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What Is Onion Jam?

By Carol Luther
Updated May 16, 2024
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Onion jam is a condiment that features cooked onions as its main ingredient. It can be served with a wide variety of dishes, including breads, meats and cheeses. To make it, onions are paired with liquids and spices to prepare a savory or sweet spread similar to fruit jams or preserves. The natural sugar in onions helps to give this vegetable-based jam a layer of sweetness that can be enhanced with fruit juice, wine or added sugar.

The process is similar to making jam with fruits. To make jam with onions, one chooses the onions he wants to use for the recipe and cooks them with a mixture of herbs, spices and water or vinegar. The onions are then put in a jar or other container for storage until needed.

Onion jam recipes often use red, yellow or white onions. For sweet jams, one might choose Georgia's Vidalia onion, which is known as an exceptionally sweet variety. When this type is not readily available, adding sugar to white or yellow onions will allow one to replicate the flavor of a naturally sweet onion. The tiny pearl onion, a specialty variety, works in most recipes that call for white or yellow onions. Certain onion varieties, such as red onions, are good choices for savory onion jam or onion relish recipes.

To prepare an onion for use in making jam, it is necessary to remove the onion's outer peel and to trim the ends of the bulb. The next step is slicing or dicing the onion, depending on the recipe's directions. The most common method for cooking the onions requires placing the slices or pieces of onion in a skillet or frying pan coated with a good quality vegetable oil.

Making onion jam requires that one caramelize or extract the natural sugars in an onion by cooking it slowly over medium heat. While cooking the onions, one must stir them frequently to keep the sugar from burning. Common recipes for onion jam require a cooking time of 30 minutes or more to soften and caramelize the onions. When making large amounts of onion jam, one might need to cook the raw onions in several small batches to ensure even cooking.

Onion jam recipes might require sugar, salt, vinegar and spices such as chilies, garlic, rosemary or thyme. Wine, sherry or berry juices are recipe additions that enhance the sweetness of the jam. Unlike fruit-based jams, this product does not require pectin, a jelling agent often used to set jams.

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Discussion Comments
By bear78 — On Jan 23, 2014

Onion jam is very popular down South. It's served with breakfast foods (especially biscuits) and also with chicken. It's very delicious and very easy to make too.

I use a simple recipe-- just onions, butter, vinegar and spices. I would like to tell those interested in it, how long onion jam lasts but I have no idea. It always gets eaten up very quickly in my house. There is just something very tempting about caramelized onion. My younger daughter dislikes raw onions but will happily eat onion jam.

By bluedolphin — On Jan 22, 2014

@fBoyle-- Actually, many jams are made with ingredients other than fruit. Vegetables and leeks are used in jams all the time.

Don't judge onion jam before you try it. It's the perfect combination of sweet and spicy. If you like onions at all, you have to give onion jam a chance. I recommend having it as a condiment on hamburgers and hot dogs. You will be hooked.

By fBoyle — On Jan 21, 2014

Onion jam sounds odd, I've never had it before. When I think of jam, what comes to my mind is something sweet with fruit. Onion certainly doesn't come to mind.

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