What ingredients do you need to traditionally make jam?
If you add heat to the above 4 ingredients, get the temperature and pH right, you get jam. But, here are the ingredients that are listed in Kissan Mixed Fruit Jam:
- Mixed Pulp Fruit Blend (46%)
- Thickener – 440 (Pectin)
- Acidity Regulator – 330 (citric acid)
- Preservative 202 (Pottasium Sorbate)
- Synthetic food color – 122 (Azorubine/Carmoisine)
- Artificial Flavors – Raspberry, Pineapple and Strawberry
Preservatives, artificial colors, artificial flavors?? – are they really necessary?
I have discussed health impacts of these ingredients previously here. But set aside the health concerns, there is no reason to use these ingredients other than cost cutting and lazy manufacturing practices. As a consumer, you have other options available to you.
But before that, a quick review of how fruits, sugar, pectin and acid work together to become a jam…
A brief explanation on how jams are made
Here’s what happens when you cook a jam. When fruit is cut up and bought to boil (105 celsius), the pectin chains are shaken loose from cell walls. When natural pectin is not enough for certain fruit flavors (like berries), extra pectin is added. You have to do 3 things to get the pectin back together into a gel format.
- Add a large dose of sugar that attracts the water molecules to sugar and away from pectin
- Boil the mixture to evaporate water and bring pectins closer together
- Increase acidity that neutralizes the electric charge and allow the pectin chains to bond together into a gel
That’s it – fruit, sugar, pectin, acid – That’s all that’s needed!!
Jams have a pH between 2.8-3.5 and a high sugar concentration of 60-65%. Plus they are pasteurized in bottles. Really, the jam environment makes it very hard for microbes to grow on. Then, why use preservatives?
Avoid Preservatives in Jams
In the case of Kissan Jam, the sugar is almost at 70% (Every Tbsp of Kissan Jam, which is 20 g of jam has 13.8 g of sugar).
The only reason they are adding preservatives is to avoid mold growth by consumers who use a wet spoon.
I think majority of people who are capable of avoiding a wet spoon can use alternative jams instead of subjecting your child’s body to preservatives (especially when they are completely unnecessary). Here’s an example of a jam that does not use preservatives.
The above 24 mantra jam has very clean ingredients:
- Malic Acid
For those who are not familiar with Malic acid, it is a substance naturally found in apples, watermelon, grapes etc used to lower the pH of jam. A jam could use any acidulant like citric acid, malic acid, tartaric acid etc and these are all naturally found in fruits.
Avoid artificial colors and artificial flavors
Here’s Kissan marmalade using artificial colors along with, of course, preservatives and artificial flavors.
The marmalade here has FD&C Yellow #6 and artificial orange flavor.
Are you wondering, “Maybe it is necessary to make marmalades?” Absolutely not, check out a famous jam brand in US – Smuckers. Their marmalade has no artifical flavors or colors.
However, the Smuckers marmalade contains both corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, so maybe it is not the best role model either for jam.
Here’s another brand from a smaller Indian company, again with synthetic flavors and colors.
But they are not necessary to be added. You can buy jam with wholesome ingredients if you just look around some more.
Here’s Mantra with yet another clean ingredient Mango jam:
Even jams packed in squeeze bottles in Welch’s brand have clean ingredients.
Just grapes, sugar, lemon juice and pectin!!
Want more fruit? Move from Jellies ->Jams -> Preserves
If you want your kids to eat jam, because they contain fruit, you may want to consider buying preserves instead.
Jelly, jam, preserves – what do they mean?
- Jelly: made with strained fruit juice
- Jam: made with mashed fruit
- Preserves: have whole fruit or large pieces of fruit.
Jams (unless they are sugar free) will list sugar as the first ingredient. Ingredients are listed in the order of their weight in the product. So, in jams, sugar is usually #1 and fruit will be #2.
While there are limits below which the sugar cannot drop (for preserving reasons;, if you want to bump up the levels of actual fruit in your fruit spreads, it is best to move from jellies ->jams ->preserves. In preserves, typically fruit is listed as #1 ingredient and sugar is #2 ingredient.
Here’s another favorite preserve of mine
All clean ingredients – organic raspberries, organic sugar, water, pectin, citric acid!! Great for kids sandwiches or for adults to top off their yogurt or make an ice cream compote!!
Sugar Free Jam
It is best not to buy sugar-free jams. I mean, of course there is going to be gums and firming agents and non-nutritive sweeteners and preservatives….should I go on?? You can’t blame the industry for that. How are they supposed to deliver the taste without the star ingredient – sugar?
If you really want sugar-free jam, make your own at home. I have my sugar free jam recipe right here on this blog for you.
So, remember, when shopping for jams
- Preferably look for jams with ingredient labels that list just 4 ingredients: fruits, sugar, pectin and acid
- Avoid jams with preservatives, artificial colors, flavors, corn syrup and sugar-free jams
- Try to buy preserves that list fruit as their first ingredient
Homework for all of you: Go to your refrigerator or pantry and review the ingredients in your favorite Jam. Were you surprised? List them below in the comments.
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To learn more about Jams or just about anything in food science: