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Difference Between Jam and Preserves

Ever wondered just what are the differences between jam and preserves? Or between jelly and jam?

Soft spreads are some of the best and first things many home canners learn to make. These soft spreads often come in headings likes preserves, jams, jellies, and more.

A jar of jam sitting on a wooden cutting board with a spoon full of jam sitting next to it, a text overlay stating: explaining the difference between jam & jelly.

And yet those labels can be confusing.

We’re here to end the confusion and answer those questions for you so that you can confidently understand jelly versus jam versus preserves versus marmalade and more.

Understanding the differences means filling up your pantry in the most efficient and tasty way for your household.

What is a Jam?

Jams are usually a mixture of fruit and sugar (or other sweetener) that is boiled gently until the fruit is soft and formless. There may be some chunks of fruit but they are generally quite soft.

Jams can be made with or without added pectin. Jams made without pectin have a soft set and are generally cooked longer so that water can evaporate and the fruit’s natural pectin can set the final product.

Jams made with pectin have a firmer final texture and cook much faster.

What is a Jelly?

Jellies are made from a clear fruit juice or other liquid with added pectin, sweetener, and acid.

This is the main difference in jam versus jelly – jelly is only the juice of the fruit where as jam is the whole fruit cooked until soft and gelled.

A jar of dandelion jelly surrounded by fresh dandelion flowers and dried lavender buds with a spoon full of jelly in front.

In fact, this is the main difference between jelly and all other fruit spreads – jelly is the fruit juice / liquid only and everything else contains the whole fruit in one form or another.

A jelly is firm enough to hold its shape when spooned from the jar but still soft enough to spread easily.

Jellies are traditionally made by cooking fruit and then letting the fruit drain slowly while collecting the juice to cook with sugar and pectin to gel.

It takes time to let the fruit juice drain, several hours usually which makes jelly making a longer process than other fruit spreads but it hands-off time.

Most fruit juices do not contain enough natural pectin to gel without added pectin. However, apples, crabapples, and concord grape juice do – meaning their juice can be made into jelly without added pectin but they will require a longer cooking time.

Beyond just fruit juice, liquids like wine or even dandelion tea can be used to make homemade jelly.

What is a Preserve?

The line between preserve and jam is often quite blurred. Preserves have chunks of fruit that are suspended in a soft jelly.

So, what is the difference between jam and preserves? A preserve will have chunks of fruit that one might be able identify easily where as in jam the fruit is cooked until formless.

Jam Vs. Jelly Vs. Preserve

Jam is a formless but thick and spreadable mixture of fruit, sweetener, and sometimes pectin.

Jelly is fruit juice that has been gelled with pectin, sugar, and acid.

An open jar of plum jam with a spoon inside sitting in front of a sealed jar and fresh plums.

Preserve is a fruit spread in which chunks of fruit are suspended in a jelly in the same jar.

All are delicious, but the texture is quite different and it is often the texture that people are most drawn too.

Need some jam recipe inspiration? We’ve got common and not-so-common jam and jelly recipes for you here.

What is a Fruit Butter?

Fruit butters are made by combining fruit pulp / puree with a sweetener and cooking slowly until thick but spreadable.

2 jars of pear butter sitting on a white cloth surrounded by fresh pears, a wood honey dipper, and a spoon full of pear butter.

The fruit pulp is generally made by cooking fruit with a bit of water until soft and then pureeing. Sugar is then added and sometimes spices (but not always). The mixture is then slowly cooked to let water evaporate and the butter becomes thick enough to mount onto a spoon.

Like jams, preserves can be made with our without added pectin.

What is a Conserve?

Conserves like preserves have chunks of fruit but they also include dried fruits and nuts all cooked together.

These are old-fashioned spreads that are made less often in our modern times and yet they provide a textural and flavorful delight to the pantry.

They too can be made with or without added pectin.

What is a Marmalade?

Marmalades are made from citrus fruits and include the entire fruit – pulp, peel, and fruit. The bits of fruit and peel are generally suspended in a sweet jelly.

Marmalades are traditionally made by boiling the peel and seeds for a long time to extract a natural pectin to set the final fruit.

An open jar of orange marmalade as seen from above with a spoon sticking out of the jar and a fresh orange in the background.

There are modern marmalade recipes that use commercial pectin instead.

It is worth learning and trying both methods to see the differences.

Which Spread is Best?

That’s an extremely personal choice. Some people like jellies better than jams. Others like preserves best and so on.

an open jar of jar sitting on a blue cloth surrounded by fresh berries and green herbs.

Fruit butters are nice to make because they can be cooked down over the course of hours easily in a slow cooker.

Available time may make the cook choose pectin over a long cooking time.

Softer fruit might naturally make a jam when a person started off making a preserve.

A Variety

In the end, most of us probably like all of the various fruit spreads for different reasons or applications.

Each of the spreads is great on toast as an example, but some are better used on ice cream as a topping, others make for better cake fillings, etc.

A piece of toast spread with butter, a spoon full of jam sitting on top surrounded by fresh berries and an open jar of jam.

And thankfully, all of these various fruit spreads are easy to can safely at home.

Having a variety of each fruit spread in the pantry means you can be ready for any way you might want to use up your canned goods.

Also, remember that each type of spread makes for lovely gifts so make extras to share!

Jam & Jelly Making Tools

While making fruit spreads is pretty darn easy, there are some tools and equipment needed. Some of these are required, jars for example, others just make the process a bit easier.

Canning jars are a necessity for actually canning and storing your homemade fruit spreads. Generally speaking fruit spreads are canned in half pint jars but sometimes pint and even the four ounce jars. Keep a variety of sizes handy so that you can be ready.

A water bath canner is great. Yes, any stock pot that is deep enough can double as a water bath canner, but having a dedicated canner makes everything easier.

A white bag full of cooked raspberries dripping with the juice dripping into a glass bowl below.

A funnel to easily pour your liquid from cooking pot into jars. This can be done without a funnel, but goodness a funnel cut down on the mess.

If you decide to use pectin in your fruit spreads, have a variety of different pectin available to suit many different needs:

  • Powdered pectin is often the easiest to find in most any grocery store. It comes in different varieties. Keep some for full / high sugar spreads and some of the low-sugar type. It’s important to use the right pectin for the amount of sugar you intend to use
  • Pomona’s pectin is great for canning large batches and doesn’t require sugar at all to create a wonderful gel.

Planning to make a lot of jelly? A steam juicer is a bit on the expensive side but a worthwhile investment.

A jelly bag is so much handier than trying to hang something from a cabinet door handle and great for smaller batches of jelly than a steam juicer.

Jam & Jelly Resources

Need a good book or two for recipe inspiration and technical help? Here are a few of our favorites:

Make jams and jellies with vegetables instead of just fruits with the inspiration found in The Ultimate Guide to Preserving Vegetables.

The Fiercely DIY Guide to Jams & Jellies includes recipes for making fruit butters as well as jams and jellies and plenty of troubleshooting tips and gift giving ideas, too.

Want to keep your fruit spread making to small batches? You’ll find plenty of ideas in Preserving by the Pint.

An image of A jar of jam sitting on a wooden cutting board with a spoon full of jam sitting next to it, stacked on top of text overlay stating jam vs. jelly, explaining the differences, stacked on top of an image of two jars of dandelion jelly surrounded by dandelion flowers and lavender buds.

Thanks for sharing!