This Is the Difference Between Jam and Jelly

Jam, jelly, preserves, marmalade—we have a lot of terms for fruit spread, but do you know how they differ?

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Whether you spread them on toast for breakfast or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, “jam” and “jelly” can seem like interchangeable words for the same delicious fruit spread. If both were put on a spoon and taste-tested by 100 different people, the identifying results would probably turn out to be a jumbled, coagulated mess. So if it isn’t the consistency, color, or sweet flavor that makes a jam stand apart from a jelly, what is it? And where do preserves and marmalade fall in the great jam vs. jelly debate?

The difference between jam and jelly (and all the other fruit spreads) is entirely in the manufacturing process. While they all have similarities in ingredients and outcome, the ratios and cooking processes are different. Once you learn the difference, you can impress your friends with this food facts trivia.

Read on to find out which of these fruit spreads are great for baking and which make perfect gifts for tea lovers to enjoy with their scones. Of course, at the end of the day, they’re all delightfully yummy!

What is jelly?

Jelly is made by crushing fruit, straining out the larger chunks, boiling the liquid, and then adding sugar and pectin, a natural thickening agent, to the mix. The resulting viscous liquid is jelly.

It’s the only cooked fruit spread to have pectin added, so it’s the firmest of all and definitely more of a solid than the other options. And because of its smooth consistency, it’s easiest to spread evenly on your bread.

Best for: Spreading on toast and sandwiches. It goes with peanut butter like milk goes with cookies.

What is jam?

Jam is made in a process almost identical to jelly. The big difference between jam and jelly is that the larger chunks of fruit aren’t strained out when making jam, giving it a thicker texture.

If you aren’t a fan of chunks, you may be Team Jelly when it comes to jam vs. jelly. That said, some jam recipes use pureed fruit to get the extra flavor and thickness without the lumps. If you don’t mind the chunks or prefer a little more texture in your bite, jam is a great choice.

Just because jam has more fruit in it doesn’t mean it’s healthier than jelly, however. Both can have a high sugar content. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a tablespoon of jelly has 10.8 grams of sugar, while the same amount of jam has 9.7 grams. Ingredient quality differs from brand to brand, so if you’re looking to be more health conscious, skip the ones with high-fructose corn syrup.

Best for: Spooning on top of freshly baked biscuits with a pat of butter or margarine. Here’s the truth about whether you should refrigerate butter.

What are preserves?

Here’s another option for PB&J enthusiasts, particularly those who like to be able to identify the fruit in their food. Preserves contain more fruit than either jam or jelly and have the least gel-like consistency. They generally use larger chunks of fruit than jam, and no puree is used.

Preserves were originally made by adding sugar to fruit and heating it—a way to preserve the fruit for wintertime consumption before freezing was commonplace. These days, there are generally fewer additives in this type of fruit spread. If you’re into more natural foods, this may be the best option for you when it comes to jam vs. jelly vs. preserves.

And while jam and jelly may hold a special place in childhood hearts, preserves add a richness of flavor not even our most nostalgic foods can beat. So if you’re contemplating grape jam vs. jelly for your next sandwich or slice of toast, try something new and go with grape preserves for a fresh-from-the-vine flavor. Or try tomato preserves (yes, tomato is a fruit!) on a cracker with cheese or a ham sandwich.

Best for: Baking! You can add preserves as an easy shortcut for fresh fruit to oatmeal bars, muffins, pies, and cakes.

What is marmalade?

Marmalade is simply a preserve made with citrus fruit and peels. Lemons, oranges, grapefruits, and mandarins are the most common marmalade flavors.

Beloved by the British children’s literature character Paddington Bear, marmalade got its name from “marmelada,” the Galician-Portuguese word for quince paste. It gets its signature bitterness from the citrus rinds, which balance the sweet. If you’re debating marmalade vs. jam but don’t have much of a sweet tooth, give marmalade a try.

Best for: Spreading on scones. Embrace the British method and eat them with a pot of tea with milk.

Now that we’ve settled the jam vs. jelly debate, dive into other food disputes, like sorbet vs. sherbet, club soda vs. seltzer water and whether a hot dog is a sandwich.


Sarah Jinee Park
Sarah Jinee Park is a Korean American writer and editor from Queens, New York. By day, she works at a tech startup, and by night, she's the Executive Editor of Mochi Magazine. In a past life, she led creative writing and graphic noveling workshops for children. Her fiction and poetry have been published in Truancy Magazine, Peach Velvet Magazine and Polychrome Magazine. Read more of her work at