Is it Jam? Is it Jelly? -The Difference Between Soft Spreads

Sweet spreads, like chocolates, come in many textures and varieties.


While a box of chocolates might have nuts and jellies, cremes and caramels, in the sweet spread world we have jams and preserves, marmalades and fruit butters. Often, we resort to calling them all “jam.” But what makes a jam? Or a conserve? Or a fruit butter? The differences are subtle but the results can be vastly different. You wouldn’t ask someone if they wanted a chocolate crème and then hand them a caramel, so let’s keep our sweet spreads separate too!

What is Jam?

Jams are a combination of slightly crushed or thinly sliced fruit and sugar, cooked until a soft gel. There may be other ingredients added, lemon juice for example, but at its core jam is just crushed fruit and sugar. All fruits can be used to make jam, but berries work especially well.

What is Jelly?

Like all soft spreads, jelly is a combination of fruit, acid, and sugar. Jellies however are made from fruit juice and have no fruit pieces included. Jelly is firmer than any other soft spread. Many people use commercial pectin to assure a firm jelly set. Apples, tart cherries, grapes and other high pectin fruits are especially suited to making jelly.

What is Fruit Butter?

Fruit butters are the easiest soft spreads to make. They are simply pureed fruit and sugar cooked together until thick. Fruit butters use less sugar than most soft spreads. They can be enhanced with lemon juice, herbs, spirits or other ingredients. Fruits that caramelize well with long cooking like apples and apricots make luscious fruit butters.

What are Preserves?

Preserves are similar to jam and the two are often confused. Here’s the difference; jam is made from crushed fruit but preserves are made from chopped fruit. The chopped fruit is macerated in sugar so that the pieces hold their shape during the cooking process. Peaches, cherries and other firm fruits make excellent preserves.

What is Marmalade?

Marmalades can be made from almost any fruit, but must include thinly sliced citrus peel. Traditional marmalades are made only from citrus, and are more bitter than other soft spreads. Other marmalades might include cherries or berries along with the oranges, lemons and/or limes. If you are a marmalade lover like me, find out more from this earlier post, All About Marmalade.

What are Conserves?

Similar in texture to jams or preserves, conserves usually include dried fruits like raisins or coconut along with fresh fruits. Nuts are often added too. Because of this, conserves are less likely to be served spread on your toast, and more likely to adorn a pork chop or cheese plate.

Now that we have that straight, it’s time to expand your soft spread repertoire. Do you usually make jams? Add a preserve or fruit butter this canning season. Are you mad about marmalade? Why not try some jelly? So many soft spreads, so little time.

Have more canning questions? Get a copy of The Confident Canner. It answers all the odd little questions you have about canning. Download Now! Or got a print copy at Amazon.the confident canner

by Renee Pottle

Renee Pottle, a freelance writer and Home Economist, is fanatic about all things food. She blogs about canning and food preservation at Find her professional food writing info at

June 7, 2017

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