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Jelly vs. Jam: Preserves, Conserves & More

March 25, 2022

From peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in your lunch box to enjoying scones and jam with grandma, sweet spreads have a prominent place in many of our food memories. The recipes might seem simple (it’s mostly fruit and sugar, after all), but this food’s history spans millions of years and has been embraced by cultures around the world. Get ready for the culinary timeline you never knew you needed, our favorite recipes, and best jars to stock your pantry.

History of Jam and Jelly

jam vs jelly

Diving into the history of jams and jelly is really a conversation about food preservation, which has been around since the Paleolithic era, more than 2 million years ago.

  • 4th Century: The first recipe for fruit preserves made using honey is recorded in the oldest cookbook to survive from antiquity, De Re Coquinaria (“The Art of Cooking”) and is attributed to Marcus Gavius Apicius.
  • Ancient Greece and Rome: In ancient Greece, quince was mixed with honey and packed into jars, and the Romans improved this method by cooking the quince and honey together.
  • Crusades: For a stretch of about 300 years (1095-1492) European soldiers returned from the Middle East with sugar, which made jam making easier. The process was still expensive—records from 1319 price sugar at ‘two shillings per pound,’ the equivalent of £36 in modern currency.
  • 16th Century: French astrologer and physician Nostradamus adored jam so much that he wrote “Treatise on Make-Up and Jam” in 1555 and included his favorite recipes including marmalade, cherry jam, and quince jelly.
  • 18th Century: Jam was popular among the upper classes, but large-scale production didn’t become possible until the discovery of pasteurization. In 1785, Napoleon offered a reward to anyone who could figure out how to preserve large amounts of food for his soldiers. After 14 years of experiments, inventor Nicolas Appert found that boiling food at high temperatures and sealing it in airtight containers kept the ingredients safe and is referred to as “the father of canning.”
  • 19th Century: John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) planted apple trees throughout the United States, and in 1897, Herome Monroe Smucker opened a cider mill with fruit trees that Chapman had planted.
  • 20th Century: Welch’s produced its first jam product in 1918, but the entire inventory was bought by the US Army and sent to troops overseas fighting in WWI. Demand was strong enough that the brand launched its popular concord grape jelly in 1923, which is still available.

Jam or Jelly: What’s the Difference?

jam vs jelly

Technically speaking, the term that’s placed on a label is based on the FDAs standards that have been around since 1940. We won’t get into all the technicalities, but a certain ratio of fruit to sugar or other sweeteners must be considered when determining whether something is called a jam, jelly, or another sweet spread. Modern cooks have a range of techniques to draw from that result in everything from marmalade to conserves. While there are many nuances, one element is consistent in all the recipes: the use of sweet, ripe fruit.

What Is Jelly?

Jelly is made by cooking fruit juice with sugar and acid (like the thickening agent pectin) to help create a gelatin-like consistency. Once cooked down, it’s strained to remove any fruit pieces or seeds, leaving a smooth, transparent spread behind.

What Is Jam?

Similar to jelly, jam is also cooked with sugar and acid, but uses chopped, crushed, or puréed fruit, not fruit juice. Pectin is sometimes added, but jams are slightly looser in consistency than their jelly counterparts, and have added texture from the fruit.

What are Preserves?

Preserves are thicker than both jams and jellies, where large pieces of the fruit, or the whole fruit (like berries) are suspended in the syrupy base, leading to a chunkier texture.

What are Conserves?

Conserves are made using dried fruits (usually a combination of two or more) as well as nuts. Because of its thick and chunky texture, conserves are often served with cheeses and meats.

What Is Marmalade?

what is marmalade?

Marmalades are citrus spreads made from the peel and pulp of fruit, a great recipe if you’re being mindful of food waste. These recipes require a long cooking time and have no pectin.


Stock Your Pantry: The Best Sweet Spreads

No matter your favorite fruit, you can find a range of jars on ThriveMarket.com.

Thrive Market Organic Strawberry Fruit Spread

Strawberry jam is a classic, and ours uses two varieties of organically grown strawberries: deep-red Camarosa and fragrant Senga Sengana. With almost three-thousand 5-star reviews, it’s a member favorite in part because it’s sweetened with grape juice instead of sugar.

Divina Fig Spread

Aegean figs are the star ingredient in this Mediterranean spread featuring notes of honey and caramel. Jenessa from Tennessee can’t get enough: “I’ve been adding it to sandwiches and any kind of gluten-free cracker I can spread it on!”

Crofters Organic Premium Fruit Spread, Concord Grape

Crofters is known for its obsession with quality ingredients. This spread uses concord grape purée, apple pectin, and cane sugar for its signature flavor. Janet from Florida says it’s “the best fruit spread I’ve had in a long time (since my grandmother made them!)”

Thrive Market Organic Superfruit Blend Spread

This antioxidant blend features acai berries, morello cherries, pomegranate, and red grapes. Elizabeth from North Carolina says this jar is her new favorite: “This is perfectly sweet and fruity, and I love the blend of flavors.”

Oswald Co. Chia Smash, Blueberry

Oswald Co. uses only four simple ingredients for its superfood recipe—wild blueberries, chia seeds, date syrup, and lemon juice—that’s free from refined sugars, artificial ingredients, and preservatives.


Jam and Jelly Recipes

Sweet or savory, there are plenty of ways to make good use of your favorite spreads.

Granola Jam Bars

These granola jam bars use tried-and-true pantry staples like oats, flour, spices, and jam. Bonus: It’s ready in under 30 minutes (for busy mornings) or you can make it ahead (a breakfast win).

Low-Sugar Baked Jelly Donuts

For Hanukkah (or anytime, let’s be honest) these baked donuts feature a yeasted dough that’s stuffed with sweet raspberry preserves. Instead of messing with a pot of hot oil, these treats are baked, not fried.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cups

PB&J isn’t just for lunch. Add chocolate for an after-school snack the whole family will crave. The recipe calls for peanut butter, but you can swap in almond butter too.

Frozen Yogurt Fig and Nut Bark

It’s chocolate bark … sans chocolate. This lightened-up version uses creamy Greek-style yogurt as the base, then adds orange marmalade for brightness, and juicy dates and roasted nuts for texture.

Hazelnut-Blackberry Linzer Cookies

These beautiful cookies make a festive addition to your holiday table. Inspired by the Austrian recipe, our version uses hazelnut meal and an irresistible blackberry filling.

Apricot-Thyme Galette

Apricot jam provides the finishing touch on this elegant dessert that’s brimming with fresh fruit and fresh thyme for a savory note.

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Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, author, and tea enthusiast.

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