By Sofía González
Jam is a pantry staple and, in a lot of cases, a life saver. You can spread it on toast in the morning, add it to plain yoghurt or use it as a pastry filling.
There are hundreds of brands and flavors available in the market. While some companies produce marmalade on a large scale, there are others focused on more artisanal processes. With so much offer, how can you tell you have a good marmalade in your hands?
We're not going to teach you how to make jam, but rather, how to know when you have a good jam in front of you.
There’s nothing like homemade jam!
What Does it Take to Make a Great Artisan Jam?
The basis of a good jam is fruit at the right point of ripeness, sugar, acidity level, presence of pectin and a sterile package. When jams become sugary, vinegary or have "hairs" of mold, it is because some of these elements were not well executed.
Based on this, any good marmalade should be judged on freshness, sweetness, tartness and body. Oh, and if you're wondering what's the difference between jam, marmalade and jelly, it's this:
- Jam uses whole or chopped pieces of fruit, boiled with sugar.
- Marmalade is the same principle, but applied only with citrus fruits (such as oranges or clementines).
- Jelly uses fruit juice and sugar.
Now, on to the good part!
Jaleas y Mermelada’s apple and blackberry jam is great on everything. Really.
Made With REAL Fruit
Good quality jam is made with ripe fruit, which is known to be high in fructose and other sugars. Ripe fruit is also lower in acidity and higher in pectin, all three very important components in making a great jam.
The proportion of fruit to jam is usually 800 grams of sugar per kilo of fruit. This, however, may vary according to the type of fruit and its level ripeness. Sugar helps preserve the fruit, and this explains why so much sugar is needed to make jam. Also, high quality artisan jams don't use any preservatives because sugar is already doing that work.
People may, however, reduce the amount of sugar with very positive results. The only downside to this is that jam may not last as long or its consistency may vary a bit.
You know you have a good jam if you can taste the actual flavor of the fruit. A jam that includes fillers usually relies on chemicals and gives the final product an artificial aftertaste.
Tomatoes are fruits and yes, they make great marmalades too.
Tart, But Not Too Tart
As we said before, a good jam is really a combination of several factors: two of them being sweetness and acidity. The reason why you need a balance between these two is because of pectin, a naturally occurring starch in fruits. We’re not going to get too scientific about it, but basically, it breaks down like this:
Too much sugar, too much pectin. Too much acid, pectin breaks down.
If the acidity in a jam is not right, it affects the action of the pectin and also makes it more likely that the jam will become "vinegary" in summer or grow mold. It can also be the reason that a jam becomes sugary (sugar crystals appear), which is why some jams should have lemon juice added to them.
Consistency Is Everything
To achieve that perfect texture in a jam, one that allows it to be easily spread over a slice of toast, most people think you have to boil your jam for hours and hours. Again, that delicate balance is achieved by adding one more factor to the mix: heat. But not a lot of it.
Cheese and jam is the perfect match.
It is incorrect to overcook the jams to reach "the point" or the desired consistency, this depends on the pectin. When you open a jar and the jam is basically solid, you know someone might have left it over the fire for too long and has allowed sugar to become caramel and pectin to fully form.
A safer way to make jam is to add pectin, which can be bought in powder or gel form in pharmacies or supermarkets. Commercial pectin is inactive if cooked and it should be added after cooking and following the manufacturer's instructions. In general, one gram of powdered pectin is used per kilogram of fruit.
Once the fruit and sugar mixture starts to boil, you should wait until the foam drops and cook from that minute for 5-10 minutes more. Overcooking also makes the jam likely to crystallize.
But artisan jam rarely uses pectin. Did your grandmother or grandfather add pectin to their jam? No they didn’t! That’s because artisan jam only uses the pectin naturally occurring in the fruit. If a particular fruit has little pectin, people usually add lemon juice to make the process easier.
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