What Is the Difference Between Jelly and Jam, Actually?

I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, because the name tells me what ingredients I need to buy. You got your peanut butter, your jelly, and your sandwich, so probably some kind of bread.

But then, when I get to the grocery store to buy my ingredients, I run into a problem: They banned me from the store for shoplifting cat food. So I go to another grocery store and run into another problem: jam vs jelly. There are so many different things on the shelves! There’s jam, jelly, preserves, marmalade, and who knows what else. Do I need jam or jelly? Or do I need jam and jelly? What is the difference between jam and jelly? Let’s dive into jelly vs jam.

Jam and Jelly: How They’re Alike

Back in the day, stuff like strawberries wasn’t around throughout the entire year. You could only get them when they were in season. So jam and jelly were great ways to eat those delicious fruits year round. Eventually transportation and growing technologies allowed fruits from warm weather places to be shipped to freezing places when they aren’t in season. But jam and jelly making remained a popular tradition. Probably because people love sugar. Jam and jelly are both made with fruit, sugar, and pectin.

best strawberry jam

Best Strawberry Jam

What’s the best strawberry jam? We tasted a bunch of the top brands on the market to find the best strawberry jam for your toast.

Jam vs Jelly: How They’re Different

So what’s the difference? The difference between jam and jelly comes down to the form in which the fruit is processed. Jelly is made with fruit juice, while jam is made with mashed, crushed, or chopped fruit. Jelly does not have any fruit pieces in it. To make jelly, you cook down the fruit to release the juice, then you mix the juice with sugar and pectin to form a smooth, firm, translucent jelly. If you turn a jelly jar upside down, the jelly could slide out in one big hunk. But to make jam, you cook chopped or pureed fruit with sugar and sometimes pectin to form a more spoonable, looser spread. 

What’s this pectin stuff I keep talking about? Pectin is a naturally occurring starch that gives fruits and vegetables their structure. It’s also needed in jam and jelly making to give them a semi-solid consistency. Some fruits with high amounts of natural pectin, like apples, may not need added pectin to make a good jam. But if you’re using looser, easier to smash fruit, like strawberries, you need to add pectin.

best grape jelly

Best Grape Jelly

The best grape jelly is sweet, actually tastes like grapes and is just as delicious smeared on toast as it is in a crockpot full of meatballs (we see you, Midwest). These are the best grape jellies you can get at the grocery store.

What About Preserves?

So we know the basic differences between jam and jelly, but what about the other stuff? The choices aren’t just jam or jelly. Some people, when faced with the choice of jelly vs jam, choose preserves. Preserves are a lot like jam, just with more whole chunks of fruit. Preserves often have whole pieces of fruit, sometimes rind and all. Marmalade, the stuff that Paddington never shuts up about, is a type of preserve. Marmalade is a preserve made with citrus, like oranges, lemons, or grapefruit. Really, it comes down to your consistency preference. I just buy one of everything and make myself a peanut butter and jelly and jam and preserves and marmalade sandwich.

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

Thoughts? Questions? Complete disagreement? Leave a comment!

Your thoughts.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • This avery like food!!! I like it. But I can’t get this!! A’m very sad for this one. I would like to say thank you so much.