If you're anything like us, one of the highlights of breakfast is slathering butter on hot toast and, if you’re feeling really crazy, spreading on some preserves—be they in jam, marmalade or fruit butter form. Each of these preserves is delicious, but there are key differences that set them apart from each other—most importantly, fruit content. Here are the differences between your favorite fruit preserves, arranged from least fruit-full to most.
Of all preserves, jelly is the most refined (it terms of process, not reputation). Essentially, jelly is jam without all of the seeds and fruit pulp. It’s designed for people who like the flavor of certain fruits, but without the added texture. To make jelly, fruit is crushed and cooked to extract the juice before being strained through a jelly bag or cheesecloth. The strained juice is then boiled with sugar and sometimes added pectin—a stabilizer that occurs naturally in fruit—so that the jelly holds its shape. Jelly tends to be firmer than most other fruit spreads and it must contain 55 percent fruit juice, according to government regulation.
While most preserves are left chunky, fruit butters aim to be smooth and rich with deeper, almost roasted flavor notes. Like marmalade, fruit butters rely on the high pectin content of the fruit being used (usually apples or pears). The fruit pulp is cooked with sugar for hours in order to reduce the liquid content and to achieve a finished product with a denser texture. Fruit butters must contain at least 43 percent soluble solids by law.
Jam is made from fruit that is crushed or chopped and then cooked with sugar until the fruit softens and loses its distinct shape. While the jam cooks, it loses water and thickens into a spreadable state, perfect for English muffins, cornbread and pairing with its best friend, peanut butter (this is not a typo—jelly needs to step off). Legally speaking, jam must possess 65 percent soluble solids.
Unfamiliar with conserves? That’s alright, but you’ve probably been eating them all your life without realizing it. Technically speaking, jam is only jam if its made from one type of fruit. As soon as you add a second variety, then you have a conserve. If you've ever eaten any kind of mixed berry jam, you've had conserves. Occasionally, nuts and dried fruit are even added to conserves, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
That jar of orange marmalade that has been living in the back of your refrigerator for far too long actually has some interesting origins. The word marmalade comes from the Greek melimelon, which referred to quince that was stored in honey. Marmalade today is a jelly that contains pieces of citrus rind and offers a balance of both sweet and sour, along with a slight bitterness from any pith present. Marmalade is one of the few preserves that does not require added pectin as citrus rinds already contain a large amount of the natural gelling agent. Like jam, marmalade must contain 65 percent soluble solids.
Imagine a savory jam that brings together the sweetness of fruit with the zip of spices and the tang of vinegar. Those three elements combined create a chutney, the popular Indian preserve made without pectin and that commonly includes dried fruit. Chutneys include much less sugar than most preserves, which makes them a more fitting condiment for savory and well-spiced Indian dishes.
Imagine the opposite of jelly and that’s basically what you have with compote. Whole pieces of fruit are cooked down in sugar syrup without any additional thickeners (i.e. pectin). Unlike jam, in which the fruit matter is broken up into a more spreadable form, the fruit in compote is left whole and will occasionally include savory spices, like black pepper or cinnamon.