Julia

Julia

Editor

My parents love to spend their free time in our garden, no matter the season: They start planting seeds in springtime and already see their first results come summer. The best thing about visiting them during this time is the bags full of homemade jam jars when I leave. I’ve long since given up on store bought jam, and after all, how can you beat something that will always taste of home?

But even so, I’ll admit it took me a long time to start making jams myself. But calm yourselves, fellow city dwellers: You don’t need a big garden for it. All it takes is buying your favorite combination of fruits from the market, cooking them down to jam and storing it in jars. Before you know it, you’re the one passing around jams to your family members.

By now, your mind’s probably swimming with the usual jam-making questions: Don’t I need some kind of preserving sugar? What is this pectin that everyone is talking about? How do I actually make jam and why do people turn it upside down after they close the jars? And what’s the difference between jam and marmalade? Don’t worry, we’ve broken these all down into and easy-to-follow, beginner’s guide. Let’s jam!

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What is the difference between marmalade, jelly, and jam?

The choices you have when buying jam in supermarkets are endless, which tends to make it all the more confusing. Not only can you choose between different fruits, but you also have to decide between jams, marmalades, jellies and even fruit purées or spreads. You might think that it is just another branding, right? But, no! Even though we might not pay much attention to the differences in daily, grocery shopping life, there are very strict rules in the world of jams and marmalade. The European Union even set up a jam directive that shows you exactly when jam starts to become marmalade or jelly.

Marmelade...

... only consists of citrus fruits, like a fresh orange marmalade. It has to have at least 20% citrus fruit in it, so you would need at least 200 g of citrus fruits for 1 kg of marmalade.

Jam...

... can be made out of any kind of fruit. It doesn’t matter whether the fruits are whole, cut up or even puréed. The fruits must have been cooked with at least 55% sugar and added gelling agent. It really depends on what kind of jam you are buying, but generally you would use roughly 350g of fruit for 1 kg of jam, so more than for marmalades.

Jelly...

...is made purely out of fruit juice, but also consists of a minimum of 35% of fruit.

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Making jams yourself: The ingredients

Making jams at home is very simple: All you need is fruit and sugar. But there is much more behind the science of making jam, with pectin playing a major role. Don’t worry, we’re not going to analyze it too deeply, but I do think you should know what’s going on in your pot as this will make ‘jamming’ more fun and even easier.

Generally speaking, all you have to buy are a selection of ripe fruits and sugar which will preserve the fruits. Of course you are free to experiment and create your own jam, but before we start cooking it, let’s take a look at the three main ingredients.

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Which fruits are best homemade jam?

Luckily, you can use any fruit you like for your jam. But we would advise starting small by using just one fruit and working your way up to experimenting with different combination of fruits or even different spices and aromatics. If you really want to use multiple fruits you sure can, but limit it to two kinds—this is also the best approach if one kind is low in pectin which is the most player in jam making.

What is pectin and why is it so important when it comes to making jam?

Every fruit has pectin, as it is a natural part of the cell wall that acts as a stabilizer. But not all fruits have the same amount of pectin: citrus fruits, quinces and apples are very high in pectin, while strawberries, for example, are very low in it. The level of pectin can also change with the ripeness of the fruit. It is at its highest right before the fruit is ripe, which is why you shouldn’t use overripe fruits for your jam, but opt for ripe or nearly ripe.

But why is pectin so important for your jam? You have to look deeply into the magic behind making jams. Fruits consist of water, pectin and of course acid. Once you cook your fruit, the cell wall will break up and liquid, along with pectin, will be released. Pectin will likely try to connect with the water, but we want all the pectin to connect to each other. We then add our sugar so that it will connect with the water first, which means that the pectin has to bind to itself. The acid will get this whole process started, as it neutralizes the pectin. Now all that’s left is for the water to cook out, as the pectin molecules will help to preserve the sugary fruit syrup.

This means: no pectin, no jam. Fruits with a high amount of pectin and acid are best for making jam. Unfortunately, the fruits that we use for our favorite jams (hi, strawberry) are very low on pectin. If the fruit is low on pectin, you have to add pectin to your cooking process or combine a low-pectin-fruit with a high-pectin-fruit. We have a list of fruits to keep in mind for your next jam session:

High-pectin fruits: e.g. blueberries, gooeseberries, currants, citrus peels, and quinces

Moderate-pectin fruits: e.g. nectarines, plums, raspberries, pears, peaches, and apricots

Low-pectin fruits: e.g cherries, figs, grapes, oranges, mango, strabwerries, and rhubarb

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Welcome to the world of gelling agents

If the fruit is already high in pectin, you can just use regular sugar for your jam or marmalade, but there are many different ways to add pectin to your cooking process or even alternatives if you want to make sugarless jams.

Jam sugar: Most people will use preserving sugar for their homemade jam. The simplest preserving sugar (1:1) is made out of preserving sugar and pectin, the ratio on the package means that you need equal amounts of sugar to fruit. You can get pectin derived from fruits and add this to your jam sugar as an extra helper. It is also known as apple pectin and is preserved from dried apple peel or lemon peel.

With extra jam sugar (2:1 or 3:1) you can use double or even triple the amount of fruit to sugar. This means that you don’t need as much sugar and get a less sweet but fruitier taste to your jam. In this kind of jam sugar, the sugar is substituted with other additives, like more pectin, other preservatives or acids, or even palm oil. Does it still sound healthy to you?

If you really don’t want to use jam sugar, you can also buy pectin and add it to your regular sugar (15 g pectin for 1 kg of fruit). But what if I told you that there are even more alternatives that let you leave out sugar entirely? Let me show you!

Agar Agar: This natural gelling agent is made out of dried seaweed and is perfect for binding your fruit without adding any sugar. It is very low in calories, so you can make “healthy” jam with it. One teaspoon of it is enough for 750 ml of liquid. Agar-Agar will dissolve in warm liquid, so make sure to cook your fruit before adding it. It will bind everything as it cools down. If you still want to sweeten your jam a little bit without adding refined sugar, feel free to add rice syrup, maple syrup or agave nectar.

Guar gum and carob powder: Not many people know that you don’t have to cook your jam, but can even gel it when it’s cold. While you are keeping a lot of vitamins in your jam with this method, you have to store it in your fridge because you haven’t added any preservatives and you should consume it within one to two weeks. For this ‘no cook’ method you combine guar gum or carob powder with your fruits and use a blender to purée them for a couple of minutes. You set the paste aside to thicken. If it doesn’t start to thicken, add a little more of the guar gum or carob powder and keep blending.

Chia seeds and flaxseeds: Since the discovery of chia-pudding, we all know how much the seeds can swell out— this can also be used to our advantage when it comes to jam making. Click on this recipe to see how:

Swiss roll cake pops

Swiss roll cake pops

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How to give your jam some additional flavors

Your shopping list for jams doesn’t have to stop at fruits and sugar (or any other gelling agent). You can give your jams a little something by adding different spices or other aromatics.

The juice or peel of a lemon or an orange are always good pairings, but ginger or mint can also give your jam a fresh kick. Spice your jam up by adding chili powder, jalapenos ,or anything else from your spice selection at home. You can go from cinnamon to cardamom to cloves and pepper, nothing is impossible for your own jam. If you want to go for something classic, vanilla seeds are always a nice addition to something fruity or even alcohol like amaretto, sparkling wine, port wine, brandy, or whisky. The world of jam really is endless, you just need to experiment and be open to trying out new things.

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Step by step: homemade jam

The utensil list is just as short as your shopping list. All you need is a big pot, a cooking spoon, and at best, a slotted spoon.

Step 1: Wash your fruits and get rid of any stems and dirt before dicing into small pieces.

Step 2: Some people add sugar and fruit to the pot at the same time, and others will cook the sugar for around 10 min over low heat before adding the fruit. It doesn’t really matter, as long as you cook out the sugar, otherwise you will be left with crystals in your jam. Once you have completely cooked down your sugar and your fruit, you can leave it to simmer for another 20 minutes until the fruits have completely broken down (remember what we learned about pectin?), the juices have run out, and everything is combined. The jam has to reach a temperature of at least 220°F (105°C) in order to gel.

You can keep an eye on your jam with a kitchen thermometer or with a secret tip: Put a plate in a fridge or a refrigerator before you start cooking your jam. Once you have cooked the fruit and sugar for long enough, to test for doneness, pour little bit onto plate and wait for a couple of seconds. Then you can run your finger or a spoon through it. If it starts to wrinkle and get a little solid, it’s ready.

Step 3: Get rid of the foam with a slotted spoon and fill the jam into sterile jars while the jam is still hot.

Kitchen Stories

Homemade fresh strawberry jam

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Kitchen Stories

Homemade aromatic fruit jam

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Any questions left?

Why isn’t my jam firm enough? You probably haven’t used enough sugar or pectin, or the jam wasn’t hot enough.

Why is my jam too firm? The jam was probably too hot or you cooked it for too long, or you added too much pectin. You don’t need to throw it away though. You can still use it as a filling instead of a spread.

How to store your jam:

Yes, sterile jars are very important when it comes to the shelf life of your homemade jam. Germs and bacteria are your jams’ worst enemy. They will hide in the lid or at the rim of your jar but you can kill them off before they have a change by sterilizing your jar first—here is how.

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How to sterilize jars

  • 01:41 min.
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Sterile jars

Yes, sterile jars are very important when it comes to the shelf life of your homemade jam. Germs and bacteria are your jams’ worst enemy. They will hide in the lid or at the rim of your jar but you can kill them off before they have a change by sterilizing your jar first—here is how.

Why do you turn your jam upside down after filling them? Our grandparents’ generation taught us to always turn the jam jar on its head and leave it like this for a couple of minutes after filling it up. This help the jam to cover the entire inside of the jar, which in turn will disinfect the lid and the rim. This rule is still from a time where hygiene was a very difficult problem to solve. Nowadays, if you have sterilized your jars properly, you can usually skip this step.

Why pour the jam into the jar while it’s still hot? While the jam is cooling down, it will help to reduce the pressure in the jar and lead to better sealing. This will help you get rid of any kind of bacteria or germs and means your jam can stay fresh for a long time in your cupboards. As always, store your jam in the fridge after opening.

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The best recipes with jam

We’ve nearly reached the end and it’s time to try out our own homemade jam. The simplest (but maybe the best) way is to just spread it on some bread.

Jam-lovers combine it with peanut butter or cheese (depending on the fruit you are using it fits very well to brie, goat cheese, mozzarella, but also parmesan or gouda). But don’t limit your options to bread, you can also dollop some scones with a black currant marmalade or banana toast with a lingonberry jam.

You can also use jam as a filling. Here are some recipes for some inspiration:

DIY pop tarts, 3 ways

DIY pop tarts, 3 ways

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Jam-filled Cupcakes

Jam-filled Cupcakes

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Strawberry-filled cupcakes with chocolate-covered strawberries

Strawberry-filled cupcakes with chocolate-covered strawberries

→ Go to recipe

And lastly, you can use jam between cake layers or on cake to add fruity note to a carrot cake or this plum bread. And what about this Linzer torte?

Do you make homemade jams on a regular basis? Any more tips or questions for us? Feel free to tell us in the comments!

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