One day at work, we began talking about the differences between jelly and jam and preserves. And then someone said, “What about marmalade…how is that different?”
None of us really knew the difference, so the next time I went to the grocery store, I stopped in front of the jelly and jam section to try to figure it out. I discovered that there were also fruit spreads, conserves, fruit butters and chutney and I was more confused than ever.
I turned to some of my cookbooks and to Google for the answers. I found a great-looking strawberry jam recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook and several websites that explained the differences. I bet some of you already know the answers but just in case you don’t, here they are!
Jellies are clear gels made from fruit juice, sugar, and pectin. They are thick enough to hold their shape, but also spread easily. Jellies last about a year and are often paired with peanut butter.
*For those of you who are not familiar with pectin, it’s extracted mainly from citrus fruits and other plants and is sold commercially as a white or light brown powder. It’s used in jellies and jams as a stabilizer and as a gelling agent.
Jams are made with one or more fruits, sugar, and pectin. In jams, the fruit is crushed or chopped so that bits and small pieces are in the soft spread. Jams also are good for about a year.
Fruit spreads are jams that are made without sugar using just the fruit pieces and pectin. Since sugar acts as a preservative in canning, fruit spreads don’t last as long as jellies and jams. They are good for about six months.
Marmalades are soft spreads made with one or more citrus fruits such as oranges, kumquats, bergamots, mandarins, grapefruit, lemons and limes. They are made from the juice, peel, and fruit pulp and are boiled with sugar. Since pectin occurs naturally in citrus fruits, it does not need to be added. The end product is a clear jelly spread with bits and pieces of the fruit and rinds in it.
Preserves seem to have two definitions. Some people consider preserves to be a form of a jam with small whole fruits (such as whole berries) or larger fruit pieces than a jam would have, suspended in the soft spread. Others use “preserves” as a broad blanket category of foods that are cooked or changed to last longer or to be “preserved”. This would include all jellies, jams, fruit spreads, marmalades, chutneys, conserves, and fruit butters.
Conserves also seem to have two definitions. One version says they are jams made with dried fruits and/or nuts. The spread has a thick and chunky texture and sometimes might contain liquor. Some people call conserves “whole fruit jams” which are made from whole fruits stewed in sugar. Conserves are especially popular in Eastern Europe.
Chutneys originated in India and are a spicy spread made from fruit and/or vegetables, spices, sugar and vinegar. They are sweet and tangy and have a texture similar to jam.
Apple butter and other fruit butters are smooth spreads made from larger, pureed fruits such as apples, plums, and peaches which are mixed with sugar and spices. They are cooked slowly until they thicken to a spreadable consistency.
When I was a girl, my mom and I would pick strawberries at a local farm every summer. Then, she would make the best tasting strawberry jam. To this day, I’ve never tasted jam as good as my mom would make. I’m hoping the recipe I found today might be the one she used since she had the same cookbook!
Besides strawberry jam, my personal favorites are apple jelly and pear or mango chutney, but now I want to try some of the spreads that are new to me. What are your favorites?