The Not-so-Sweet Truth About Jams

Those sweet dollops of fruity goodness you like to spread on your toast? Chances are your favourite jam is packed with plenty of sugar

Credit: Flickr/Tamara Manning

A good jam can make all the difference between dry toast and a tasty morning snack, but be prepared for sugar rush

So you’ve found some healthy bread and now it’s time to put something on it. If you’re jonesing for something sweet, chances are you’ll be going with jam.

What’s the difference between jams, jellies, spreads, conserves and preserves? Jelly is the clear spread made with sweetened fruit juice, while jam (when done right) contains both fruit juice and fruit pieces. Conserves and preserves are said to contain larger pieces of fruit, while a spread is often artificially sweetened.

In most cases we’re talking about fruit cooked with sugar and maybe a little pectin — simple, right?

Not always. Like most processed foods, there’s room in a simple recipe for a whole lot of chemistry, including high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavours and colours and a lot more sugar than your grandma would have used. Read on to see how jam can either be a sweet (but benign) treat or something quite unhealthy.

Dickinson’s Pacific Mountain Strawberry Preserves

They may bill themselves as traditional, but chances are some of the ingredients found in Dickinson’s Pacific Mountain Strawberry Preserves have changed since 1897. The main ingredients are strawberries and sugar, but you’ll also find corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup. One tablespoon serving contains 50 calories and 10 g of sugar.

Credit: Flickr/Vivido

Bonne Maman

The French classic Bonne Maman (doesn’t jam always taste better when it comes from a fancy jar?) contains strawberries, sugar, cane sugar, concentrated lemon juice and fruit pectin. At 50 calories and 13 g of sugar, it tastes a bit sweeter than some of the other selections in this group.

Credit: Flickr/and parsecs to go


Smuckers, the classic childhood favourite, is another jam that sweetens itself with high fructose corn syrup (listed as glucose fructose), corn syrup and sugar. One tablespoon comes in at 50 calories with 12 g of sugar.

President’s Choice

President’s Choice offers two versions of strawberry jam. Not surprisingly the Over 50% Fruit version has fewer grams of sugar and skips the high fructose corn syrup (listed as glucose fructose).

Sugar free jams really aren’t the answer unless you have a medical reason to avoid the sugar. Though low in calories, they contain a host of artificial ingredients. Smuckers with Splenda contains water, strawberries, polydextrose, maltodextrin, pectin, locust bean gum flavour, preservatives, sucralose and colouring.

Credit: Flickr/linuxchic

How to Make Strawberry Jam

Want to try making your own strawberry jam? This is a simple version without pectin:


  • 1 kg fresh strawberries washed and hulled
  • 4 cups of white sugar
  • 60 ml lemon juice


  1. In a large heavy based saucepan crush 2/3 of the strawberries with a potato masher.
  2. Add sugar and lemon juice. Stir over low heat until all the sugar has dissolved. Increase heat to medium/high and bring the berries to a boil. Stir often, after 10 minutes check the temperature with a candy thermometer. Keep cooking until the mixture reaches 105 degrees C.
  3. Transfer to hot sterile jars and seal (you may wish to process in a hot water bath). If the jam is going to be eaten right away just refrigerate.