Know It All: What’s the Difference Between Jelly, Jam, Marmalade, Preserves, and Fruit Spread?

Regardless of what the label says, they all tend to look and taste the same. So why the five distinct categorizations?

Everybody has that moment when they realize they don’t know about something that they should probably know about. Whether it’s history, language, science, or cultural phenomena, you’ve felt the stinging personal embarrassment of a moment wherein you realize there’s some common knowledge that isn’t so common. Don’t feel bad; nobody knows everything. Nobody, that is, except me and my sidekick, The Internet!

Somewhere in the world, a confused soul begs the question…

What’s the Difference Between Jelly, Jam, Marmalade, Preserves, and Fruit Spread?

They all look the same, crammed into a glass jar. They all tend to taste the same when spread on toast or a bagel. But there must be a difference between them all, right? What sort of industry would bestow five different product categorizations for no good reason?

Thankfully, logic can relax – there is an explanation. The difference between these many fruity accoutrements lies in the form of the fruit contained.

In jelly, the fruit contained is in the form of juice. Thus, the only thing “strawberry” in strawberry jelly is strawberry juice. That’s why it’s more gelatinous and easier to spread – it’s just goo (juice and pectin, technically).

In jam, the fruit contained is in the form of pulp. So, your grape jam actually does have some thoroughly smashed-up pieces of grapes.

In preserves, the fruit contained is in the form of larger chunks. However, it should be pointed out that, in many places, the differences between preserves and jam are negligible and the terms are often used interchangeably.

The term “marmalade” is usually applied to citrus preserves (like oranges, lemons, limes, or grapefruits). If you’re wondering why they didn’t just call them “citrus preserves”, it’s because of the French.

Oh and “fruit spread”? That’s just a jam or preserve made without sugar.

Now you know.

Justin Brown is a writer and artist living in Virginia. He channels most of his mind's molten river of creativity into his blog Esteban Was Eaten!. For even more information about him, check out his website.

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  • Rylos4

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!
    I work part-time at a grocery store as a night-stocker and have been perplexed by this seemingly redundant and/or asinine delineation between the jarred stuffis. But alas there is an answer that makes sense to my Curious George mind and strife to know all. Thank you for the clarification!

  • Mayurparmar

    Thank you for the valuable information

  • Adam

    The difference between Jam and Marmalade is that you can’t “Marmalade” your cock up your girlfriend’s arse.

  • Paganini

    Good to know… then what is Nutela?

  • seasiren770

    Nutela is hazelnuts and sugar, I think. Thanks for the information. I love the internet!

    • Mintas Lanxor

      Plus milk chocolate.



  • whispernmyghost

    Seriously google things before claiming to know them. Marmalade comes from Portuguese since it was originally a Portuguese item made of quinces. Once oranges became available in Britain they were used since they were more expensive and had popularity at the time.


      Hi! I am not trying to sound snooty or snoby in ANY way, but just so you know. Not every thing on the internet is true! Sure it could have some real stuff like that Tony Bennit is a Family Forgetter ad does not care about his Aunt that just had a stroke!…. But never mind that!, but the truth is wikipedia is NOT ALWAYS the best place to go for the correct answers to iteams or questions! How i learned it in School, yes i know not EVERYTHING in school is correct either, but heres how i know some thing is a GOOD website to go to or a BAD websote to go to;

      (Thats all i can remember right now! But i will re comment if i remember the rest!)

      Thank you SO much for your time!!
      Sincerly,Leia Abigale Bailey

  • Drew

    thankyou. local store had smucker natural fruit spread on sale cheaper than the jelly and jam. I was nervous about buying it though. but if it is just sugarless jelly, it will be great. 🙂

  • itsmeyou

    sorry but the whole article is SO WRONG it hurts.
    Jams and Preserves are legally a similar product. What makes it a bad product is, that it HAS to be made from at least 50% sugar! Great no? Fruits spreads, have less added sugar. Has NOTHING whatsoever to do with the form of the fruit. I am really wondering how you make up all this crap…..

  • lkdrjgha

    i looked at that etymology link for marmalade, and you say its because of the french, but the rest of the wikipedia article goes on to explain that it’s actually rooted from ancient greek… so its thanks to the greeks…

  • Mintas Lanxor

    I’ve always thought that “preserves” is a generic term for jams, marmelade, etc. since they once represented a way of preserving fruit for the winter months.

    It seems to me that these distinctions are very fluid and probably best understood by pastry chefs or manufacturers of such products. Also, let’s not forget regional differences in naming various food items. As for me, I’m gonna enjoy them while remaining blissfully ignorant about what exactly I’m eating.