When making jam, knowing which ingredients are best is the first step to having a delicious final result. The type of sugar to use is one of the most common questions I get. I’ve been making all types of preserves for over 50 years, so I can give you a definitive answer.
Regular coarse-grain granulated sugar is the best choice for making jam, but cane sugar would also work well. Jam sugar is another good option, but keep in mind that it has pectin already added. Finer-grained sugars should be avoided since they may dissolve inconsistently and may ruin the recipe.
Alternative sweeteners also work well in jam. Honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, Truvia, Splenda, and sugar beets can be substituted effectively. Just keep in mind that sugar is the primary preserving agent in jam, so substituting will likely severely impact the shelf life.
Here is a chart that sums up which sugars should and should not be used in jam.
Sugars that can be used in jam:
|Sugar Type||Usable in Jam?|
|Course-Grained Granulated Sugar||Yes, preferred|
|Fine-Grained Granulated Sugar||No|
|Unprocessed Cane Sugar||Yes|
|Splenda||Yes, best in low pectin recipes|
|Truvia||“Baking Blend” only|
I did an article called “The 9 Best Substitutes For Sugar in Jam or Jelly Making”, be sure to check it out if you want to explore alternative sweeteners for jam.
The rest of the article will answer common questions about the best types of sugar for jam and also common questions people ask.
Why Is Granulated Sugar Used for Jelly and Jam?
Course-grain granulated sugar is used in jam-making because it dissolves slowly and evenly compared to finer-grained sugars. Jam-making requires a relatively long cooking time, and the large crystals of granulated sugar melt into the mixture at a steady pace.
If you were to use a finer type of sugar, like powdered or caster sugar, they would often dissolve too easily. They might also sink directly to the bottom of the pot and possibly scorch or burn at some point.
You might not even know about the issue until someone tasted the final product, and then made a face at you.
Large crystals in granulated sugar also mean that there’s less surface area for impurities to cling to. This will produce a clear jam or jelly (plus, you will have to do less skimming while the pot is on the burner).
What Is the Difference Between Jam Sugar and Granulated Sugar?
Jam sugar is granulated sugar that has pectin added to it. How much depends specifically on the brand you’re purchasing. There is also something called preserving sugar (more common in the UK than in the US), consisting of plain white sugar with extra-large crystals.
Pectin is a plant fiber that binds with sugar and fruit to create a gel. While a simple combination of fruit and sugar can reach gel consistency, adding pectin into the mix will shorten the cooking time, which will, in turn, produce a fresher and more vibrant flavor. In some recipes, pectin allows you to skip cooking altogether, namely in freezer jam.
Should You Use Jam Sugar Instead of Regular?
Jam sugar is not generally recommended since different types of jam call for varying amounts of pectin. Some fruits are naturally high in pectin, so you don’t need nearly as much pectin to make them set.
Instead, it’s best to buy pectin separately and then add the perfect amount for each type of fruit. It’s also a lot cheaper if you plan on making a lot of jam. A good rule of thumb is to use a quarter of an ounce for each pound of fruit, but be sure to follow the recipe exactly.
You can make jam with no added pectin at all, only it will result in a slightly runny jam.
Pro Tip: Out of pectin? Look for other items in your kitchen. The pith from lemon peels is full of pectin, and you can drop a few into the pot during cooking. Tart apples like Granny Smith are also high in pectin. You can grate them and add them directly into the jam (don’t worry, they will not change the flavor), or turn them into applesauce first.
I wrote an article called “8 Best Substitutes for Pectin in Jam Making“, be sure to check it out.
Now, let’s cover some other common sweeteners and see if we could substitute them in jam.
Can I Use Brown Sugar to Make Jam?
Brown sugar can be used to make jam. You can use the same amount as if using granulated sugar. However, be prepared for some change in texture and flavor.
In terms of flavor, you’ll get an additional note since most commercial brown sugar is mixed with molasses. But in terms of texture, expect that it will be a bit firmer for the same reason it makes cookies chewy.
Brown sugar is more acidic than regular sugar, and that will help the jam gel. You could actually use it in the same way you would use jam sugar.
Can You Use Raw Sugar to Make Jam?
Raw sugar can be used to make jam. Just expect the final result to provide a hint of molasses taste. Substitute with a 1:1 ratio.
Interesting Fact: The reason for the taste of raw sugar is that it is never stripped of its molasses, like regular granulated sugar is. As long as you follow the correct ratio, you’ll end up with perfectly gelled and delicious jam.
Can You Use Honey to Make Jam?
Honey can be used to make jam and is known to be the healthiest sugar substitute. It is an excellent choice for people on a special diet or just trying to eat healthier in general. Be sure to use raw unfiltered honey to get the best result. Substitute at a rate of 7/8 cup of honey for 1 cup of sugar.
Can You Use Corn Syrup to Make Jam?
Corn syrup can be used to make jam but it is not generally recommended. It is known to significantly alter the taste and may not gel properly much of the time.
Just like in the case of honey, too much corn syrup will not allow the jam to set correctly. What makes it perfect for caramels and ice creams will work against you this time around.
Helpful Tip: If you still wish to use it, it’s recommended that for every 1/4 cup of corn syrup used, remove about 2 tablespoons of juice from the recipe. This will help the pectin gel more easily. Of course, if you are making a no-pectin jam, you can leave this step out.
The Ratio of Sugar to Fruit in Jam
In general, you will use a sugar to fruit ratio of 1.5:1 when making jam. However, it depends on the type of fruit you’re using. If the fruit is sweet, it will be 2 parts fruit to 1 part sugar by weight. If the fruit is bitter or very high in acid (like all citrus fruits), it will be 3 parts fruit to 2 parts sugar.
Pro Tip: I recommend that you stick to weight measurements instead of volume because it will ensure precision as well as make for easy conversion when you’re experimenting with different types of sugar.
The ratio doesn’t change even if you’re adding pectin or lemon juice into the mix. Also, avoid experimenting with the ratio since it will undoubtedly lead to a bad result. Always trust the recipe until proven otherwise.
What Happens if Not Enough Sugar in Jam?
If not enough sugar is used in jam, it will spoil without refrigeration. Sugar is not only there for sweetness, but it also acts as a preservative. Sugar inhibits microbial activity and will help preserve food for months (even years if stored properly).
As a rule, it’s not a good idea to change the ratio of sugar to fruit in a recipe. Of course, being a tiny bit off is not the end of the world, but you should avoid any significant deviations from the recipe.
Still, you can make a jam with less sugar (or with another sweetener for that matter), but it will become the so-called fridge jam.
How to Make Low or Sugar-Free Jam?
If working with honey or sugar alcohol (i.e., erythritol), either follow the above ratio or come up with your own. It doesn’t matter since you will have to store the jam in the fridge anyway. The same goes if you want to cut down on the sugar in the classing recipe.
Simply make the jam as you usually would, transfer it into a can or another vessel, leave it to cool, and store it in the fridge for a week.
Working with Stevia is slightly different. Since it tends to lose sweetness and even turn bitter when exposed to heat for a long time, add it at the final stage of cooking.
I wrote an article on How to Make Healthy Homemade Jam: An Easy Step-By-Step Guide, if you want to learn more.
Using the correct type of sugar in the right ratios is one of the most important keys to success in making jams or jellies. The good news is that you have multiple options when it comes to choosing a sweetener. While course-grained granulated sugar is the traditional “best” choice, amazingly tasty jams, jellies, and preserves can be made with a variety of alternative options.
So get into that kitchen and start preserving sweetness today. 🙂
Thanks for stoppin’ by!
For more, don’t miss 23 Expert Tips To Make The Best Homemade Jelly Ever.
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