What's the difference between jam, jelly and preserves? The truth about fruit spreads

These fruity breakfast spreads are definitely not the same thing — but they're all delicious!
by Erica Chayes Wida / / Source: TODAY

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Get ready to jam out, toast fans. Or would you rather have jelly in your belly?

Aren't they basically the same thing, anyway? Kinda ... but not really. If you've ever wondered what the real difference is between jams, jellies, marmalades and other fruit spreads, here's what you need to know.

Fruit spreads are a delicious and classic part of any breakfast (and they're great for lunch, dinner or desserts, too!). But what really distinguishes a jam from a jelly or a marmalade from a preserve? Whether you enjoy Bonne Maman marmalade on a fresh baguette or a classic like Smuckers grape jelly on your peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it's important to know what you're eating because different spreads have different textures and different sugar contents.

According to the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at New Mexico State University, all jams, jellies, preserves and marmalades are all based on four basic ingredients, though some, such as added pectin (most fruits have varying levels of pectin already) can be swapped or eliminated depending on the recipe.

The most important part of a fruit spread? You guessed it. Fruit! The fruit you choose gives spreads their flavor and adds varying levels of sweetness and textures.

The other three ingredients include sweeteners such as cane, beet sugar, corn syrup or honey; pectin (it can be purchased as a separate ingredient but exists in high levels in apples, grapes and some berries); and naturally occurring acid, which reaches its highest levels when fruits are underripe.

So now that the similarities are covered, here are the differences.

Jelly

Jellies are made from fruit juice only and there are no seeds or pulp present in the final product, which means it's a relatively clear spread. Jelly is the firmest type of fruit spread, so it's strong enough to hold its shape when turned out of its container.

Jam

Jams are crushed pieces of fruit and fruit purees blended together. According to many chefs, the mixture to make the perfect jam is typically 45 percent fruit and 55 percent sugar. Jams need to be cooked until thick, so the fruit pieces are soft, smooth, spreadable bits. Seeds may also be present in certain types of berry-flavored jams so it's not clear and it's not a totally solid mass.

Quick Blueberry Jam

Alex Guarnaschelli

Preserves

Preserves are similar to jams but have larger chunks, or even whole pieces of fruit, in them after they're cooked. Since preserves are so chunky, they're usually best to serve when you want something that tastes as close to the real fruit as possible but they're not always ideal for a sandwich spread.

Spiced Cranberry-Fig Preserve

Marmalades

Marmalades contain the rind of the fruit, and are usually made from citrus fruits like lemons and oranges. When you look at the spread, you can see the shredded bits of rind, which also lend a pleasant bitterness to the entire spread.

Now you don't have to second guess exactly what you're using to top those scones or sandwiches.

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