Guide to Jam and Jelly

Publish Date May 18, 2022 4 Minute Read
Author By Grace Yek, CCC, M.S.

You’re low on breakfast items but as luck would have it, you’re looking down the grocery aisle and see “Jams and Jellies.” This ought to be a breeze.

You reach for your go-to jam but your eyes travel to the mesmerizing array of colorful, jarred beauties. Should you branch out? What’s the difference anyway between “jams and jellies?”

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Sure, there are the many choices of fruit – strawberry, raspberry, grape, you name it. Then there’s the matter of jam or jelly. Is one better than the other?

Well, no, one is not inherently better than the other. It really depends on what you like and what you’re using it for. We can all agree though you can’t go wrong with either one when it comes to the venerable slice of toast.

What’s in Jam and Jelly?

Jams and jellies have three key ingredients: Fruit, sugar and pectin. The juice of the fruit is used in jelly whereas chopped or crushed fruit is used in jam. In a way, jelly is more refined in that the “texture” has been strained out – much like the oft-desired smooth mouthfeel in haute cuisine. Jam is the rustic cousin of jelly -- pulp, fiber and all. The same “rough edges” also spark the palate with added texture and flavor.

The look and feel of Jam and Jelly

Jelly is characteristically glassy-looking and smooth. It’s also typically firm enough to hold its shape if you should ever slide it out of the jar – similar to the groovy cranberry jelly that skates out of the can on Thanksgiving.

Jam, on the other hand, has a cloudier look, hearty with visible bits of fruit and, sometimes, even seeds (think strawberry). It’s also looser and doesn’t retain it shape. If that jar of jam could talk, it would ask to be spooned.

What is Pectin?

Both jam and jelly need pectin to shape up. Pectin is the plant equivalent of gelatin that sets the jelly, and gives jam their thicker, spreadable consistency.

Think of it as a molecular net that tightens its grip on the sloshy fruity concoction to get it to sit up straight.

Pectin is naturally-occurring in the cell walls of plants as a type of structural carbohydrate (polysaccharides, for the chemistry buffs). Sure, you could extract your own pectin if you cook the fruit long enough but it’s also available in convenient powder form on the retail shelf. Keep in mind, the longer you cook fruit, the more of the fresh flavors you’ll end up losing, hence the use of commercial pectin.

Fruits like oranges and underripe apples are naturally higher in pectin than fruits such as strawberries and blueberries. Depending on the desired texture and naturally present pectin, the amount of added pectin is adjusted accordingly.

Nutrition of Jam and Jelly

“Even though jam is made with bits of fruit, there isn’t much of a nutritional difference between jams and jellies,” Taylor Newman, Kroger dietitian, says. “Both provide about the same amount of added sugar, depending on the brand.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends consuming less than 10% of your daily calories from added sugar, or about 50 g of added sugar for someone consuming a 2000 calorie diet, so enjoy your fruit spread of choice in moderation. For better-for-you choices, you can compare nutrition facts labels to find lower added sugar options or opt for sugar-free jams and jellies.

Types of Jam and Jelly

As jams and jellies go, there are the usual varieties like grape, apple, strawberry, apricot, raspberry and blackberry. Then there are the ones with more pep such as red pepper jelly, mint apple jelly, blueberry pomegranate and hot pepper peach. Even more excitingly, there is the assortment of tomato jam, bacon jam, and even roasted garlic and onion jam.

How to use Jam and Jelly

Think beyond the toast.

Try spooning blueberry jam over waffles, ice-cream or even cheesecake. Swirls of blueberry jam in lemon parfait is as perfect as it gets. As flavors go, the pairing of blueberry and lemon is near and dear to the hearts many chefs.

Jams and jellies are not limited to sweet food either. Try glazing a ham or pork roast with apple jelly, or maybe even top grilled chicken or fish with hot pepper jelly. Do you enjoy the occasional cheese and charcuterie board? Spoon up some bacon or roasted garlic and onion jam for the perfect accompaniment.

What are Preserves?

As you look deeper into the “Jams and Jellies” section, you’ll likely spot “preserves” on the shelf too. If the juice of the fruit is a core ingredient in jellies, and crushed fruit the backbone of jam, then chunks of fruit or even the whole fruit bring the party to the preserves. It’s basically chunky jam.

The difference between jams and jellies is simply a matter of what form of the fruit is used to make the sweet goodness in the jar. While you’re exploring the bountiful

varieties for your breakfast fix, keep in mind jams and jellies might just be the thing to give your dinner that extra pizzazz.

Check out our blog, The Fresh Lane, for more food inspiration, tips and tricks.

Recipes with Jam and Jelly