Today, many people are trying to avoid sugar. Whether it is for weight loss, to maintain a healthy lifestyle or other health reasons, it doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy life’s pleasures. I have spent countless hours researching and testing the best sugar substitutes so that I can help you choose the discover which ones are for you and your family. Here are my findings.
The best sugar substitutes in jam or jelly making:
- Unprocessed cane sugar
- Maple syrup
- Agave nectar
- No-sugar pectin
- Sugar Beets
- Concentrated fruit juice
Honey, like this really good raw and unfiltered type, found on Amazon, is probably my favorite option as a replacement for sugar.
Now, let’s go through the merits of each sugar substitute one by one.
Using honey as a sweetener to replace sugar in your jam is by far the healthiest option, second only to a sugar-free jam. Jam made with honey is an excellent choice for people who are dieting and/or just trying to eat healthier.
Just remember a few things when using honey to sweeten your jam:
- Be sure to use raw unfiltered honey, like this really good kind found on Amazon. Substitute at a rate of 7/8 cup of honey for 1 cup of sugar.
- When using honey to sweeten jam, the honey adds liquid to your jam and can result in a finished product that is watery. But, by reducing the liquid in your jam recipe by 1/4 cup for every cup of honey used will correct this problem.
- Honey can be used to replace sugar in any fruit product, including jam, jelly, and preserves.
- A good jam recipe would be made with 4 cups of prepared fruit and 1/2 to 1 cup of raw honey.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Replacing Sugar with Honey?
Honey has a distinctive flavor and can affect the taste and color of the jam, so be prepared for these changes.
If making a refrigerator or freezer jam with honey, you can even involve your family in the process by asking them to do a taste test to get the jam just right. They will love it!
Unprocessed Cane Sugar or Turbinado
Unprocessed cane sugar or turbinado, like my recommended brand found on Amazon, is an excellent substitute for granulated sugar in all your homemade fruit products, and will even provide a hint of the molasses taste in the jam, jelly, or other fruit product.
Substitute unprocessed cane sugar, or turbinado, 1 to 1.
Health Fact: According to the United States Department of Agriculture, unprocessed cane sugar has more calories (18 calories per teaspoon) than granulated sugar’s 16 calories per teaspoon. But one teaspoon of the unprocessed cane sugar does have one milligram of potassium and one milligram of calcium while granulated sugar has none.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Using Unprocessed Cane Sugar or Turbinado?
- While unprocessed cane sugar is only slightly less processed than granulated sugar, it does have a slightly light brown or blond color that could change the color of some fruit products, particularly when using fruits that are light, such as white grapes and peaches.
- In addition to color, there are impurities in unprocessed cane sugar that cause foaming. This foaming can be somewhat counteracted with the addition of approximately 1/4 teaspoon of butter to each batch of jam or jelly.
So, if you like the taste of molasses, why not use molasses as a sweetener?
To use molasses rather than the unprocessed cane sugar would result in the addition of very strong molasses taste to the finished product that would overpower the taste of the fruit and would be unpleasant for many people.
Maple syrup can also be used as a substitute for part of the processed sugar in all your homemade fruit products, but should only replace one-quarter of the sugar and should be substituted at the rate of 2/3 cup for one cup of sugar. At that rate, a jam recipe that calls for 4 cups of fruit and 4 cups of sugar would change to 4 cups of fruit and 3 cups of sugar + 2/3 cup of Maple Syrup.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Using Maple Syrup?
If used alone to sweeten your jam or jelly, the taste would be completely changed and, like molasses, would overpower the taste of the fruit.
Raw Agave Nectar can be used as a sugar substitute in jam or preserves. Substitute Raw Agave at the rate of 3/4 cup for every 1 cup of sugar. Be sure you are using Raw Agave Nectar, like this kind.
A good strawberry jam recipe sweetened with Agave Nectar would be:
- 2 cups of fresh strawberries, washed, trimmed, and cut into large chunks
- 1/3 cup white grape juice with no sugar added
- 1&1/2 tablespoons low or no sugar added pectin
- 1/2 cup agave nectar
- 1/4 teaspoon butter
- Combine fruit, grape juice, and butter in a large pot or Dutch oven.
- Stir in pectin and heat to a full rolling boil.
- Add raw agave nectar and bring back to a full rolling boil and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
- Pour into prepared jars, affix lids, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
- Remove from boiling water bath, dry jars, and place on prepared surface to cool completely.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Using Agave Nectar?
Agave Nectar is similar to honey in that it adds liquid to your recipe and requires a reduction in the liquid in order to avoid a watery jam.
Most people think of Truvia as one of the artificial sweeteners such as Splenda and NutraSweet. However, Truvia is a product of Stevia, a natural plant, and should be placed in the category of sugar substitutes along with honey and maple syrup.
- If using Truvia in jam, jelly, or any recipe that must be cooked, be sure to use the Truvia “Baking Blend,” as regular Truvia is not made to withstand high heat.
- If you are making freezer jam and will not be processing it in a boiling water bath, the “spoonable” Truvia can be used.
- Truvia can be substituted at the rate of 1/2 cup of Truvia for every 1 cup of sugar.
- Truvia only adds 5 calories per tablespoon of jam and can be used in any fruit product.
- As a product of Stevia, Truvia has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as safe for use by persons with diabetes.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Using Truvia?
If using Truvia in jelly, extra pectin will be required for the jelly to set properly; otherwise, it will be soft set.
Splenda is the only artificial sweetener that could be used in jams, jellies, and other fruit products. However, Splenda cannot be used in recipes that require sugar as a preservative and can only be used in these situations:
- In recipes using no or low sugar pectin,
- In freezer jam that relies on freezing as a preservative,
- Or in refrigerator jam that is only going to be kept in the refrigerator for a few weeks.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Using Splenda?
- Splenda doesn’t provide the gelling properties that sugar does, so the no-sugar version of pectin should be used.
- Jam made with Splenda can be soft set.
- Jam made with Splenda will be a little darker than jam made with sugar.
No-Sugar Pectin for Jelly
While regular commercial pectin must have sugar to complete the gelling process, there are several commercial pectins available for those who are interested in either reducing the sugar content in your jam and jelly or leaving them totally sugar-free. Here is the brand that I highly recommend. It’s by far my favorite.
Pro Tip: When using these products, the sweetest fruit you can find should be used.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Using No-Sugar Pectin?
One thing to remember about the various commercial pectins is that they do have a shelf life and will not stay good indefinitely. Pamona’s Universal Pectin is advertised as staying good indefinitely, but I have not tested their claim. If using any commercial pectin, follow the package directions for best results.
Jelly made with No-Sugar Pectin For Jelly will be soft set.
Sugar Beets have only a slightly different flavor than cane sugar and can replace cane sugar in any fruit product by extracting sugar crystals from the beets. Here’s how:
- Cut the tops off the beets and wash thoroughly, and cut the beets into small pieces.
- Place the beets into a pot and just cover with water and cook over medium heat until tender.
- Pour beets into a colander and let drain to extract as much juice as possible.
- Pour the juice into a large pot with low sides and cook slowly until crystals form.
- Scoop the crystals out as they form and continue cooking until all liquid has been reduced to crystals.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Using Sugar Beets?
There is very little difference in using beet sugar rather than cane sugar, and the two can be used interchangeably.
Homemade Concentrated Fruit Juice
Concentrated Fruit Juice can be made by squeezing certain fruits to obtain the juices.
To prepare the juice obtained by squeezing certain fruits like apples, grapes, and cherries:
- Cook the juice over low heat for several hours until the juice is in a concentrated form. This increases the sugar content.
- Pour into prepared jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
- Store under safe conditions as you would any canned food until ready to use.
Cool Tip: These juices can also be used in sweetening pickles, canned fruit, tomato sauce, and as the liquid in baked goods.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Using Fruit Juice?
Jam sweetened with homemade concentrated fruit juice will be soft set as will any jam made with any substitute for sugar as a sweetener.
Drawbacks to Using Any Substitutes for Sugar in Making Jam and Jelly
The process of making homemade jam and jelly is a chemical reaction between the fruit, the liquid, the pectin content, the acid content, and the sugar. If we follow recipes that are “tried and true” because they have been tested many many times, then the jam and jelly you make should gel properly and turn out perfectly.
But, if you change anything in the recipe, as you would be by substituting the sweetener, the chemical reaction which causes the jam and jelly to gel would not take place and the finished product would either be a soft gel or would be runny.
Most sugar substitutes cannot be substituted in equal amounts.
What Are the Best Tasting Sugar Substitutes for Jam or Jelly?
As with all foods, everyone has their own opinion of what is good and what isn’t, but here is my opinion of how the 9 options I’ve discussed in this article rank as far as taste with #1 being the best and #9 my least favorite.
- No Sugar Pectin For Jelly would be my favorite as I prefer jelly, jam, and preserves that are not so sweet, and I use somewhere between one-half and three-fourths the sugar called for in the recipe, depending on the sweetness of the fruit.
- Unprocessed Cane Sugar or Turbinado would be my second choice as I like the hint of molasses it gives to the fruit.
- Raw Honey would be my third choice as the jam I’ve made with honey is absolutely delicious.
- Concentrated Fruit Juice would come in fourth, again, if the fruit is very sweet.
- Sugar Beets would be number five as the taste is very close to granulated sugar that we are all more familiar with.
- Truvia is my next choice as it makes really good jam, jelly, and preserves that taste very much like those made with granulated sugar.
- Agave Nectar would be my next choice as the flavor is very pleasing.
- Maple Syrup would be choice number nine because I only like the taste of maple syrup on pancakes, not in my jam.
- Splenda is my last choice because I have never found an artificial sweetener that doesn’t have at least some unpleasant aftertaste. But, more specifically, I refuse to add an artificial sweetener to any foods I prepare. If it’s not a natural food, I don’t want it and will not feed it to my family.
Is It Possible to Make Sugar Free Jam That Tastes Good?
The best way to substitute sugar in jam is to avoid any sweetener at all! If you use good quality, ripe, and naturally sweet fruit, your jam should be absolutely delicious!
No Sugar Refrigerator or Freezer Jam
When making a refrigerator or freezer jam, you can feel free to use any ingredients you like as you are not trying to preserve the jam in a jar to store in the cabinet or pantry for an extended period of time as you would if using the regular canning process with sugar and regular pectin.
Instead, your jam will be preserved by storing in the refrigerator or freezer. This gives you the opportunity to be more creative in producing a product that has the type and amount of sweetener that you prefer, or even no sweetener at all, and contains a thickening agent that suits your preference.
Best Types of Commercial Sugar-Free Jam
There are many very good commercially produced sugar-free jams available in our grocery stores. However, even though they advertise being “sugar-free,” most are sweetened in some way, some with fruit juice and some with an artificial sweetener. Before you buy, be sure to check the ingredients list on the product label. If the jam is actually sugar-free, the only ingredients listed will be fruit and pectin.
To have the best sugar-free jam, find the sweetest fruit available to you and make your own jam using either the no-sugar version of commercial fruit pectin or a no-sugar refrigerator or freezer jam. That way you can know for sure exactly what is in your jam.
Recommended commercial brands:
- 365 Organic Strawberry Conserves (Click to see Amazon Listing) A child-friendly store brand of Whole Foods.
- Bionaturae Organic Fruit Spread, sweetened with fruit and fruit juice and 30 calories per tablespoon. Bionaturae uses only organic, hand-harvested heirloom fruits. Heirloom fruits have never been hybridized.
- Polaner All Fruit Spreadable Fruit, sweetened with fruit and fruit juice, 35 calories per tablespoon, and certified non-GMO.
- Smuckers Fruit & Honey, sweetened with honey and 35 calories per tablespoon.
- Smuckers Low-Sugar Preserves, low sugar content and 40 calories per tablespoon. (Downside is added color and preservatives.)
- Smuckers Simply Fruit, no added sugar and 40 calories per tablespoon.
I also wrote a detailed article on the most healthy jam for toddlers, which has good info on the best types of sugar-free jam.
Which Sweeteners Can Be Used By Diabetics? According to the American Diabetes Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, certain zero-calorie sweeteners including Splenda and Stevia can now safely be used by persons with diabetes, and the US Food and Drug Association have now approved these sweeteners for use. These sweeteners do not affect blood sugar levels and allow persons with diabetes more food choices and safely aid in weight management.
Which Fruits Should Diabetics Avoid? Even though most fruits can be included in a healthy diet for persons with diabetes, there are a few that are higher in carbohydrates and should be avoided. These fruits to be avoided are grapes, cherries, pineapples, mangoes, bananas, dried fruit, and any fruit juice.
What is the Absolute Healthiest Homemade Fruit Product? For the health-conscious who don’t want to give up those delicious jams and jellies, the absolute healthiest homemade fruit product for anyone would be jam made by cooking fresh fruit slowly until thickened without the addition of any other ingredients!
Although the old-fashioned jelly, jam, and preserves recipes are delicious and can’t be beaten as far as taste, there are many options available to those who are more health-conscious and would like to reduce their sugar intake.
My recommendation to all jelly makers, seasoned or just starting out, is to experiment with several different sweeteners and different recipes, and find out what works best for you and your family.
Thanks for stoppin’ by!
A Message from Jelly Grandma: Hey y’all! I started a YouTube channel called “Preserving Sweetness” that focuses on sharing tips that I’ve learned over the past 55+ years. Please come subscribe and check out the ridiculously unpolished videos. It would be a HUGE help to me. Thanks!
For more, don’t miss 8 Best Substitutes for Pectin in Jam Making.
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