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Jelly vs. jam vs. preserves: What's the difference?

These fruity spreads are definitely not the same thing — but they're all our jam.

“Must be jelly ‘cause jam don’t shake,” may be a lyric from a catchy RuPaul song, but it doesn’t explain the true difference between peanut butter’s BFFs. Throw preserves and marmalade into this mix and the origins of these sweet spreads will have most people looking dumbfounded, like the real-life version of confused math lady meme (which is apparently from an episode of Brazilian telenovela "Senhora do Destino").

Since the preparation methods of the fruity foursome are pretty much identical, what distinguishes them from each other stems entirely from the parts of the fruit that are used (and the resulting texture).

Here is the most straightforward guide to all four varieties, as well as a handful of easy recipes so you can try them at home yourself.

What is jam?

Jam is made from crushed or chopped fruit that is cooked down on high heat with sugar, as well as pectin (a plant-derived starch used to thicken) and/or an acid (which extracts naturally-occurring pectin in fruits). It is completely spreadable and will likely still have pieces of fruit and seeds within the final product.

Basic No-Pectin Berry Jam

Savor summer berries year-round with this basic jam recipe that calls for blueberries, strawberries, blackberries or a combination of all three. It’s also pectin-free, relying solely on a low-and-slow cooking technique to extract the binding agent naturally from the colorful fruits.

What is jelly?

Jelly undergoes the same cooking process as jam, but is typically made with only strained fruit juice, resulting in a more translucent, smoother spread that is also stiffer.

Celebrate the flavors of fall with this apple jelly recipe, which also incorporates the tartness and tang of cranberries and apple cider vinegar.

What are preserves?

Preserves, like jam and jelly, are cooked down on high heat with sugar, pectin and/or acid, but have whole fruit (like cherries) or larger chunks of fruit mixed in. Preserves can be used on baked goods like toast, English muffins and rolls, maintaining a thicker, more fibrous consistency, but you can also use the chunky spread in more nontraditional recipes like marinades or mixed into yogurts and oatmeal.

Brandied Apricots

Brandied Apricots

Alejandra Ramos

These brandied apricots are a wonderful way to preserve the sweet and sour orange fruit by infusing bold ingredients like alcohol, bay leaves, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Serve them with pound cake or vanilla ice cream for a decadent dessert that can be enjoyed year-round.

What is marmalade?

Marmalade is a preserve made from citrus fruits. This also includes the peel, so you can expect pieces of rind throughout, as well as an added bitterness and flavor complexity to counter the extreme sweetness.

Enhance proteins like salmon and jerk chicken with this pineapple marmalade that also brings some subtle heat with jalapeño.

Fruit spreads and butters, too

In addition to jams, jellies, preserves and marmalades, you’ll likely come across fruit spreads and butters. The former is made with 100% fruit and no added sugars. Sometimes fruit juice is added during the cooking process, but these are often the jars that retain the most fruit-like flavor.

Butters are the least sweet of the bunch after being cooked low and slow for many hours. This results in a super thick and rich consistency that can many times resemble a dulce de leche.