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What’s the Difference Between Jam and Jelly?

Glass jars filled with different kinds of jelly on a blue wood surface
5 Second Studio/Shutterstock.com

You use them on toast, in sandwiches, and in sweet recipes—but do you really know the difference between jam and jelly?

These popular pantry staples have a lot in common. Both combine fruit with sugar and acid to produce a gel-textured, sweet, and tart spread, but they’re not quite the same thing. The defining difference between jam and jelly is which parts of the fruit are used (and how they’re used) in making them. Here’s how you can tell the difference—plus how you can get started making your own.

What Is Jelly?

Grape jelly on wheat bread, with a bunch of grapes and a jelly jar in the background
Momentum Studio/Shutterstock.com

Jelly is a fruit-based product that has no chunks of solid fruit, whether whole or mashed, in the final product. Instead, it is made from fruit juice that has gone through a process, typically using sugar and pectin, to make it gelatinous and able to hold a solid shape, rather than running as a liquid.

Making jelly only requires three ingredients: sugar, fruit, and a “gelling” agent, usually pectin. Fruits with a higher natural pectin content, such as berries, grapes, and apples, make the best jellies.

Different fruits have different water and pectin contents, but to start with, try these steps for a basic grape jelly:

  1. Clean 3 pounds of Concord grapes, removing the stems but leaving the skin.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the grapes with 1 1/4 cup water.
  3. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and let it simmer for 10 minutes.
  4. As the fruit cooks and softens, use a fork or a potato masher occasionally to mash the fruit.
  5. Remove from heat, pour over a fine-mesh strainer, and let drain until all the liquid is in a bowl below.
  6. Measure how much juice you have. If it’s not at least 3 cups, you can add a little more water.
  7. Transfer into a pot, and heat the juice with 1 oz of dry pectin until boiling.
  8. Add 1 cup of sugar for every cup of juice, and bring to a boil.
  9. Let cook for about 6 to 10 minutes, until the mixture reaches about 220 degrees on a candy thermometer or until the mixture thickens enough to retain its shape somewhat when dripped off a spoon.
  10. Skim off any foam from the top, then ladle into clear glass jars. Leave between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch of room between the top of the liquid and the top of the jar.
  11. Cool completely and store in the fridge for up to a month.

Cuisinart Stainless Steel Strainers

Avoid unwanted chunks and seeds in your jelly with these fine strainers.

KitchenAid Gourmet Stainless Steel Wire Masher

Extract the most juice from your fruit with a masher.

What Is Jam?

A jar of strawberry jam, in front of a tray of fresh strawberries
Stephanie Frey/Shutterstock.com

Jam is somewhat similar to jelly, but instead of being made from fruit juice, the key ingredient is chopped and/or crushed pieces of fruit. The result is a product that’s a little more spreadable, more textured, and has more of a loose, chunky texture than plain jelly.

As with jelly, cooking jam involves heating fruit with sugar and a gelling ingredient. Because the “gel” isn’t the only part of the product, however, it’s possible to use a natural acid, like lemon juice, instead of dry pectin to get a similar effect.

Making jam with different fruits requires different proportions—try these steps for a strawberry jam:

  1. Wash 5 1/2 cups (approximately 2 pounds) of strawberries, remove the tops, and cut them into large chunks.
  2. In a large pan or pot, mix the strawberry chunks, 3 cups of sugar, and the juice of one large lemon.
  3. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then continue to cook over low to medium heat until the berries release juice and the mixture begins boiling.
  4. Pour into glass jars, leaving between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch of room between the top of the liquid and the top of the jar.
  5. Cool completely and store in the fridge for up to a month.

Breville Thermal Pro Clad Stainless Steel 4-Quart Covered Saucepot

A quality saucepan or pot is a must for evenly cooking your jelly and other preserved fruit products.

Ball Regular Mouth Mason Jars

The final step in any jam: putting it in a jar for future use.

What Is Marmalade?

A jar of marmalade with a silver spoon scooping some out and orange slices on the table next to it

Another, related type of fruit product you might come across is marmalade. Categorizing marmalade is tricky, since its consistency might vary. In short, it is a thick citrus spread (specifically, made from oranges)  that has pieces of rind mixed in. The rind provides not only the citrus flavor, but texture and a hint of bitterness to contrast with the sweetness of the spread.

To make your own marmalade, just grab a few ingredients and follow these steps:

  1. Wash and dry about 2 1/2 pounds of oranges. Use any kind you like, but navel or Seville oranges are traditional.
  2. Use a peeler or a knife to remove the peel from the oranges. If you like a little bite to your marmalade, let the white pith stay; if you prefer a sweeter marmalade, peel more carefully and discard the pith.
  3. Slice the remaining fruit into rounds, discard any seeds, and slice the peels into thin strips (1/4 inch thick or smaller, based on your preferences).
  4. Place all the fruit and peel in a bowl and cover with water (between 6 and 8 cups, depending how much fruit you have), and let rest overnight.
  5. Put a small plate in the freezer—it will be used later to test the consistency of the finished product.
  6. The next day, pour the full contents of the bowl into a heavy-bottomed saucepan or pot. Add 5 cups of sugar, plus the zest and juice of 1 lemon, and bring to a boil over high heat.
  7. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 1 to 2 hours. A candy thermometer should read 220 degrees.
  8. When you think it’s done, take the plate out of the freezer and drip or smear a small amount on the cold plate. Move the plate and check the consistency of the marmalade. If it moves slightly and seems to form a skin or “wrinkle” on top, it’s done; if it stays runny, it needs to cook longer.
  9. Pour into glass jars, leaving between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch of room between the top of the liquid and the top of the jar.
  10. Cool completely and store in the fridge for up to a month.

Set of 2 Stainless Steel Peelers

Get your citrus peel perfect for marmalade with a sharp peeler.

Jam and jelly are both delicious pantry staples, and choosing between them is all about what you’re looking for in texture. If you’re looking for sweet and smooth, go with jelly; if you prefer some fruit chunks, choose jam. Either way, you can get creative with using these sweet, tangy fruit spreads.

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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