Toast with some butter and jam is a marvelous thing. Wait. Butter and jam? Or butter and jelly? Or is it marmalade? What’s the difference between jam and jelly and every other kind of sweet, spreadable fruit?
It’s a confusing, sticky world. We’re here to provide some answers.
All of these condiments start with sugar, fruit and heat. Fruit naturally contains pectin, the stuff that makes jams and jellies firm up. (Not all fruits contain the same amount of pectin though, so sometimes powdered pectin has to be added to get the desired texture.) When heated, the fruit will lose liquid, causing it to reduce to a firmer consistency. The distinction between the varieties comes from how much physical fruit ends up in the final product and how firm it ends up setting. It’s a spectrum of sorts.
At one end of the spectrum, you have jelly. It’s the firmest, clearest fruit condiment around. Once the fruit is cooked, it’s strained, so that only the juice ends up in the jelly. That’s why the grape stuff you spread all over peanut butter in first grade was (and is) so clear. If you’re going to find additional pectin in any of these, you’ll find it in jelly. And that means that if you turned a jar of jelly over, it would probably slide out in one solid piece, like a can of cranberry, well, jelly. Kinda gross. Kinda cool.
We don’t like to play favorites, but we really like jam. It’s the chunkier version of jelly, with more pieces of actual fruit in it and a slightly looser, spoonable texture. Here, chopped or pureed fruit is cooked with sugar, so pieces of the fruit end up in the final product. It’s not clear, and it’s not solid. This is the middle of our spectrum. We like it in the middle. It’s comfortable. And tasty.
If you’ve been following the trend here, you can probably guess what’s up with preserves. They contain the most fruit, more often than not in whole pieces, and have the least gel-like consistency. These are great for serving with cheese, kinda like slapping a big ol’ piece of cherry on top of your stinky gorgonzola.
Remember how we were just taking about preserves a second ago? Yeah, marmalade is just preserves that are made with citrus — the whole fruit, rind and all. Lemon. Orange. Grapefruit. You get the picture. We love how aromatic and bittersweet good marmalades are, a result of all the complex flavors and fragrant oils present in those citrus peels.