What is the difference between Jelly, Jam, Preserves, and Marmalades?

Many people use the descriptive terms jelly, jam, preserves or marmalades interchangeably, believing them to be essentially the same thing. However, while they are all delicious to be sure, they are each separate and distinct types of spreads, and when it comes to cooking with them, these incongruities matter greatly. Therefore, when adding them to a recipe, understanding the differences between these delectable infusions is of paramount importance. Read on to learn more:


Jelly is more rigid than jam but just as sweet. It is gelatinous, smooth and firm. When compared with other types of spreads, jelly contains the least pulp content and the most pectin. It is made by combining strained juice from the fruit’s pulp with pectin and sugar. Jelly pairs well with nut butter (think PB&J), works great on toast or biscuits and can even be successfully paired with BBQ sauce, making a scrumptious rib glaze. 


Jam is made when a whole fruit, either cut up, crushed puréed, is combined with sugar and water. It is chunky and loose and less rigid than its highbrow cousin jelly. It is soft enough to be spreadable, even with fruit inside. Jam is best paired with sweet and savory foods but can be advantageously combined with meat as well, such as using peach or apricot jam to create a scrumptious glaze for either chicken or pork. 


Preserves are very similar to jam in that they include the whole fruit. However, unlike jam that utilizes fruit mostly crushed or chopped, preserves contain either large pieces of fruit or the whole fruit. An easy way to remember the difference is in jam, the fruit is “jammed” or “crushed” losing its former shape, with preserves, the fruit’s shape and size is mostly “preserved.” 


Marmalade is the more “civilized” British version of jelly or jam. It combines the sweetness of both jellies and jams with the bitterness of a citrus peel, which gives it a rich, complex flavor. It contains a higher pectin content, which leads to a thicker consistency overall. Marmalade of course works well with toast as does jelly, jam and preserves. However, it also makes an interesting tangy topping for blander foods, like oatmeal, goes well with cheese on crackers and is ideally suited for making a meat glaze like you might use over juicy pork chops. 

Short & Sweet Savory Cheat Sheet

Below is a short and sweet cheat sheet highlighting the differences between jelly, jam, preserves and marmalades:

  • Jelly: Made with clear fruit juice, gelled into a translucent solid. Holds its shape well, but is still spreadable. 
  • Jam: Made from either chopped, crushed or puréed fruit. Less firm than jelly. 
  • Preserves: Like jam but contains whole pieces of fruit or at least larger pieces of fruit in a firm jelly or less gelled fruit syrup. 
  • Marmalades: Jelly that contains pieces of citrus fruit that is suspended evenly throughout. 

Happy Cooking

Now that you know the distinct differences between the textures and taste of jelly, jam, preserves and marmalades you will know how to properly utilize them when adding them to recipes. 

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