Jams, jellies, marmalades, preserves ... these words get tossed around a lot, and sometimes seem to be almost synonymous. But each of these is a discrete and different thing. Here's how to tell the difference.
This is the umbrella term that encompasses all the other categories. Broadly, it means fruit that has been processed with sugar to extend its longevity. Whole or chunks of fruit in syrup are an example of a preserve, as are jams, jellies, marmalades, and the like. In the case of high-acid fruits, preserves can be processed by water bath canning to make them shelf-stable for long-term storage, or they can be frozen.
Low-sugar preserves are commonly considered to be preserves with less than 55% sugar content. Since sugar is required to allow regular pectin to set, alternative pectins, like Pomona's Universal Pectin, may be required.
The word "jam" often gets used to describe almost any fruit preserve that goes into a jar, but if you want to get technical about it, jam is fruit that has been cooked with sugar, and puréed or mashed to a spreadable texture. It is also cooked until it reaches a set, either with pectin, or sugar. True jam should be spreadable, not chunky, and should not be runny. Aside from being spread on toast, jam is most commonly used as a filling in baked goods, like cookies and tartlets.
Freezer jam is different in that the fruit is not cooked but puréed fresh and combined with a special pectin that creates a set. It is then stored in the freezer until desired for use. Because the fruit is not cooked, freezer jams retain a fresher fruit flavor.
Fruit butter is fruit that has been puréed and cooked down to a thick, spreadable texture. It tends to have less sugar than jam, and due to long cooking time, less of a fresh fruit flavor. Apple butter is the most common, but fruit butter can be made from almost any fruit.
Compote is whole or chunked fruit either cooked in syrup or in sugar until the fruit releases its own juices. Spices may be added for flavor. It can be enjoyed as a dessert on its own or used as a sauce.
Like jam, jelly relies on pectin to form a set, but jelly begins its life as just the juice of the fruit, not the pulp. Fruit juice is cooked with sugar; pectin or acid may need to be added to get a set. In the case of high-pectin, high-acid fruits, like citrus and apples, no additions may be required. Fruits that have little pectin, like strawberries, will require the addition of pectin. Jellies should be clear and bright. Depending on the kind of pectin used, the set may vary. Lemon or apple jelly, for example, using only the natural pectin of the fruit, may have a soft, almost loose set. The popular holiday condiment cranberry sauce is, in fact, a jelly. Added pectins can make the set increasingly firm. With the addition of pectin and acid, jellies can be made from non-fruit bases, like peppers, tea, and even Guinness beer.
Most commonly made from citrus, marmalade is a jelly with pieces of rind or fruit suspended in it. Orange marmalade made from bitter Seville oranges is the most famous, but marmalade can also be made from lemons, limes, kumquats, and other citrus. In fact, the origins of marmalade do not come from citrus at all but from another high-pectin fruit: quince. The word marmalade derives from the Portuguese word for quince, marmelo. To make citrus marmalade, the fruit is cut a certain way to expose as much of the rind as possible, releasing the maximal amount of pectin and creating a set.
Pâte de Fruit
Fruit paste, sometimes called fruit cheese, is jam or jelly that has been cooked down to a very dense texture. It can be sliced and is commonly served alongside cheese or enjoyed as a candy. The Spanish membrillo, made from quince, is one of the most well-known kinds, though other variants are made from figs, apples, plums, and other fruit. Fruit leather is a fruit paste that has been spread in a thin layer prior to finishing, creating a sheet.
A conserve is a preserve made from pieces of fruit and nuts; sometimes both fresh and dried fruits are used. Conserves are popular in France as well as in Italy. For example, in the province of Emilia-Romagna, they make a conserve with quince, apples, pears, nuts, and saba, or reduced wine grape juice. They are commonly served as a condiment with cheeses.
In the Indian subcontinent, chutney covers a wide range of condiments and dips, but specifically in the realm of fruit preserves, chutneys are chunks of fruit cooked with sugar, vinegar, and spices. They are commonly served alongside spicy foods as a balancing element. Chutneys have become a major part of British cuisine as well. Mango chutney is the most popular, but chutneys are made from many different fruits, including apple, pineapple, and persimmon.
Similar to chutney, mostarda is a Northern Italian condiment made from chunks of fruit cooked in sugar until candied; mustard oil is added to the syrup to add a spicy flavor. It's often served alongside the boiled meat dish known as bollito misto, but it's also excellent with cheese.
Fruit curds are creamy spreads made from fruit juice, butter, and eggs cooked over a double-boiler until they become a custard. Lemon curd is the most common, but curds can be made from another citrus, like grapefruit, as well as almost any other fruit. If gelatin is added to lemon curd, it can be used as a layer in a lemon meringue pie.