While fancy toasts will always have a place in our hearts, sometimes a simple piece of bread with butter + jam just really does the trick. However, the world of the fruit spread can get confusing. People often say jelly when they mean jam, and wonder if it’s okay to substitute preserves in a recipe that calls for compote. It’s complicated, we know. At their core, all of these different labels refer to fruits preserved in sugar, with various ingredients added for flavor, texture, or both. But knowing the difference between the various jars lining the condiment aisle in your grocery store can open up a whole new world for the home chef.
This ultimate jarred fruit guide will help set the record straight, and before you know it you’ll be turning your classic PB+Js into PB+Cs (confiture), or even PB+Ms (marmalade). Happy toasting!
Jam is the king of the preserved fruit world—it’s what you’ll find most plentifully stocked in your grocery store, and what most people call their favorite. Jam is made by cooking down diced and/or mashed fruit in sugar, pectin, and an acid (like lemon) until the fruit softens and the water evaporates, leaving a sweet spread studded with chunks of fruit. Jams are most often made from berries and stone fruits like strawberries, peaches, and cherries, but if you do some detective work, you can find wildcard jams made from rhubarb, bananas, and pomegranates as well (or, make your own at home!).
If you’re not a fan of pulp in your orange juice, crunch in your peanut butter, or the chunky texture of pico de gallo, then you may prefer jelly over jam. Jelly is made from fruit that is crushed and strained, and boiled with sugar and pectin, so all of the pulpy solids are removed from the final product. This is what gives jelly its clear, smooth, firmer consistency. With no frills and no distractions, jelly is basically spreadable fruit juice.
While jams and jellies can be made using a wide variety of fruits, marmalade refers to spread made solely with citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, and grapefruits. Marmalade uses the pulp, juice, and rind of the citrus—because the rinds contain a ton of naturally occurring pectin, you don’t need to add any in the cooking process (as you do with jams and jellies). The inclusion of the rind gives marmalade its signature tart, tangy flavor, which makes it the perfect, balancing spread on top of buttery biscuits and sweet waffles.
Compote (also known as confiture or preserves)
While jams, jellies, and conserves are often made to be canned and preserved for a long period of time, compotes, or confitures, are often made to be consumed fresh. Compotes are made by boiling diced or whole fruits in a simple syrup (made of equal parts sugar and water) and spices. Where jams and jellies are cooked longer to reduce the water content, compotes are boiled and unstrained, are therefore typically more liquid in their texture. This spread is versatile, and is equally at home atop a tall stack of pancakes, as it can be accompanying a disc of foie gras.
Though they sound alike, preserves and conserves are not the same. Where preserves are made with fresh fruit alone, conserves include crushed nuts like walnuts, almonds, or pecans, and dried fruit, which lend a crunchy, chewy texture to the sweet spread. We love conserves mixed into yogurt—the nutty crunch mimics the texture of granola, with a sweet, fruity twist.
Fruit butter distinguishes itself from its preserved fruit counterparts by cooking down without the help of any pectins, which gives the spread a smoother, less gel-like consistency. Whole, often unpeeled fruits are cooked with sugar for hours (longer cooking time means more water evaporation and therefore a thicker sauce) until tender, and then puréed in a food mill or with an immersion blender until smooth and silky. Despite the name, there is not actually any dairy in this fruit spread—the “butter” refers to the spread’s creamy texture, not its ingredient list.
Chutneys are the savory sibling in the jam fam. They often use fruits like mango at their base, but play with a more savory flavor palette, often boosted with herbs, spices, and vinegar. Chutney’s savory, complex flavor profile makes it a delicious topping for grilled meats and fish—but it’s also delicious atop toast or crackers for a quick snack.
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