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Jelly, Jam, Preserves, Apple Butter: Different or same?

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So what is the difference between what is called a jelly, jam, preserves, or something like apple butter? Is it a difference in name, manufacture, or content?

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The definition from the Food and Drug Administration...

Jelly is a clear, bright product. It is generally made by cooking fruit juice and sugar with pectin as a jelling agent and lemon juice as an acid to maintain a consistent texture. Jelly is firm and will hold its shape (it shakes). Generally, jelly contains no pieces of fruit, although specialty jellies, like pepper jelly, may include pieces of jalapeo or other pepper.

Jam is made from crushed or chopped fruit cooked with sugar, and often pectin and lemon juice. Jam can be a pure of fruit or have a soft pulp, but it does not contain chunks of fruit.

Preserves are fruit cooked with sugar to the point where large chunks of fruit or whole fruit, such as berries, are suspended in a syrup base. The texture of preserves is not smooth like jelly or jam.

Marmalade is a soft jelly, often citrus-based, that includes both the flesh and peel of the fruit suspended throughout the jelly base. The bitterness of the peel offsets the sweetness of the jelly.

Conserve is a mixture of more than one fruit, often with added nuts and raisins, that is cooked until it becomes thick. It is used as a spread for breads, pastries and meats, and in the latter use is closest to chutney.

Chutney is a spiced condiment of Indian origin (chatni is the Hindi word for strongly spiced) made of fruit or vegetables. It is typically served as an accompaniment to food, not as a spread. The spice level can range from mild to hot, and the consistency from a fine relish to a preserve or conserve. Fruit chutney consists of chopped fruit, vinegar, spices and sugar cooked into a chunky sweet-tart-spicy mix: according to one explanation, it blurs the Western distinction between preserves and pickles.

Fruit Butter, such as apple butter or prune butter, is fruit pure or pulp combined with sugar, lemon juice and spices, slowly cooked down to a smooth consistency. The butter refers to its spreadability: there is no actual butter in the product.

Fruit Curd is a creamy spread made with sugar, eggs and butter, generally flavored with citrus juice and zest.

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Information taken from the food timeline.


Jelly, jams & preserves

The origin and evolution of sweet fruit jelly, jams and preserves if fascinating. We are also including our notes on savory jelly (calve's & isinglass). If you need more information please let us know! The primary differences between these items are the texture of the product and the method of manufacture. Jam contains small chunks of fruit, jelly is almost perfectly smooth, preserves contain large chunks or whole pieces of fruit. Sweet jelly requires fruit juice with a *jelling* agent (isinglass, hartshorn, calves foot, gelatine powder). Jam and preserves are basically real fruit preserved in sugar. Definitions and products have changed over time. Gelatin is a much broader and more complicated topic, as the ingredients have also changed through time. Savory jellies (most notably aspic) proliferated from Medieval times to the early 20th century. These notes concentrate on sweet products. If you are looking for savory dishes let us know.

Modern definitions here:

"The word "jelly" derives from the Middle English, geli, and ultimately from the Latin gelare, "to freeze."..."Jam" differs from jelly in being made with fresh or dried fruit rather than juice and has a thicker texture..."Preserves" differ from jams and jellies by containing pieces of the fruit."

---Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, John F. Mariani [Lebhar-Friedman:New York] 1999 (p. 171)

Historic definitions & evolution:


"Jam remains one of the unsolved mysteries of culinary etymologies. No conclusive evidence has been found for the origin of the word, but most authorities agree that the likeliest explanation is that it describes the way jam is made by crushing or jamming' fruit together. Two early references seem to support this: first Hannah Glasse in her Art of Cookery (1747), using a curious Italianate spelling: "To make Raspberry Giam."...The word begins to emerge in the 1730s; the first record of it is in the Dictionarium Britannicum (1736) of Nathan Baily, who essays a fanciful derivation from the French j'aime, (I love it', on the ground that that was what children used to day...formerly, when they liked any Thing'. Before that, other words used for fruits (and other parts of plants, such as flowers) preserved in sugar included conserva, a borrowing from Italian or medieval Latin, first recorded in 1502, comfiture (1558), and the still current conserve (1530) and preserve (1600). Nowadays we take jam with bread as a matter of course, but until comparatively recently it was a luxury...Up until the nineteenth century, fruit preserves might just as often be eaten on their own, as a dessert, or as a filling for tarts..."

---An A to Z of Food and Drink, John Ayto [Oxford Univeristy Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 170-1)

"Jam, a mixture of fruit and sugar boiled together, poured into jars, and sealed to give a long-keeping preserve with a wet semi-solid consistence, known to a food scientist as a gel. Jams, and related preserves such as fruit pastes, jellies, and marmalades are based on widespread and ancient methods of preserving fruit. Similar confections are made throughout Europe and the Middle East. Successful jam depends on the interaction of three things in the correct proportions: sugar, pectin (long chainlike molecules occurring in the cell walls of plants), acid. Fruit contains all of these, but the jam-maker always adds more sugar, and sometimes pectin and acid."

---Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 412-3)

[NOTE: This book describes both modern and historic methods in detail. Ask your local public librarian to help you find a copy.]

"The earliest kind of jam making...dates back to pre-Roman times, when fruit pulp was mixed with honey and spices and dried in the sun. In the first century AD, Greeks made a preserve, using their abundant crops of quinces, by stuffing pieces of peeled and pipped raw fruit tightly into jars filled with honey. After a year the fruit became soft as wine-honey'. This Greek quince preserve was called melomeli' (apple: melo, in honey: meli). The Romans later reversed the words into melimela' and improved the preserve by cooking the fruit in the honey with pepper and spices and sealing the jars to make them airtight. Quinces had a high pectin content so that when cooked, preserves made with them would have had a very solid texture. Pectin is a vital ingredient for successful jelly and jam making... By the 17th century...cane sugar was more readily available, and preserving fruit with sugar became an affordable option. Recipes that previously used honey were easily adapted...The English had their own particular version that included pieces of warden pear, but seemed to prefer the Portuguese quince preserve. Using their sugar from India and their abundance of quinces, the Portuguese had developed their own specialty, which they called marmelada' (like the Roman melimela')...As early as the sixteenth century, little chests of marmelada were included in the cargoes of Portuguese merchant ships arriving in English ports. Gradually the same process was applied to other fruits, which then came to be known as a marmalade' of pears, damsons, or plums..."

---Pickled, Potted and Canned: How the Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World, Sue Shepard, chapter on sugar (p. 163-174) [this is only a tiny excerpt of this is well worth the read]


"To make Raspberry Giam.

Take a Pint of this Curran Jelluy

JELLY (Fruit)

The fundamentals jellying process was known in ancient times. These techniques migrated from the Middle West to Europe with Crusaders and evolved with technological advancements and new ingredients.

"The history of jelly, chronicled by Brears (1996) complex. Generally, it would seem that confectionery type jellies, and jelly preserves, developed from attempts to conserve pectin-rich fruit extracts...Modern dessert jellies, on the other hand, appear to be descended from medieval dishes based on calves' feet or other meat stocks, carefully clarified and flavoured. A wide range of gelling or setting agents was known to medieval cooks. The animal kingdome was represented by gelatin in the form of meat stock, isinglass, and hartshorn. Plants provided pectin-rich juices from quinces or apples; and various kinds of gum...Late medieval and 16th-century cooks made savoury (or savoury/sweet--many had an ambivalent character) jellied dishes using meat such as capon, chopped fine, mixed with cream or almond milk, flavoured with spices, sugar, or rosewater. These were known as cullis, gellys, or brawn. Another 'set' dish was a leach, made from cream or almond milk with isinglass. A sweet crystall gelly' was made with calves' feet stock, highly spices (ginger, pepper, cloves, nutmeg), sweetened, and further flavoured with rosewater. These dishes, which are recorded in early 17th-century cookery books...were ancestors of sweet confections such as blancmange as well as of the explicitly savoury aspic dishes which proliferated in the 19th and early 20th centuries."

---Oxford Companion to Food>, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 417)

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