All About British Marmalade

Marmalade History, Facts, and Types

Homemade Marmalade

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Though marmalade can be bought all around the world, it is still considered a top choice for preserves on the British Breakfast table. Marmalade does not originate in Britain, despite claims that it does.

Marmalade on toast is most likely the most familiar use for the preserve, but it is also versatile across the whole menu, from toast to sauces, smothered on a duck, and in puddings, baked goods, and ice creams. 

A Potted History of Marmalade

The name Marmalade comes from the Portuguese word Marmelos, a quince paste similar in texture to an orange spread popular long before the commercialization of marmalade in the late 18th century.

Despite the belief that marmalade was 'invented' in Scotland by James Keiller and his wife, it was not—though due thanks must go to the Keiller who is generally credited with making the delicious breakfast preserve commercially available. The romantic notion of James Keiller discovering a cargo of bitter oranges being sold cheaply which his wife then turned into jam has long been outed considering the existence of recipes for similar 'jams' dating back to the 1500s.

According to food historian Ivan Day, one of the earliest known recipes for a Marmelet of Oranges (close to what we know as marmalade today) comes from the recipe book of Eliza Cholmondeley around 1677.

Types of Orange Marmalade

There are endless varieties of the texture of marmalade and arguments abound at the breakfast table to personal preferences. Amongst the most popular are:

  • Thick Cut–the orange peel in the jelly is cut into thick chunks creating a tangy bitter flavor.
  • Thin Cut–the orange peel is shredded finely resulting in a softer flavor and texture.
  • Flavoured–endless varieties with added flavors; whiskey, Grand Marnier, ginger, or a mixture of citrus fruits. Purists think there should be nothing more than citrus and sugar.
  • Vintage–marmalade left to mature for a denser, richer flavor.
  • Black–made by the adding of brown sugar or black molasses.
marmalade flavors
Ellen Lindner / The Spruce Eats

Making Marmalade

The bitter Spanish Seville oranges needed for making true marmalade are only available in late winter to early spring. Seville orange pulp is also available year-round in cans which it does make a good traditional Seville orange marmalade, though frowned on by purists.