Sweet Semantics: Jam vs. Jelly vs. Preserves

Categories: Sweets

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Photo by Vicki
Strawberry JAM.
A few weeks ago I made the mistake of dismissing a friend's insistence on referring to that chicken broth-flavored bread crumb holiday favorite as "dressing."

"Stuffing, dressing, same thing. Regional synonyms," I said, carelessly.

I think her head exploded.

Our conversation made me realize that while I don't much care about distinguishing stuffing from dressing, I am much fussier about some other distinctions. Like hot cocoa versus hot chocolate. My current bugbear is the conflation of jam, jelly and preserves.

Jelly, jam and preserves all describe areas on the spectrum of spreadable gelled fruits (though vegetables are possible):

  • Jelly is somewhat translucent, completely smooth with no detectable pieces of fruit.
  • Jam can be thought of as jelly intensified: more opaque with pieces of fruit.
  • Preserves (also called conserves) are the thickest of the three, made from large fruit pieces or whole berries. Some people eat preserves completely on its own.

I'm sure I don't have to underscore the importance of these distinctions. Using jam, jelly and preserves interchangeably is the height of condiment insensitivity and especially offensive to lovers of toast, an important American minority that deserves our support. It elides the separate fundamental values of each fruit spread and presupposed homogeneity where the reality is, in fact, rich diversity.

So, before you casually request some strawberry "jelly" to go with your peanut butter, consider whether it's actually jam you want.



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