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What Is The Difference Between Jelly and Jam?

Charcuterie boards have burst in popularity over the last couple of years as Pinterest-worthy cheese and fruit boards filled our social media feeds. The popular hosting platter can be designed however you please and can feature a wide variety of cheeses, crackers, nuts, fruits, and spreads. 

Two key sweet staples of these feasting boards are jams and jellies. Maybe you're newer to this hobby and aren't well versed on the differences between jam and jelly and other preserves or spreads. If that's the case, let's break down the difference between jam and jelly!

What Is Jelly?

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a staple meal for many North American households. But, what is jelly? And what makes it different from jam?

Pectin: A Natural Thickener

Jelly is made by cooking down fruit juice with sugar in order to release a natural thickening fiber found in a fruit's cell walls and its juice - called pectin. Many jellies need this pectin to maintain its thick and smooth consistency. However, not all fruits contain the same amount of pectin. Because some fruits contain more pectin than others, the consistencies of these jellies will vary as well. 

If you are using a fruit with less pectin, you will likely have a thinner jelly and may want to add additional pectin to the mixture. This can be done by adding powdered pectin until you get the desired texture and consistency. 

For the most part, a good jelly will be quite smooth, firm and clear. Compared to a jam or a preserve, a jelly is able to hold its shape more.

Label Requirements

The sugar content in jelly is important in its name. In fact, in the United States, jelly has to meet certain requirements, like a certain amount of sugar, in order to be labeled as jelly. If it is a low sugar or no sugar jelly, it needs to be labeled as a " fruit spread" or something along those lines. 

These rules also control the type of fruit juices used, how the fruit juice is collected, the kind of sugar used, and any additional ingredients used in creating the jelly.

What Is Jam?

In simple terms, jam is created with chopped or pureed fruit that is then cooked down with sugar. Jam is known for its chunky texture and usually has small pieces of crushed fruit still in the product. The mashed pieces are one of the biggest indicators that you are using jam instead of jelly. 

For example, in a strawberry jam, a jam maker will use fruit pieces and will chop and mash them into crushed pieces. These sweet strawberries are cooked down slightly with some sugar before being cured in a jar.

Jam's Chunky Texture

Jam's chunkier texture is different compared to jelly which has a firmer texture. If the jam maker wants to change the texture, they may add pectin to change the consistency. 

The added pectin, sugar levels, and ingredients all need to meet certain requirements in the U.S. in order to be labeled as a jam. If not, these jams will need to be labeled as fruit spreads instead. 

Jam's loose and chunky texture allows it to be spooned on top of food, like toast. Jam is used in many baked goods, as toppings on ice cream, or in meat marinades. As well, many people enjoy making their own jam with fresh produce instead of using a store bought jam.

What Are Preserves?

Preserves, on the other hand, are made from whole fruit instead of crushed fruits and fruit syrup. Jam, jelly, marmalade, and chutney are all types of preserves - with varying degrees of fruit pieces and preparation methods. 

They can often be preserved in their whole form - think of a cherry or strawberry preserve - instead of with pieces or juice like they are in jam and jelly.

Example: Marmalade

Marmalade is a type of fruit preserve that uses citrus peels in its creation. The whole fruit and the citrus peels, rind, and pulp simmer in boiling water until they soften. Then, they are cooked down to thicken before being stored as marmalade. 

Other fruit spreads include fruit butters, confit, or fruit curd.

Key Differences Between These Spreads

The biggest difference between jelly, jam, and preserves is how much of the physical fruit is used to make them and how much of these pieces remain in the final fruit spread product

Jelly is known for its smooth and firm texture. Jellies should not have any chunks of fruit in the final spread as it is made with fruit juice rather than pieces of fruit. 

Because jam is made with actual pieces of chopped fresh fruit and fruit pulp, it can have chunks of the fruit in the final product. In many jams, like strawberry jam, you'll see the fruit's seeds in the jam. 

Finally, preserves, like marmalade, are cooked with the whole fruit, pulp, and syrup, making them different from jams and jellies.

Vegan Jellies and Jams

Whether you prefer a jelly or a jam, you’ll want to sample some of the delicious combinations LaDeeDa has been cooking up lately!