Thinking about “types of jam” is something of a knotty problem,” and when asked, “Why is ‘thinking about types of jam’ a knotty problem?” the answer doesn’t help either: “That too is a knotty problem.” As far as unsatisfactory answers go, it’s a humdinger, I accept, but then “types of jam” really does throw up some of the complexities of the language.
Rather than bore you to tears with a linguistic analysis of English’s foibles, which, though relevant, is unimportant here, let me walk you through the area. By the time we’re done, you’ll have a clear idea of the different types of jam and understand why “types of jam” is the thorny difficulty it is. You may despair upon reaching the destination, but you’ll have loved the scenery along the way.
Is Jam a Preserve, Or is a Preserve, Jam? (Part One)
Yes, yes, we all know the Logic 101 one that goes, “All men are human beings, but not all human beings are men.” However, whereas we can wrap our heads around the idea that all jams are preserves, what is less obvious is, “are all preserves jam?” Why?
Because many authoritative sources call preserves a jam of various fruits, while other equally authoritative sources call jams preserves. So which is it?
What is a Preserve?
To answer the question, “Is jam a preserve or vice-versa, it’s a good idea to first understand what is meant by ‘preserve,’ and it turns out that this is easier said than done. For one thing, ‘preserve’ is a pretty loose term that, as a verb, means “to keep.” As a noun, it means “something that is kept” without any helpful indication of what is kept.
It turns out that technically, anything that can spoil and therefore needs ‘preserving’ and can actually be preserved is a preserve when it is preserved. However, colloquially–the way you and I speak in our everyday English–a preserve is something preservable that has been preserved using sugar as an essential part of the preservation process. So a preserve is clearly any spoilable thing–obviously, foodstuffs–that has been protected from spoiling by, er, preserving it somehow.
The one caveat is that the foodstuff must be preserved with sugar being a part of the preservation process. No one thinks of pickled onions or pickled anything as preserves, even though that is what they are technically speaking.
What is Jam?
A ‘jam’ is a type of fruit preserve (it has to contain fruit) made with sugar (it has to contain sugar), and whatever else takes the fancy. Jam can variously contain chunks of fruit, fruit pulp, or a smooth fruit paste. As with preserves, there is yet again a distinction between common colloquial and technical use of the word ‘jam.’
Technically, a jam is any type of fruit preserve that contains sugar that is employed to prevent spoilage. On the other hand, as we shall see below, in everyday language, ‘jam’ is a particular type of fruit preserve. What about vegetables?
Yes, there are some folks out there who can hunker down and make culinary love to ‘turnip’ or ‘carrot cake’ (!) jam or some equally appalling monstrosity, but a man has to draw the line somewhere, for crying out loud. I know where I stand and where I stand, if it ain’t got fruit in it, miss me what the jam thing. 😠
Is Jam a Preserve, or is a Preserve, Jam? (Part Two)
So now we know. All jams are preserves because all jams preserve some sort of fruit or other foodstuffs in a type of slurry which can vary wildly in thickness and consistency. Technically speaking, not all preserves are jams because pickled foodstuffs are never considered preserves colloquially, even though that is precisely what they are. Put succinctly, all jams are preserves, but not all preserves are jams.
This meander through the linguistic minefield between the twin hazards of technical vs. conversational meaning, at last, allows us to commence an enumeration of the types of jam because I can present the catalog of types of jams without having to break off mid-trek to explain why the list does not contain ‘preserves’.
A chutney (plural, chutneys) combines a juxtaposition of various unexpected tastes that works harmoniously and is pleasing to most people. Here, I’m talking about a weird jam that marries sweet fruit with spices and those together to… vinegar! Yes, that last startling addition does not, in fact, wreck the entire enterprise.
Instead, the vinegar brings a sharp tartness that helps prevent the sweetness of the fruit from becoming cloying. Chutneys are a savory jam and don’t go with bread and butter; at least, not in my household, thank you very much. Typically, chutneys appear as a condiment in Asian Indian meals, as part of a bite of a chunk of curried meat on a chapati with a dollop of chutney on it.
If you’re not familiar with conserves, that’s alright, although it may shock you to learn that you’ve probably been chomping down on them since you were a toddler. In a nutshell, no pun intended, a conserve is a jam containing different types of fruit. Thus, mixed-berry jams and those interesting spicy things that show up in jars around Christmas time at grandma’s are all conserves.
Conserves are like a culinary Wild West; what goes is what’s going, and anything goes. For example, here’s part of one recipe: “Combine cranberries, finely chopped oranges, undrained pineapple, crushing some of the cranberries with [a] potato masher; cook over medium heat for 15 min. Stir in finely chopped apricots and pectin crystals…” Retrieved from Recipe Database.
The thing is, this is even one of the more staid examples that you can find strewn around carelessly across the Internet like the clothes from last night’s impassioned rush to the bedroom clinch.
Do you know, I’m a pretty savvy guy in the kitchen, kinda handy to have around in there if you get my meaning, but until I was chatting with a friend recently, I had never even heard of this cotton pickin’ compote thing. Turns out, a compote is basically a thick syrup made up of chunks of whole fruit, usually served as a dessert served with cream, chilled or hot. The types of compote are summer fruit blends, strawberry, rhubarb, raspberry, blueberry, and blackberry.
The syrup can be flavored with citrus peel, vanilla, cinnamon, and other spices. So what we have in compote is a sort of opposite-of-a-jelly, too-syrupy-and-un-tart to be a chutney jam. Compotes can still be savory, though, as some folks bunt in spices such as cinnamon or black pepper.
Curd is a questionable entry on this list which I include for completeness. You’ll have to decide whether you wish to accept it as a jam or not. It gets a little unclear because although curd does not contain crushed fruit, it does contain the zest and juice of fruits (they have to be citrus fruits, mind).
To some folks, the presence of fruit and preservative sugar makes curd a jam; to others, the lack of crushed fruit is a deal-breaker. Assuming that curd is a jam–and in truth, I have zero problems with accepting it–it is best described as a spreadable thick creamy paste made by mixing the aforementioned zest and juice from citrus fruit with eggs, sugar, and butter. Those who know how, cook these ingredients on a gentle simmer until it is thick enough to be used as a spread.
I used to get really upset and ready to die on a hill whenever I read what seemed like careless language, such as “[curd] was a popular alternative to jam.” “Madam,” I used to think, “curd is jam!” However, my later years have softened me considerably, and now I’m much more like Rhett Butler. 😉
5. Fruit Spread
The sweetness in this spread comes from fruits simmered in sugar, long enough to turn the combination into a smooth, uniform paste. Spreads made from apples and prunes seem to be the most popular with fruit-spread chomping aficionados, with many recipes including terms like ‘prune butter’ and ‘apple butter’, which is a bit rich since butter comes from the mammary glands of a mammal of some sort. But as with many things you’ve seen so far in this particular gastronomic area, the language has been developed by a bunch of linguistic hooligans.
Defining a fruit spread can be a testy affair, leading to furious arguments. To mitigate the chances that you will hurl your cup of coffee at the screen and scream imprecations at me, I will go for the lowest-hanging-fruit type of definition and say that a fruit spread is a type of low-calorie, minimum-sugar fruit concentrate.
Hurray! We’ve made it here at last. To get into the details, jam is a preserve made of crushed or chopped fruit cooked in a sugary syrup until the fruit softens and loses its natural shape and texture.
As the amount of water gradually lessens in the cooking jam, it slowly becomes thicker until spreadable. Allowed to cool in a fridge and made companion to bread and butter, there are few delights, I think, that come out of a jar to equal or beat jam for taste. The main contender is peanut butter, drool, but I digress. Drool.
There are lots of people, I suspect, who don’t know that in the UK, jam is legally required to contain a certain percentage of solid solubles, at least 65%, I believe. This means that English jam is arguably tastier and ‘fruitier’ than American jam. Proper jams can contain its fruit’s pulp, but it ceases to be a proper jam if it contains chunks of fruit and becomes a conserve.
Imagine for a moment that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) relaxed this restriction, you just know that some shyster operators would quickly flood the market with a couple of pieces of fruit in sugary water and call the resulting unspreadable mess ‘jam.’
I can hear my British readers groaning as they rock back and forth, frantically trying to ease the agony of seeing this word (jelly) anywhere near ‘jam.’ To the Brits, a jelly is what we call Jell-O. If you ever find yourself in danger of being invited to some crummy affair by a Brit and you really don’t want to go, just call jam, ‘jelly,’ and watch as a stricken look crosses his face like a dark cloud covering a pasty white sun, and I’m sure your interlocutor will cancel your invitation shortly after.
(You’re welcome, by the way.)
Us vs. Them. US Jam vs. British Jam. US Jelly vs. British Jelly. US Jell-O vs. British Jelly
Both Americans and Brits call jam, jam. Perhaps I should have made it clear that jam is usually cooked with pectin, to help the slurry congeal into a spreadable solid. American jelly is also cooked with pectin to make it spreadable, but it is made from the juice of a fruit, not from the flesh of the fruit.
This is why jellies are transparent–because they are made only with filtered fruit juice. What an American calls jelly, a Briton calls “a perfectly atrocious jam.” British jelly is a gelatinous substance that may or may not be savoury.
When savoury, it will not, I assure you, go with bread and peanut butter! British jelly can also be a wobbly sweet, which we instantly recognise as being Jell-o (trademarked) or jello (de-branded). Our jelly might be a little ‘thinner’ than theirs, but it’s still delicious, thank you very much.
Furthermore, our language, as is often the case, removes ambiguity and clarifies things. For example, we have three terms for three things: jam, jelly, and Jell-O, but they have only two, so yneah, yneah, yneah, Britain. 😜
The container of orange marmalade, which has been residing in the refrigerator’s back for a long time, actually has interesting roots. The word “marmalade” comes directly from the Greek “melimelon” in reference to quinces kept in honey. Marmalade is now a jam made from pieces of citrus rinds, offering the perfect balance between sweet and sour and some bitterness due to pith that is present.
Marmalade is among the rare preserves which do require additional pectin, since the rinds of citrus already contain an abundance of the gelling ingredient that is naturally present. Much like jam, marmalade must have 65 percent solids that are soluble. The similarity of marmalade to jam or jelly is with bits of citrus peel and fruit floating in the mixture.
Marmalades are a product of Roman times and can be made using grapefruits, limes, lemons, kumquats, or mandarins.
Types of Jam
And so, there we have it. There are seven types of jam: chutney, conserves, compote, curd, fruit spread, jam itself (or jelly, for us US folks), and marmalade. All jams are preserves, but not all preserves are jams.
That’s it. Go out and enjoy yourself, dear reader, and y’all be good now, y’hear?