Sugar in Jellies and Preserves


Sugar in Jellies and PreservesSugar is essential in the gelling process of jams, preserves and jellies to obtain the desired consistency and firmness. This gel-forming process is called gelation – the fruit juices are enmeshed in a network of fibers. Pectin, a natural component of fruits, has the ability to form this gel only in the presence of sugar and acid. Sugar is essential because it attracts and holds water during the gelling process. In addition, acid must be present in the proper proportions. This optimum acidity is a pH between 3.0 and 3.5. Some recipes include lemon juice or citric acid to achieve this proper acidity.

The amount of gel-forming pectin in a fruit varies with the ripeness (less ripe fruit has more pectin) and the variety (apples, cranberries and grapes are considerably richer in pectin than cherries and strawberries). In the case of a fruit too low in pectin, some commercial pectin may be added to produce the gelling, especially in jellies. In recipes that use commercial pectin, the proportions of sugar may be slightly higher or lower than the one part fruit to one part sugar ratio.


Sugar prevents spoilage of jams, jellies, and preserves after the jar is opened. Properly prepared and packaged preserves and jellies are free from bacteria and yeast cells until the lid is opened and exposed to air. Once the jar is opened, sugar incapacitates any microorganisms by its ability to attract water. This is accomplished through osmosis (the process whereby water will flow from a weaker solution to a more concentrated solution when they are separated by a semi-permeable membrane). In the case of jellies and preserves, the water is withdrawn from these microorganisms toward the concentrated sugar syrup. The microorganisms become dehydrated and incapacitated, and are unable to multiply and bring about food spoilage. In jellies, jams and preserves, a concentrated sugar solution of at least 65% is necessary to perform this function. Since the sugar content naturally present in fruits and their juices is less than 65%, it is essential to add sugar to raise it to this concentration in jellies and preserves.

Color Retention

Sugar helps retain the color of the fruit through its capacity to attract and hold water. Sugar absorbs water more readily than other components, such as fruit, in preserves and jellies. Thus, sugar prevents the fruit from absorbing water which would cause its color to fade through dilution.

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