Difference between Jam, Jelly, and Preserves

Updated on April 25, 2017

Some people believe that jam, jelly, and preserves are the same product with different names, while others say jam and jelly are preserves. There are also people who say the three are completely different products. So, which statement is correct? If you do not know the answer, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we will discuss how jam, jelly, and preserves are different from each other.


Strawberry jam

Jam is a type of fruit spread that is made by cutting, crushing, and squeezing whole fruits and then boiling the pieces in a combination of water, sugar, pectin, and an acidic ingredient. Pectin, a naturally occurring substance found in some fruits, thickens the consistency of the liquid when it is exposed to heat. Some fruits like plums, oranges, guavas, and apples have high levels of pectin, while others like grapes, strawberries, and cherries are low in pectin. Jams that are made from fruits that do not contain enough pectin are made with added pectin.

As the jam is exposed to heat, the water evaporates, the fruit bits become soft, and the consistency becomes mushy. Jams do not contain free liquid but they have a spreadable consistency with visible fruit solids.

The Food and Drug Administration in the United States requires that for a product to be labeled “jam,” it should be 47 parts fruit and 55 parts sugar (for berries and citrus) and 45 parts fruit and 55 parts sugar (for stone fruit and currants). This rule is specifically important to those who are planning to sell jams commercially. However, if you simply want to make jam for your family, the rule does not necessarily have to be followed.

Jams are typically spread on sandwiches and toast, or used as a sauce or topping for creamy desserts. In some countries, the word “jam” is synonymous to “preserves.”

Strawberry jelly

Jelly is a translucent fruit product made from fruit juices. It is made by crushing and squeezing fruits to get the juice and then filtering the juice using a fine fabric called a “jelly bag.” The filtration process makes sure that no fruit bits settle in the final product; therefore, it is important that the juice is freely allowed to seep through the fabric. Forcing or squeezing the juice into the mesh fabric will result in a murky or cloudy product. After straining, the juice is then boiled and mixed with sugar for several minutes to activate the pectin (some jelly may contain added pectin) which will allow it to set. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration requires that jelly should contain at least 55% fruit juice.

Jelly spreads evenly when warm because it does not contain fruit solids. When cool, it is soft enough to quiver when moved and is firm enough to hold shape even when cut. It can be colorless or colored, depending on the fruit base used.

Grapes, berries, pineapples, and even peppers can be made into jelly. Jelly is sometimes paired with cheese or peanut butter and is used on sandwiches or crackers. It can be eaten alone and is a favorite snack among children.

Further, the term “jelly” can also be used to refer to any dessert that is made from gelatin.

Strawberry preserves

The term preserves refers to a type of fruit spread that is made by soaking fruits (small pieces or whole) in water, syrup, or in its own juice. Pectin can sometimes be added since not all fruits are abundant in pectin. Pectin is what causes the mixture to have a gel-like consistency.

Preserves are not exactly spreadable because they contain large fruit chunks. They are best used as a topping for vanilla ice cream, waffles, pies, or cake.

Additionally, the word “preserves” may be used as a generic term to describe any fruit-based spread such as jelly and jam.

Jam vs Jelly vs Preserves

What, then, is the difference between jam, jelly, and preserves?

The three are types of spreads that use fruit, pectin, and sugar as the main ingredients.

Jam is made by crushing or cutting fruits and then cooking the fruit pieces in a combination of water, sugar, pectin, and an acidic ingredient. Jelly is made by extracting juice from the fruit by squeezing the fruit and filtering the juice, then cooking the juice to activate the pectin, which is what allows it to set. Preserves, on the other hand, are made by soaking and cooking whole fruits (or fruit bits if the whole fruit is too big) in their own juice, syrup, or water.

When it comes to consistency and appearance, jam and preserves have similar characteristics: they contain fruit bits and have a gel-like texture (they do not have free liquid). It is important to note, however, that jams have small fruit solids while preserves have large chunks of fruits. This is why jams can still be used as a spread, while preserves are usually used as a topping (although you can use them on toast if you prefer). Jelly, on the other hand, is translucent and does not contain any fruit solids. It spreads evenly on toast when warm but it holds shape when cool.

Additionally, the term “jam” may be interchangeable with the word “preserves” in some places. The term “jelly” may also refer to any gelatin-based dessert, and the word “preserves” may be used as a generic term that covers any fruit-based spread.

Comparison Chart

Made by cutting, crushing, and squeezing fruits then cooking the pieces in a combination of water, sugar, acid, and pectinMade by extracting juice from the fruit then filtering it to make sure it does not contain fruit solids; the juice is then cooked to activate the pectin for it to gelMade by soaking and cooking fruit (whole or cut) in its own juice, syrup, or water
Contains small pieces of fruitsThere are no fruit pieces but the flavor of the base fruit is retained by juiceContains large chunks of fruit
Soft; spreadableSoft and spreads evenly when warm; firm enough to hold its shape when coolSoft but not that spreadable because of the large fruit chunks
Usually paired with toast; also can be used as a sauce or dessert toppingUsually paired with peanut butter or cheese for sandwiches and crackers; can also be eaten aloneUsed as a topping for ice cream, cake, and waffles
The term “jam” is synonymous to “preserves” in some placesThe term “jelly” is sometimes used to refer to any gelatin-based dessertThe term “preserves” is also a generic term that refers to any fruit-based spread
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