What is the Difference Between Jam, Jelly, Preserves, and Marmalade?


Assortment Jams Jelly Preserves Marmalade

Just about everyone knows what jelly or jam is. However, when it comes to the exact differences between all the different types of preserved fruit spreads, there is often some confusion. Over the years I have made just about every type possible so I decided to write this article to share what I have learned.

The differences between jam, jelly, preserves, and marmalade are found in what part of the fruit is used, the ingredients, and the texture created by the different preparation methods. Here are the common ingredients used in each type:

  • Jelly: Juice, sugar, acid, and pectin
  • Jam: Pulp, sugar, acid, and pectin
  • Preserves: Whole or chopped fruit, with sugar, but no pectin
  • Marmalade: Same as jelly but include the peel

Canning is an interesting process, especially when it comes to fruit.
You can take basically the same ingredients and vary the preparation method just a little and the result will be entirely different. Read on for more detail on each type of preserved fruit, how they differ, how they are prepared, and how you can use them.

What Is Jam?

Jams consist of fruit which has been chopped or crushed, mixed with pectin and sugar (or sugar substitute), and cooked until thick and the fruit begins to lose its shape. Jam differs from Jelly as it is made from fruit pulp while jelly is made only from the juice extracted from the fruit, and jam is more similar to Conserves and Preserves which are made from fruit pulp.

What Types of Fruit Can Be Used to Make Jam?

Almost any variety of fruit can be used to make jam, but some of the favorites are Apples, Blackberries, Blueberries, Grapes, Peaches, and Strawberries. Here are a few tips for choosing fruit:

  • Always use the best and highest quality fruit you can find that is firm and flavorful.
  • Use fruit that is in-season as off-season fruit is usually not as sweet and flavorful as in its natural season.
  • In-season fruit should be at their peak of ripeness, but not overripe as fruit that is fully ripe contains the maximum amount of natural pectin and acid but begins to lose pectin and acid as it continues to ripen.
  • Use local fruit when possible and avoid buying fruit that has been picked early for shipping, unless you can’t find the kind of fruit you want locally.

How Is Jam Made?

Any fruit can be made into jam if you prepare it properly.

  1. Wash, trim and cut into small pieces or chunks.
  2. Place the fruit pieces into a Dutch oven with pectin (Click here for info on my favorite brands) and sugar and combine thoroughly.
  3. Bring to a full rolling boil and let cook for 3 minutes.
  4. Pour into prepared and sterilized jars and affix lids.
  5. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
  6. Remove from boiling water bath canner and place on a towel to cool.

What Is Jam Typically Used For?

Jam has many uses including:

  • Spreading on bread, muffins, or biscuits.
  • As an ingredient in cake recipes.
  • As a filling for cookies and pastries.
  • Adding to yogurt.
  • Adding to sauces for meat.
  • Making glazes for desserts.
  • Using as a topping for ice cream and other desserts.

What Is Jelly?

Jellies are made from cooking, crushing and straining fruit to extract its juice, mixing the prepared juice with sugar and pectin, and cooking to a clear, firm consistency.

Jelly differs from other fruit products because it does not contain pieces of the actual fruit and gets its color and flavor from juice extracted from the fruit.

What Types of Fruit Can Be Used to Make Jelly?

Any fruit can be used to make jelly. As a matter of fact, in some cases, the same fruit can be used for making jelly and one of the other fruit products, such as jam.

How Is Jelly Made?

The best way to explain how jelly is made is by giving an example. Let’s say you wanted to make peach jelly, which is a very good jelly-making fruit. My favorite thing to do is make jam first and then use the “leftovers” to make jelly.

The Jelly Making Process

  1. The peaches should be washed,  peeled, pitted, and the pulp chopped and cooked with sugar and pectin to make jam.
  2. The peels and pits from the fruit you have just made into jam can be placed in a large pot and boiled for approximately 30 minutes.
  3. Strain to extract the juice which can then be added to sugar and pectin to make a delicious peach jelly.

One bunch of fruit produces two different fruit products!

Apples, quince, plums, and mangoes can be treated the same way.

Are There Any Fruits That Can’t Make Two Products at the Same Time?

Some fruits are not good candidates to make two types of product with the same batch. Figs and grapes can only be used once. What is left of those fruits after the juice is extracted would not be good for any other use except for composting.

You could take the grapes and mix them with sugar and pectin to make jam, or take the figs and mix with sugar to make preserves. Unfortunately, you can’t do both unless you have enough to do a batch of each. No double dipping here!

What Is Jelly Typically Used For? Jelly can be used for:

  • Spreading on bread, muffins, or biscuits;
  • Adding to yogurt and sauces for meat;
  • Including in glazes for desserts;
  • As a topping for ice cream and other desserts; and,
  • As a frosting for cakes. I remember my mother making many “jelly cakes,” as she called them.

What Are Preserves?

Preserves, as my family prepares them, are made by combining whole fruit or fruit cut into large chunks with sugar and cooking until thickened without adding pectin.

What Types of Fruit Can Be Used to Make Preserves?

As with jam, almost any fruit can be used to make preserves, but my family favorites are figs, apples, and pears. And, keep in mind that only the best quality local fruit that is in season and fully ripe but not overly ripe should be used.

How Are Preserves Made?

A prime example is fig preserves made by following this recipe:

  1. Wash the figs well and trim stems; either leave them whole or cut in half.
  2. Place the figs in a large Dutch oven and add sugar at a ratio of 5 cups of sugar to a gallon of figs.
  3. Add just a little water, up to one cup for a gallon of figs, because some water will be left on the figs after washing, the sugar will melt and add to the juice, and juice will cook out of the figs, all making it unnecessary to add a lot of liquid.
  4. If you add too much water, the figs will need to be cooked longer which will, in turn, overcook the figs.
  5. Be sure to stir the figs often to prevent sticking and burning.
  6. Pour hot figs into prepared jars, affix lids, and set aside to seal.

What Are Preserves Typically Used For?

There are many ways to use preserves besides spreading on toast or hot biscuits, including:

  • As an ingredient in marinades, salad dressings, and sauces such as curry sauce.
  • As a spread on crackers and sandwiches.
  • As an ingredient in smoothies.
  • As an ingredient in muffins and other quick bread.
  • As a filling for fruit pies and cobblers.
  • In braised meats.
  • Combined with cream cheese for a cake frosting.

What Is Marmalade?

Marmalades have the consistency of jelly with pieces of citrus peel suspended throughout. Marmalade should be a bright color and, if dark and dull, it has been overcooked.

What Types of Fruit Can Be Used to Make Marmalade?

Traditionally, citrus fruits have always been used to make marmalade. As with other fruits, be sure the fruit is in season, fully ripe, and of good quality.

How Is Marmalade Made?

Marmalade is made by following these steps:

  1. Squeeze the juice from the citrus fruit and reserve in the refrigerator.
  2. Tie the peel, pith, and seeds into a cheesecloth and place the tied cheesecloth into a pot of water and bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer gently for at least an hour. Remove from heat and strain. Take boiled citrus peel and scrape all the residue from the inside and then cut the peel into strips or chunks.
  3. Mix the reserved fruit juice and strained juice from peels, pith, and seeds with the strips or chunks of citrus peel and sugar and pectin and prepare as you would for any jelly. The addition of citrus fruit and peel gives it a tangy flavor.

What Is Marmalade Typically Used For

Marmalades are best spread on toast, muffins, or biscuits, but can also be heated and served as a topping for desserts.

What Other Types of Fruit Spreads Are There?

There are other types of fruit products worth mentioning that use a similar process to jam, jelly, preserves, and marmalade. They are conserves, fruit butter, and fruit syrup. Knowing how they are made may give you a better understanding of the entire fruit canning process.

What Are Conserves?

Conserves are similar in texture to jams and are made by mixing two or more different fruits with sugar and cooking them to a jam-like consistency, often adding nuts, coconut, and dried fruits. They are different from jams because they are made of whole or large pieces of fruit and are cooked more gently than jam. Conserves can be made with or without pectin.

How Are Conserves Made?

  1. To prepare, just wash the fruit and pit or peel, depending on the fruit you are using.
  2. Leave berries such as strawberries whole or cut in half, and other fruits like apples and peaches should be cut into large chunks.
  3. Be sure to place the prepared fruit and sugar in a large bowl, cover, and leave for several hours or overnight.
  4. Then place all ingredients into a Dutch oven and follow recipe directions.

What Combinations Can Be Used to Make Conserves?

Some of my favorite combinations for conserves are:

  • Apricot and Champagne
  • Peach and Strawberry
  • Peach, Raspberry, and Walnut
  • Apple, Blackberry, and Raisin
  • Blueberry, Lemon, and Lime
  • Raspberry and Fresh Mint
  • Fig, Orange, and Pistachio with Cinnamon and Cloves
  • Apple, Pear, and Orange
  • Apple, Orange, Walnut, and Coconut

There is an infinite number of possibilities for making conserves. I encourage you to be creative. Even so, use common sense or you might end up with a “Franken-Conserve.”

Avoid mixing acidic fruits with sweet fruits or melons with any other fruits. Some bad combinations might be peaches and bananas, strawberries and raisins, or melons and citrus fruits.

What Are Conserves Typically Used For?

Conserves are often:

  • Spread on toast, bread, muffins, or biscuits,
  • Incorporated into glazes for meats or fruit tarts,
  • Used as fillings for cakes, or
  • Substituted for toppings for yogurt or ice cream.

Champagne, liqueur, or other spirits are often added to conserves to give them a special touch.

What Is Fruit Butter?

Fruit Butter is the consistency of thick applesauce and is made by combining fruit pulp and sugar and simmering gently for 2 or more hours until the mixture thickens and the fruit is cooked all to pieces. Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and allspice are often used in fruit butter to provide flavor.

What Types of Fruit Can Be Used to Make Fruit Butter?

The most popular fruit butter is apple butter, but fruit butter can be made with many other fruits including peaches, plums, mangoes, quince, strawberries, and other berries. Cranberry and Orange Butter made from cranberries and the juice and zest of an orange is a popular combination.

How Are Fruit Butters Made?

  1. Fruit should be prepared for making fruit butter by washing, peeling, pitting, and cutting into 1-inch pieces. Strawberries should be cut in half.
  2. Mix all ingredients and put into a Dutch oven over high heat and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 to 2 hours, depending on the fruit, until fruit is completely cooked and thickened.
  4. Stir occasionally and mash fruit with a potato masher while cooking.
  5. To test whether the fruit butter is ready, spoon a little of the fruit onto a plate. If no liquid seeps out, it is done. If there is still some liquid, cook a little more.
  6. Fruit Butter is easy to make in a slow cooker which eliminates a lot of the stirring. If using a slow cooker, be sure to leave the lid vented so that condensation will allow the excess water to cook out.

What Is Fruit Butter Typically Used For?

Fruit Butter:

  • Is delicious served on toast or biscuits,
  • Can be added to pancake or waffle batter, and
  • Can be used as a topping for yogurt, desserts, or ice cream. If using as a topping, it can be thinned with a little fruit juice.

What Is Fruit Syrup?

Fruit Syrup is the consistency of any other syrup or a thin jelly and is made by cooking fruit, sugar, and water, mashing the fruit as it cooks until it is slightly thickened and then either serving it with chunks of fruit in it or straining to make a clear liquid.

This also a good alternative use for jelly that did not set properly if you do not want to fix it by reboiling and adding more pectin. Just use the failed batch of jelly as a Fruit Syrup and your family will think you have made a special treat for them.

How Is Fruit Syrup Made?

When making Fruit Syrup, the best recipe would be half a cup of sugar and half a cup of water for each cup of prepared fruit cut in chunks, and cook until slightly thickened, at least 30 minutes.  Do not overcook as the syrup will thicken more as it cools. If your Fruit Syrup is thicker than you like, it can be diluted with a little fruit juice, water, or even sparkling water.

What Types of Fruit Can Be Used to Make Fruit Syrup?

Any fruit can be used to make Fruit Syrup, and many people add lemon or lime juice, vanilla bean, or even rose petals for flavor.

What Is Fruit Syrup Typically Used For?

Fruit Syrup can be:

  • Served warm over pancakes, french toast, or waffles, and
  • Can be refrigerated to serve over ice cream, cheesecake, or any dessert.

How Long Do Jellies, Jams, Marmalades, and Other Types of Preserves Last?

Conserves, Fruit Butters, Fruit Syrups, Jams, Jellies, Marmalades, and Preserves can all be prepared by the basic canning method and can be stored unopened in a cool, dark area for at least 1 to 2 years, and most will last in the refrigerator after opening for several months. These fruit products can also be stored in the freezer for at least a year.

However, if you only have a few pieces of fruit and want to make a small batch of refrigerator or freezer jam or other fruit product, keep in mind that according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, freezer jam that has not been made by the standard canning process only stays good in the freezer for up to 12 months. After opened, freezer jam only maintains its optimum flavor and texture in the refrigerator for up to 3 or 4 weeks.

What Are the Various Uses for Jams, Jellies, Preserves, and Marmalades?

Fruit products are extremely versatile and the type you make will depend on how you plan to use them and the preferences of you and your family. The can be used in many ways and in preparing many meals. Including:

  • Spreads on crackers, bread, muffins, and biscuits
  • Ingredients in smoothies, bread, cakes, cake frosting, marinades, salad dressings, and sauces.
  • Fillings for fruit pies, cobblers, and other desserts.
  • Topping for ice cream, cheesecake, and other desserts.

Related Questions

What are some other uses for fruits? Most fruits can be eaten raw, they can be baked, they can be made into cakes and cookies, they can be transformed into cobblers, they can be dried and frozen, and they can be preserved by making a number of different fruit products, like those highlighted in this article.

Can I Compost Fruit Waste? According to “Rodale’s Ultimate Guide to Organic Gardening,” the waste from any fruit product can be composted, whether raw or cooked. That means the pulp left after boiling fruit to make jelly and the raw peels, cores, seeds, and any other part of raw fruit can all be used in our compost. As a matter of fact, fruit waste is a well-balanced compost material.

Which is healthier jelly, jam, or preserves? Raw fruit is one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Although high in sugar, it is natural sugar. Also, fruit is high in fiber and water and is very filling. However, when you add sugar, pectin, and other things to the fruit to make jelly, jam, or preserves, you lose a lot of the healthy benefits by adding these other things to the mix.

But, to answer the question which is healthier jelly, jam, or preserves? I would have to say that a refrigerator or freezer jam made with sweet fruit and no added ingredients would be the healthiest option for a homemade fruit product.

Final Thoughts

Until about 5 years ago I lived in the country. Any day not working I could be found with a bucket or two in hand wandering around the family “compound” to see what I could find.

If I had lived in prehistoric times, I would have been classified as a “gatherer.” Depending on the time of year, I checked the gardens, looked for blueberries, blackberries, mayhaws, pears, persimmons, or dewberries.

Then, I’d check in with everyone to see what they could use, and take the rest home to either cook or can for use at a later time. There wasn’t anything I couldn’t find a use for.

I have always been intrigued by how you can add one extra ingredient or substitute one item and voila! You have a new creation!

I hope you find this article useful. Now go out and sweeten up your life. Thanks for reading.

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.

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