For as long as we’ve been eating fruit, people have been keen to find a way to preserve it in order to enjoy it year-long. The easiest way to accomplish this is by cooking fruit juice or pieces of fruit with sugar to create jelly or jam. Whether you choose to purchase it or make your own by canning at home, which has made a huge comeback, you’re in good company. Market forecasts show that the popularity of preserves—especially those made with organic ingredients as natural preservatives—is on the rise.
So, what is the difference between jam and jelly?
The Hard Facts About Soft Spreads
According to Linda Ziedrich, author of “The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves: 200 Classic and Contemporary Recipes Showcasing the Fabulous Flavors of Fresh Fruits,” jam is generally made with chopped, mashed, or pureed fruit cooked with sugar until it forms a gel, while jelly is made with fruit juice, sugar, and pectin. In other words, jellies don’t contain any fruit pulp and should be completely translucent.
“Usually you make a jelly when it’s hard to separate the fruit from its unpleasant parts, such as seeds or fibrous bits,” explains Ziedrich, “and you’d make a jam when you want to eat all the fruit, or those bits are easily removed.” Grape jelly is a great example, since most people would prefer not to eat the seeds or skins, which can be bitter and unpleasant.
applesauce, but with more sugar added. Another type of soft fruit spread is marmalades. “Those are kind of similar to jelly,” says Jessica Piper, home canning expert at Newell Brands, “but they have the rind of your fruit. Typically it’s a citrus fruit, like oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit.”Fruit butters, typically made with pears or apples, which are high in pectin, are like a smoothly blended
“Then you have your conserves, which are kind of fun” Piper continues. “They’re a combination of at least two or more fruits, and are very thick, and typically, you’ll see dried fruits, or nuts, or coconut, raisins—very rich flavors and a different texture than some of the other soft spreads.”
Lastly, there are preserves, which are high in sugar and consist of shimmering pieces of fruit (or whole fruit) suspended in syrup. “That’s the one people have trouble understanding,” says Ziedrich, “maybe because they’re less popular than they used to be.”
“I think of preserves as real desserts that you can put on ice cream or serve at a fancy tea,” Ziedrich adds, “because they’re so special. There’s a tradition in Greece and the surrounding areas to serve a very small amount of some type of preserve, called a spoon sweet, with bitter coffee. The combination is pretty wonderful.”
Making the Most of Your Jams and Jellies
Whether you’re looking for the perfect peanut butter sidekick or a novel way to flavor your meat, soft spreads are extremely versatile. It’s also pretty simple to try making them yourself at home.
“Personally, I think the absolute easiest thing to make is jelly using store bought juice,” says Piper. But she warns that you need to be sure to check the juice label, since additives—including sugar—will result in a less desirable, cloudy-looking jelly.
Depending on the fruit you have on hand and the type of pectin you use, results can vary greatly in both taste and texture. It helps to know ahead of time what you’re looking for in terms of the end product. If you want something soft and syrupy, try using whole berries or pieces of fruit to make preserves. If you’d prefer something firmer made with pureed fruit, go with jam.
The Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves, $18.08 on Amazon
Jam out with 200 classic and contemporary recipes.
You can also try the traditional way of making jams, jellies, and preserves without using added pectin; all you need is fruit, sugar, and lemon juice. Ziedrich recommends blackberry jam as a great option for canning newbies. “Blackberries are high in pectin, and the smaller the recipe, the easier and quicker it is to get a good gel.”
Piper suggests trying out recipes for some of her personal favorites, including a low or no-sugar pepper jelly, pineapple pepper jelly, and habanero-apricot jelly, which cooks up beautifully on chicken wings.
“Of course, you can’t wrong with strawberry jam,” Piper adds. “It’s a tried and true classic.”
Whether you favor jam or jelly, here are some more recipes to try at home.
We have to agree with Piper; this is a classic flavor that’s great with peanut butter or by itself on warm scones. Plus, there are just three ingredients, and if you make a big batch, you can store it in the freezer for up to three months. Get our Strawberry Jam recipe.
2. Apricot Jam
This apricot jam is sunny both in color and flavor. Adding a Granny Smith apple in place of commercial pectin not only helps it set but underscores the sweet-tart flavor. Get our Apricot Jam recipe.
3. Grape Jelly
We use the grated Granny Smith trick in our classic grape jelly too, and it’s better than anything you can buy (sorry, Smuckers). Use black grapes, Concord if you can find them, for the best flavor. Get our Grape Jelly recipe.
Packed with blueberry flavor, this is good enough to eat off the spoon, but try it in place of the usual grape jelly in doughnuts or in these easy jam-filled cookies (especially if you mix some lemon zest into the dough). Get our Blueberry Jam recipe.
Despite being thought of as vegetables, bell peppers are actually fruits, but either way, they make a delicious spicy, sweet, and savory jam for spreading on crackers or sandwiches, with or without cream cheese. Get our Red Pepper Jam recipe.
Freezer jam, as the name suggests, is meant to be stored in the freezer since the berries themselves aren’t cooked, just mashed and mixed with sugar and boiled pectin. Use this method to capture the pure taste of raspberries (or other fresh fruit) at the peak of season. Get the Raspberry Freezer Jam recipe.
This smooth blackberry jam isn’t difficult, though straining it might take a while. If you’re okay with a more rustic, seedy jam, you can just skip that step. Get the Seedless Blackberry Jam recipe.
8. Apple Jelly
Apples have a high level of natural pectin, so all you need for apple jelly is apple juice, lemon juice, and sugar, but this version adds a little Cognac to the mix. If you like, you can leave it out—or swap in apple brandy. Get the Apple Jelly recipe.
9. Coffee Jelly
OK, so this breaks with the notion of fruits and vegetables being the main ingredients in jams and jellies, but if you think of the brewed coffee as equivalent to juice, it makes sense, and is certainly an interesting alternative spread for your morning toast. Get the Coffee Jelly recipe.
Related Video: How to Make Homemade Pectin for Jam
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