Jam, Jelly, or Preserves? A Quick Guide to Spreadable Fruit

I’m in a rut. Every morning I have toast with red jam.

Vertical closeup image of two pieces of toast spread with orange jam, with a white bowl of red jam to the right, and a spoon on a gray granite countertop.

You heard me right. I didn’t say strawberry, raspberry, cherry, or even currant. I said red. And it has to be lumpy. That’s why it’s not jelly.

Did you know that jam is made of crushed fruit, and jelly is made from juice?

Join me for a quick look at fruit spreads and what makes each unique. It’s certainly time for me to branch out! How about you?

Preserve and Enjoy

Home cooks have been preserving fruit for centuries to use up imperfect produce and stay ahead of bumper crops.

Vertical image of a woman's hands and arms clothes in a gray sweater, pouring a glass container of sugar into a saucepan full of red berries, on a brown countertop with bowls and various kitchen implements, with a black background.

And market shelves are often so packed with options that a tired shopper’s choice may indeed come down to the red one or the orange one.

Let’s get to know the delicious choices available!

Quick Guide to Spreadable Fruit


A fruit butter is a thick paste of sweetened and spiced fruit pulp. It’s cooked until tender, strained, mixed with sugar and spices, and cooked some more. It reduces and thickens until it reaches the desired consistency.

Apple butter is a popular variety that is actually applesauce before reaching the butter stage.


Chutney may be cooked or uncooked, and is a mixture of chunky produce combined with spices, vinegar, and sugar. You’ll often find fruit versions, such as our recipes for mango chutney or spicy cranberry.

Cooked types are like salsa, and uncooked, like relish. Consistency varies from smooth to chunky. The smooth varieties are quite spreadable.


For a spread to qualify as a true conserve, it must be made of two or more varieties, and one of them must be citrus, like lemon or orange.

Vertical image of a swing top jar of green rhubarb, orange, and raisin preserves next to a small glass bowl of the same, with a white ceramic spoon in it, beside another small glass bowl of sliced oranges and rhubarb, on a white cloth atop a table covered with a gray and white checkered tablecloth.

It offers a good bite, as it contains rinds. Raisins and/or nuts often add to the rich texture.


A coulis is a smooth, pourable purée of produce. It is cooked until tender and then slowly reduced, to achieve a velvety-smooth quality. It may be a savory meat sauce, or sweet dessert garnish.


A curd is unique because it contains butter and eggs in addition to fruit and sugar. Opaque and creamy, it is often made with citrus.

Lemon curd is a pleasant accompaniment to scones on an English tea table, and it is also used as a dessert topping.


Jam is made by crushing fruit and cooking it with sugar until it thickens to a uniform consistency and texture throughout. While it is not completely smooth, no recognizable pieces remain.

Our strawberry basil jam and peach jam recipes are both stellar examples.


Jelly has the most pectin and least pulp content of all the spreads.

Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and sprigs of mint on a piece of slate, surrounding three glass jars of red fruit preserves, with a spoonful of the jelly resting on top of one jar.

It is made by extracting the juices and boiling them down with sugar until the mixture thickens to a gelatin-like consistency. The finished product is smooth and transparent.


Marmalade is made of one or more fruits that are cut into large pieces and cooked down until the acidic juices, pectin, and sugar combine to form a syrup.

The pieces remain large, and the inclusion of the rinds makes for a good bite.


Preserves contain whole fruits that become soft during the cooking process. Sugar, acidic juices, and pectin work their magic to make a thick syrup. Although the fruits cook and soften, they retain recognizable shapes.


A spread may refer to any one of the above. However, commercial manufacturers’ current marketing jargon often uses the word “spread” on its most natural products, namely those that don’t have corn syrup in the ingredients.


A fresh fruit syrup is transparent, sticky, and pourable, often enjoyed on pancakes, waffles, and ice cream.

It’s different from a coulis, because it’s not a purée of both juice and pulp. Instead, it’s made from the juice alone, like jelly. However, it contains less pectin, so it doesn’t thicken as much.

Get Your Jam On

Now that you’re an expert on fruit spreads, maybe you’d like to try your hand at making them at home.

Closeup of a glass jar filled with purple jam, with a spoonful of the jam resting on top, with the lid of the jar and scattered red currants and green leaves on a brown countertop in the background.

I’d like to recommend our articles, “Harvest Jams and Jellies: 4 Simple Steps to Make Your Own Sweet Spreads,” and “Making Peach Jam: A Great Way to Have Homegrown Peaches in the Winter.” Each is loaded with information on subjects like produce selection, equipment, ingredients, and methods to get your jam on in no time.

Not quite ready to make your own?

No problem. Me neither. But, I am ready to step out of my red comfort zone. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll pick up something orange!

What’s your favorite variety? Do you have any home canning tips to share? Please tell us in the comments section below.

Photo credit: Shutterstock.

About Nan Schiller

Nan Schiller is a writer from southeastern Pennsylvania. When she’s not in the garden, she’s in the kitchen preparing imaginative gluten- and dairy-free meals. With a background in business, writing, editing, and photography, Nan writes humorous and informative articles on gardening, food, parenting, and real estate topics. Having celiac disease has only served to inspire her to continue to explore creative ways to provide her family with nutritious locally-sourced food.

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