Preserves and marmalades deserve a place in your pantry, as well.

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What can make a hot buttered biscuit even better? A dollop of your favorite strawberry jam, that’s what. Or maybe you prefer grape jelly or peach preserves? The South enjoys an abundance of fresh, seasonal fruits and many home cooks love to “put up” jars of jams, jellies, and preserves to use and share with friends throughout the year. If you aren’t into canning, however, and are wondering exactly what is in the jar of Aunt Betsy’s famous mystery jam you have just been gifted, read on for a quick rundown on the difference between jams, jelly, and preserves.

Why Pectin is Important

All three of these fruit condiments contain fruit, sugar, and heat. The fruit contains pectin, a natural, water-soluble substance found in various ripe fruits and vegetables that works as a thickening agent when preparing jams, jellies, and preserves. Not all fruits and vegetables contain the same amount of pectin though, so oftentimes a commercial pectin, either liquid (usually made from apples) or powder form (from citrus fruits and apples), is added to the recipe in order to achieve the desired texture. When heated in a pan, the fruit will lose liquid and reduce to a firmer consistency; the particular condiment you are making and the consistency you desire will decide how much additional pectin you need, if any. Since a jelly is the most solid of the fruit condiments, it usually requires added pectin, unlike the more spoon-able preserve, which doesn’t need to “set up” as firm as a jelly.

Jelly

Jelly is the firmest of the three fruit condiments being discussed. When making jelly, the fruit is cooked down until it is soft enough to be mashed, allowing any seeds or skins to slip away from the fruit. The hot mixture is then strained through a cheesecloth or sieve allowing the fruit juice to drip into a pan, leaving the seeds, skins, and solid fruit pieces behind. The fruit juice, the only part of the fruit that is used to make jelly, is then cooked with sugar and additional pectin to the required consistency and temperature.

Jam

Jam is a chunkier, looser-textured version of jelly and contains seeds (think blackberry jam) or small pieces of fruit. Where jelly has to be spread, fruity jams can be spooned over a piece of toast. When making jam, the fruit is chopped or pureed fruit and cooked down with sugar. The particular fruit and recipe you are working with will determine if you need additional pectin.

WATCH: How to Make Bacon Jam

Preserves

Chunky preserves contain even more fruit than jam and use either whole pieces (blueberries) or large chunks (peaches, strawberries). A marmalade is simply a preserve made with citrus – the whole fruit, rind and all. Use fruit preserves in meat marinades or serve with cheese and crackers.