What’s the Difference Between Jam and Jelly?

The terms used to describe different fruit spreads is a subject that can cause confusion. People often do not know which term describes which type of spread and the words are often interchanged or used incorrectly. Two words that are a common cause of such confusion are the terms jam and jelly. Not only does this make things tricky when choosing a fruit spread at the store, it can also complicate understanding a recipe that requires you to use a specific type of fruit spread. Here is an explanation of these terms to put this debate to an end.

If the spread is made only from the juice of a fruit, then it is a jelly. The fruit is first pulped and then strained to separate the crushed flesh of the fruit from the juice. The extracted liquid is then boiled with pectin and sugar. This produces a spreadable topping with a thick consistency.

Although the process of creating jam is similar, the distinctive difference between this topping and jelly is that the liquid is not drained from the jam. Both the fruit pulp and the juice are made to create the jam. Just like in the creation of jelly, sugar is also added into the mixture. However, less pectin is used, if any at all, as the jam is thick enough already because it contains the crushed fruit. The consistency of jam can vary depending on the type of fruit used and if the fruit has been completely pulped or left chunky.

You might sometimes also hear of fruit spreads being referred to as fruit preserves, although these will usually have bigger chunks of fruit in the spread. A further source of confusion is marmalade. While this will generally refer to a fruit spread made using citrus fruit flesh and peel, there are some that look remarkably the same as either jelly or jam.

Unfortunately, the confusion does not end there as the terms used often differ depending on where you live. The best example of this is the difference between the terms used in the UK compared to the United States. Although both countries speak English, there are many occasions when they use different vernacular and the same word can have two completely different meanings in these countries.

First, there is a difference between the two countries in their application of the word jelly. People who live in the UK will use the term jelly to describe either a fruit spread or the gelatine-based dessert that people in the United States call Jell-O.

The United Kingdom also has very specific standards relating to labeling product as jam. In the UK, a product must have a minimum of 60 percent sugar in it for it to be called jam. This rule has applied in the UK since the 1920s. It was first put into place to ensure that the products would have a long shelf-life as sugar is a preservative. A low sugar content would mean that the jam would be unfit for human consumption in a shorter period of time. If the amount of sugar is reduced in a jam, it can take longer to boil and may also result in the loss of flavor.

The confusion continues when you throw into the mix the terms fruit butter and fruit conserves. The term fruit butter is particularly befuddling as it does not contain any butter at all. It is simply a thick, spreadable fruit pulp, just like jam. The term conserve usually refers to a jam or jelly that also has raisins or nuts added for additional texture. Thankfully, the terms fruit butter and fruit conserve are not as common as the terms jam and jelly.

When there are so many different terms used to describe products that are very similar in terms of their ingredients and use, it is easy to understand why people are unsure of what they are buying when they are at the grocery store. It is often necessary for people to read all the labels in an attempt to determine exactly what it is they are buying. Even after reading all the information, some people remain unsure of the product choice they see before them. Hopefully, this explanation of the different terms used to describe the different fruit spreads will have clarified the situation.


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