As sauces or toppings, dessert garnishes or fillings, or as a base for salsas or fruit glazes, jams and jellies are important ingredients for a host of sweet and savory dishes.
Though they come in a multitude of flavors, jams and jellies share three basic ingredients: fruit, sugar and pectin.
Fruit, of course, provides flavoring and nutrients while sugar serves as a preservative and sweetener.
The thickening agent, pectin, is a natural ingredient in many fruits and vegetables, but it is also available commercially and can be added to mixtures containing fruits that lack enough natural pectin to gel themselves. (Some “pectin-deficient” fruits include raspberries, strawberries and various grapes.) To work properly, pectin needs an appropriate mix of sugar and acid.
And, while jams and jellies share many similarities, they have certain defining characteristics. Here are some “bread spread” basics to consider.
- Jelly: Bright and clear with a firm, but tender texture, jelly is made from fruit juice, sugar and sometimes pectin.
- Jam: A thick mixture of fruit, sugar and pectin, jam contains ground and crushed fruit and is cooked until the fruit is soft and formless.
- Preserves contain medium to large pieces of fruit cooked with sugar.
- Marmalade: A preserve, marmalade usually contains pieces of citrus fruit rinds. (Seville oranges are commonly used to make marmalade.)
- Conserve: A thick mixture of fruit, nuts and sugar, conserve is often used as a spread for biscuits and scones.
- Chutney: A spicy condiment made from fruit, vinegar, sugar and spices, chutney can have a smooth or chunky texture and can range from mild to hot in spiciness.
- Fruit Butter: Sweet spreading fruit butters are made by stewing fruit, sugar and spices into a thick and smooth mixture.
- Artificially sweetened jams, jellies and fruit spreads are also available.
USDA grading of jellies and jams or preserves is a fairly complicated process with differing specifications for different types of packs. Generally, grading is based on consistency, color and flavor. The better the quality of fruit and nonfruit ingredients, the better the final product.
Following are some USDA guidelines used in determining the quality of jellies and preserves.
- Apple: Made from apple juice concentrate, it should be light in color with a delicate flavor.
- Apple-base jelly, such as applegrape, apple-raspberry or applestrawberry,generally is the color of the non-apple fruit, but should have a bright sparkle and a fruity flavor.
- Blackberry: A deep black-red color, it should have a definite blackberry flavor.
- Cherry: made from red tart cherry juice, it should have a clear, crisp red color and tart, but a pleasing flavor.
- Elderberry: purplish-black in color, it is often “cut back” with other fruits or with sugar. Because of its strong flavor profile, it can be “too much” for many people.
- Grape: The highest quality grape jelly is a deep, reddish-purple color and has a distinct flavor. Concord grape is considered the top-of-the-line.
- Strawberry: Probably the most popular of all jellies and jams, strawberry should be rosy-red in color.
- Raspberry: Black raspberry should have a distinct aroma and full flavor. Likewise, red raspberry has a distinguishable taste and aroma, but may be too tart for many customers