Almost everyone loves making a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Kids can’t seem to get enough of it. And when it comes to a buttered biscuit that’s fresh from the oven, most folks would top it with a dollop of strawberry jam. It can be confusing sometimes which of these two fruity spreads you should use on which delicacy. We know that a jelly is different from a jam, based on looks alone. But is there more to it than mere appearances? Well, if you’re curious to find out the difference between a jelly and a jam, then read on.
The Difference Lies in Pectin
Pectin is a kind of starch that is found in great abundance in the cell walls of vegetables and fruits. It is the pectin that gives fruits and vegetables the very structure or form that we know of these food items today. What makes pectin very remarkable is that it can form into a gel-like substance that can bond different substances together. You will need sugar, acid, and about 220 degrees Fahrenheit to turn pectin into a gooey, sticky substance.
In short, pectin works as a thickening agent that is very useful in the making of jellies, jams, and preserves.
While it is true that all fruits and vegetables have pectin in their cell walls, their levels vary. For instance, apples and citrus fruits contain high levels of pectin. That is why these fruits are very firm compared to other fruits. This is also the reason why you don’t need to add commercial pectin anymore when making marmalades and apple jams and jellies.
Ripe fruits and soft fruits will often have lower levels of pectin. Examples of these are raspberries and strawberries. It is very easy to squish them. As such, if you decide to make jellies or jams out of these fruits, you’d have to use more sugar or cook them for longer periods of time. In most cases, you’d have to do both. A better alternative is to add commercial pectin to thicken things up.
Differences in the Making of Jellies and Jams
We know that both jellies and jams contain pectin, since they both feature fruits as their principal ingredient. However, owing to the different technique of preparation, jellies often require additional commercial pectin to make it firmer. Let’s look at how these two fruit products get manufactured.
The main difference between a jelly and a jam is the form of fruit used in the manufacturing process. For jellies, fruits come in the form of a juice. Jams, on the other hand, utilize mashed pieces of fruits.
To get the juice needed for the making of jellies, manufacturers cook the fruit until it is soft. This allows the manufacturer to mash the fruit, separating the skin and seeds from the flesh. The mixture passes through a sieve or cheesecloth, to filter out the seeds, skin, and other solid pieces of fruit. What drips from the cheesecloth is pure fruit juice.
The fruit juice is then cooked with additional pectin and sugar. The pectin added ensures the jelly will have the right consistency. It should be able to hold its shape when scooped from the jar. A more important characteristic is that there should be no bits of fruit, skin, or seeds.
The process of making jams is almost the same as making jellies, except that they no longer strain or filter the fruit bits. As such, large chunks or bits of fruit get included in the final product. However, the fruits used in the making of jams have to be pureed first before these get cooked with sugar.
Do you need additional pectin? Well, everything depends on the type of fruit that you are going to use to make a jam. If the fruit contains high levels of pectin, then there is no need to add commercial pectin. However, if you’re talking about strawberry jams or raspberry jams, then it may be necessary to add a little commercial pectin. This is because these fruits have lower levels of the pectin starch.
Differences in Applications
While not everyone will agree that this can be a major differentiating point between a jelly and a jam, we still find it worth mentioning.
Because of their finer consistency and “less fruity” flavor compared to jams, jellies make a versatile ingredient for a variety of dishes. Of course, it is a perfect pair with your favorite toast. However, you can also pair it with cheese. The delicate sweetness of jelly will not overpower the salty, tangy, stinky, and fatty flavors of cheese.
We’ve seen folks serving jellies with mashed sweet potatoes, braised carrots or beets, and caramelized onions. Since there are no fruit bits in jellies, they will never interfere with the flavor profile and texture of these veggies.
Another use of jellies is as a barbecue marinade or sauce. It’s perfect for glazing baked ham, slow-cooked roasts, and grilled chicken wings. When braising or roasting, jellies are best added at the start of cooking. This will melt the jelly into a thick sauce. If you’re going to use it for broiling or grilling, it is best to apply the jelly towards the end of the cooking. This will lend sticky and crunchy caramelization to your food.
Making a pan sauce with jellies is fun; although you can also do this with jams if you want a chunkier sauce. Other potential uses of jellies include baked goodies and salad dressings.
Dishes that call for chunkier bits of fruits and more pronounced fruity flavors can rely on jams. It’s perfect for flavoring cocktails or pairing with cheese. You can also turn it into a salad dressing if you want. Making a pan sauce with larger fruit bits is another use of jams. Of course, spread it on your toast if you wish an added crunch.
To sum it up, jellies only utilize the pure juice version of the fruit involved. Jams, on the other hand, use the whole fruit, but mashed into bits.
- What’s the Difference between Jam and Jelly? – Southern Living
- What’s the Difference between Jam, Jelly, and Preserves? – Encyclopedia Britannica