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What's the Difference Between Jam and Jelly?

Jams and jellies are incredibly delicious and versatile. But when it comes to how they are made, their texture, flavors, and best uses, there are some differences. How do you know which one to choose? Betty’s got your guide for distinguishing between jam vs. jelly plus the best recipes to use them in.

As a type of fruit preserve, both jams and jellies consist of fruit that has been cooked and prepared with other ingredients for long-term storage. The cooking process concentrates the fruit’s natural sugars, which results in a rich, sweet taste that reminds us of fresh baked pastries from grandma’s oven, cozy mornings around the breakfast table, and brown bagged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Jams and jellies are culinary traditions that are often tied to seasonal harvests or family recipes passed down through generations—they’re timeless kitchen staples that will never go out of style.

While jams and jellies have a lot in common, there are some key differences between the two, like how they are prepared as well as their textures and flavors. Before you are standing in the store aisle, staring at shelves of options for your recipes, or considering making your own jam or jelly at home, it can be a little tough to tell the two apart or know which one to choose. Betty’s got your back! Keep reading to learn more about the difference between jam and jelly and discover some of our favorite recipes to use them in.

Why We Love Jam and Jelly?

Strawberry jam spread on top of toast with a jar of jam and a spoon on the side

When properly prepared, sealed, and stored, jams and jellies can last for several months, making them a sweet and easy way to add a burst of fruit flavor to your morning breakfast. (Or our personal favorite? Used as a topping over ice cream!) They’re also an economical way to use extra fruit that you have on hand, which in turn helps you reduce waste and savor seasonal sweetness throughout the year. With a little bit of packaging or a simple ribbon and a gift tag, jams and jellies even make thoughtful and personalized gifts for any occasion or time of year.

What Is Jam?

Jam is a type of fruit preserve commonly made from chopped or crushed fruit, sugar, pectin, and an acid, such as lemon juice. Unlike jelly, which is made from fruit juice and has a clear, firm texture, jam typically contains seeds and pieces of fruit, giving it a chunkier and less uniform yet thick and spreadable texture. Jams are often made with fresh berries like strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries but peaches, apricots, and plums are also popular choices. Some jams may even combine one or two fruits or flavors for a unique or personalized twist.

How Is Jam Made?

Three jars being filled with a spoon with strawberry jam

Jam is made by slowly cooking the fruit with sugar and sometimes added pectin to create a thick, spreadable texture. Lemon juice or another acid is added to help the jam set property. Lemon juice can also help prevent bacteria growth and enhance the fruit flavor. Interested in learning how to make your own jam? A great way to start is by using this simple Betty recipe, which uses frozen vs. fresh fruit: Strawberry Orange Jam. Or, if you have fresh fruit on hand or have tried using frozen and want to move on to a fully homemade recipe, try these trusted and time-tested Betty options: Raspberry Jam and Heirloom Recipe Strawberry Freezer Jam.

Do You Need Pectin to Make Jam?

Pectin is a natural thickening agent that is found in most fruits. Pectin powder or liquid is also found in your grocery store. Some fruits like apples, citrus, and cranberries are higher in pectin. Other fruits like blueberries, cherries, raspberries, and strawberries contain a lower amount of pectin. This is why some jam recipes require additional pectin to help the jam gel or set properly, creating that soft, spreadable texture that everyone knows and loves. When combined with sugar and acid, pectin can also help speed up the jam-making process by reducing the simmering or thickening time.

How Long Can Jam Be Stored?

Jars of different colored jelly and jam line a wooden shelf

Mason jars are often used to preserve and store homemade jams. If properly prepared, sealed in sterilized jars, and stored in a cool, dark place, homemade jam can be stored for up to one year. Once opened, it should be refrigerated and enjoyed within one month. Jam that is purchased in grocery stores often has a longer shelf life due to added preservatives. Unopened, store-bought jam typically lasts for 1-2 years. Once opened, it should be refrigerated and can last for about 6-12 months. It’s always a good rule of thumb to check the label for proper storage instructions and expiration dates.

What Are the Best Ways to Use Jam?

With its thick or chunky and very spreadable consistency, jam is a delicious topping for bread, toast, scones, or crackers. It can also be used as a filling for cakes, pastries, and cookies, mixed into yogurt or oatmeal, or used as a topping for ice cream and pancakes. As a general rule of thumb, choose jam when you want to add more texture, a more solid filling, and less sweetness to your pastries and recipes. Feeling inspired? Try using jam in some of our favorite recipes below!

What Is Jelly?

Jelly is a type of fruit preserve that is made from fruit juice, sugar, and a gelling or thickening agent like pectin.

Unlike jam, which is made from whole or crushed fruit and has a chunkier, thicker texture, jelly typically contains more sugar and has a smooth, firm, and clear consistency. When prepared just right, jelly should be solid enough to hold its shape but spreadable enough to use on toast or other foods. There are many different types of jelly, each with a unique flavor depending on the fruit juice used. Popular flavors include grape, apple, berry, and even jalapeno and pepper, which tend to be more sweet than spicy. Herbs like mint, basil, and rosemary as well as spices like cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg are often added to enhance the flavor of jelly.

How Is Jelly Made?

Wooden spoon pressing strawberry jam through a mesh strainer

Jelly is typically made by cooking and straining the fruit to remove the solid pieces, like the pulp and seeds, and extract the fruit juice. The juice is then boiled with sugar to release the natural pectin until it reaches the perfect spreadable consistency. The hot jelly is then poured into sterilized jars and sealed for long term storage. A great shortcut to homemade jelly is to start with pre-made fruit juice. If you’re feeling inspired to get  started on your jelly-making adventure, try these two super simple Betty recipes: Apple Pepper Jelly and Pomegranate-Rosemary Jelly.

Do You Need Pectin to Make Jelly?

You don't necessarily need pectin to make jelly, but it can be helpful. Pectin is a thickening agent that is naturally found in fruit. Pectin powder or liquid can also be found in grocery stores. When added to jelly, pectin helps it gel or set properly and achieve the desired consistency, especially if you’re using fruits that are low in pectin such as strawberries or peaches. Other fruits, like apples and citrus fruits, naturally contain higher levels of pectin and often don’t need anything added to make jelly. You can also combine low-pectin fruits with high-pectin fruits or use a longer boiling time to achieve the desired jelly texture.

How Long Can Jelly Be Stored?

When properly prepared, sealed in sterilized jars, and stored in a cool, dark place, homemade jelly can be shelf stable for about one year. Once your jar of jelly is opened, it should be refrigerated and used within a few weeks or one month. While you should always check the label for specific storage recommendations and expiration dates, store-bought jelly typically lasts about 1-2 years when unopened and properly stored. After opening, it should be refrigerated and used within 6-12 months for the best quality.

What Are The Best Ways to Use Jelly?

With its silky, gel-like texture and consistency, jelly is lovely spread on bread, toast, bagels, and crackers. A little more on the sweeter side than jam, jelly is also often used as a filling in pastries, cookies, and cakes, applied as a glaze for meats or desserts and mixed into sauces and dressings. Its wide range of uses and long shelf life makes it a perfect pantry staple. Try using it in some of our favorite recipes below!