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What is the Difference Between Jams, Jellies and Preserves?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Before refrigeration was available, many crops of fruits had to be canned for later use. This could be accomplished through stewing the fruit in syrup and merely canning the results, which led to a wide variety of recipes for jams, jellies, preserves and conserves. The now popular fruit spread is differentiated from jams and their like as it usually is sweetened with fruit juice only, instead of sugar. There are also noted differences between jams and jellies, and some people like one variety more than another.

The basic difference between jams and jellies is that jelly is made from the juice of the fruit only. Fruit is crushed, strained, and then is boiled with sugar and pectin in order to make a spreadable product. Jams on the other hand, feature crushed fruit, often with seeds left in berry jams. This means when you spread a jam, it will be somewhat lumpy since it contains some whole fruit. It is not the same with jelly, which spreads evenly.

Preserves may not differ at all from jams. Preserves is a term simply meaning fruit that is preserved through a canning method. In commercial preparations, preserves may be used in place of jams because it has higher sugar content and is somewhat more syrupy than jams. Some varieties do not contain pectin. However, this varies — some people use the terms preserves and jams interchangeably.

Another related term is conserves, which is often a combination of several fruits made in jams or preserves fashion. Orange apricot jam is an example of conserves. Other recipes for conserves might include nuts or raisins. You may also run into various fruit butters, and a few made from sweet winter squash.

You can certainly note the difference between apple mint jelly and apple butter. Apple butter is essentially cooked down applesauce that becomes thick and is loaded with spices. It is often a rich brown in color and an excellent spread for toast. Apple mint jelly is a clear green substance that is often highly “gelled” with additional pectin.

Neither butters nor jellies feature fruit pieces. Apple butter, pumpkin butter or pear butter are all run through sieves to strain out any pieces. They may also be whipped or mashed. If you like whole fruit in sweet bread spreads look for jams or no sugar fruit spreads instead.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By bluedolphin — On Jan 22, 2014

I think I like all three of these!

Jams are best for breakfast, on top of toast or pancakes. Jellies are great for sandwiches and even on meat. Preserves, especially the spicy ones, are great along side the main course. There is a delicious hot jam/preserve made with mango called mango chutney that I love. It's served with Indian rice dishes.

By serenesurface — On Jan 22, 2014

@literally45-- That's hard to say. Jelly has less sugar but jam has more fiber. If you can find it, jam without added sugar would be best for a diabetic, or a preserve without added sugar. Fiber is always good for diabetics since it slows down the absorption of sugar. But all three of these products-- jams, jellies and preserves contain fructose, or fruit sugar. So none of these are good for a diabetic in excess, even if they don't have added sugar.

If you enjoy making jelly and jams at home. You can make them with less sweet fruit (such as sour cherries) and with diabetic safe sweeteners.

By literally45 — On Jan 21, 2014

Which is better for diabetics -- jams, jellies or preserves?

By Chmander — On Jan 17, 2014
@RoyalSpyder: I don't think there's really a right or wrong answer to your question. Though it's always good to refer to an item by its correct name, don't forget that what's proper in one place may be "improper" or very unusual in another place. For example, in the USA, peeled and fried potatoes are referred to as french fries.

However, in the United Kingdom, they're known as "chips" (example - fish and chips). In the United States, imagine the looks you'd get from others if you referred to french fries as "chips", and vice versa.

Overall, though Americans often use the term jelly, while the British use "jam" more often than not, at the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference.

By RoyalSpyder — On Jan 16, 2014

In relation to this article, which discusses jams, jellies and preserves, I’ve always wondered – is there a correct term for each type of spread? In other words, would it be wrong if I referred to strawberry jam as “strawberry jelly”, or if I referred to grape jelly as "grape jam"?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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