do this when you are first starting out by using the recipes found in the pectin products you purchase. The most common are SureJell and Certo.
I use both. The directions are simple and clear in either case. Read the directions over carefully once or twice before beginning. Gather up your materials and ingredients and make sure everything is washed well and ready to go.
Once you’ve got the basics down, finished a few batches that turned out to your liking, then you can get more creative. There are tons of variations for jams and jellies out there in recipe books, from your friends and family, and of course, online.
Or if you are really brave, you can start experimenting with your own combinations of fruits to come up with the perfect jam, jelly or preserves for you.
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