This Is the Difference Between Jam, Jelly and Other Preserves

What's the difference between jam and jelly? How about conserves and preserves? (Yep, they're all different things!) Let's geek out together.

Just about every kind of preserved fruit spread has the same recipe: Take fresh fruit and sugar, cook until it’s thickened and, well, jammy, and seal into a jar. So what’s with all the different names on the labels at the store (or in your recipe book)? We’ll teach you the difference between jam and jelly, plus preserves, conserve and more.

Ready to start jamming? Freezer preserves are a good beginner’s recipe.

According to Liana Krissoff, author of Canning for a New Generation, the differences are pretty simple.

Jam

Jam is a soft, jelled spread which contains crushed or diced fruit. Most jams are made by cooking chopped fruit and sugar until they thicken and the fruit begins to break down. They are easy to spread, since they’re not cooked as firm as jelly. Homemade jam may be downright runny, while store-bought usually contains pectin, a thickener that adds a firmer, more gelled consistency.

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Jelly

Jelly, perhaps the most refined, certainly the fussiest to make, doesn’t include fruit at all. Jelly is fruit juice cooked to a translucent, wiggly gel. To make jelly, one cooks chopped fruit in water until the fruit becomes totally soft and has given up all its juice. The pulp is then carefully strained out and discarded. The juice is cooked with sugar until it gels, usually with pectin, which gives the jelly its solidity.

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Preserves

Preserves contain larger chunks—whole small fruit or big pieces of larger fruits—suspended in a thick gelled syrup. While jams are often made with bruised or squashed fruit (it’s getting cooked anyway), preserves can showcase a perfect fruit. If you have some Instagram-worthy spring strawberries, for example, you should consider a preserve. (If you’re not keen on canning, use ’em in a fruit dessert.)

Conserve

A conserve is a preserve, plus nuts or dried fruit. Perhaps one of the most old-fashioned canned goods, conserves are popular homemade holiday gifts. (We’ve got tons of ideas for homemade gifts.)

Marmalade

Marmalades are almost always made with citrus, and contain the rind and pulp of a fruit suspended in jelly. They’re a labor of love to make, requiring both the care of making a clear jelly and the labor of finely slicing citrus peel. (Make sure your hands are moisturized first!)

Fruit Butter

A fruit butter is very thick and smooth, usually because the fruits have been completely blended with the other ingredients. They can be sticky and quite rich.

No matter which type of sweet preserve you make, it’s bound to be absolutely delicious slathered on a warm slice of this homemade bread.

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Kelsey Rae Dimberg
A former in-house editor at Taste of Home, Kelsey now writes articles and novels from her home in Milwaukee. She's an avid cook, reader, flâneur, and noir fanatic. Her debut novel, Girl in the Rearview Mirror, will be published in June 2019 by William Morrow.