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How much sugar do you use in jam making?

I've made jam a few times using recipes from the USDA website, but they don't give recipes for all the fruits that are out there. Different fruits require different amounts of sugar. How do I figure out how much sugar to use if I don't have a recipe for a particular fruit? Any general rules of thumb? Or any book or resource I can refer to? I like making jams without adding pectin.

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  1. One place to begin is the Ball Canning website (or their book). They have a lot of instructions and a lot of recipes.

    There are also a lot of canning-knowledgeable posters on this board. Hopefully someone will be able to help you out with some specifics.

    8 Replies
    1. re: LNG212

      There are a lot of loquat trees in my area and they are all fruiting right now. When they turn ripe, I want to harvest them for a jam. How much sugar would I need to use? I'd like to make it without adding pectin. (If possible, I'd like to use the minimal amount of sugar necessary to make it gel and preserve it. Sometimes, jams can be too sweet, and you don't even taste the fruit anymore.)

      1. re: michaelnrdx

        The rule of thumb used to be pound for pound, i.e. equivalent weights of sugar and fruit. According to Wikipedia, loquats are similar in sugar, acid, and pectin content to apples, so that's where I'd start -- take a look at recipes for apple jelly or jam and see where you go from there.

        Good luck! :)

        1. re: michaelnrdx

          If you want to make jam without added pectin, be sure to include some underripe loquats, for they have more pectin than the perfectly ripe fruits. But you will need a fairly high proportion of sugar if you want to depend on the fruit's own natural pectin.

          1. re: janniecooks

            Don't jams with added pectin usually have more added sugar? On Alton Brown's Good Eats, he made jam with added pectin and used a large amount of sugar, so he wouldn't need to reduce the jam. It seems that, in recipes with added pectin, you add a large amount of sugar, so you achieve the 65-66% sugar concentration quickly without much reduction.

            1. re: michaelnrdx

              There are no-sugar necessary and low-sugar pectins available. When using these you can drastically reduce the sugar. I did a peach jam last year for my mother who is diabetic. I used Pomona and did not use any sugar at all. My mother loved it.

              1. re: LNG212

                I'd rather not use any pectin at all. I'm sort of a purist in that I feel that I'm cheating by using pectin. A jam without added pectin only gels successfully if you've used the right fruit and achieve the right sugar concentration by reducing it properly. It's an art, and adding pectin takes the subtlety out of it. I don't mind adding sugar to jam. I just want to add the minimal amount necessary for the jam to gel and preserve.

                1. re: michaelnrdx

                  When my loquats ripened, I found this site with recipes, one for jelly with pectin and one without pectin. The jam recipe on the site does not call for pectin, might work for you:


                  good luck, and let us know how your jam comes out.

                  1. re: michaelnrdx

                    In order for jams and jellies to set they must have pectin. Some fruits are more abundant in the natural pectin they contain and under ripe fruits have more than ripe fruits. If you search "home made pectin" you'll find lots of recipes for making your own from pectin rich fruits such as apples. Using pectin is absolutely not cheating. You're using it whether you're adding it or not. Some of the advantages to using it are not over cooking the fruit to reach gel set, thus preserving more of the fresh fruit taste, and using less sugar, also preserving the fresh fruit taste and being marginally better for you.
                    Personally, I'm a huge fan of low/no sugar pectin because it requires minimal cooking (far less than regular or no added pectin), I can add just the amount of sweetener to suit my taste, and I can play with types of sweetener, (honey, white,brown, maple). It is very flexible and allows me to play with all kinds of tweaks and additions that I might not be able to using regular or no added pectin. My goal is to let the fruit shine and too much sugar or too long a cooking time diminishes that.

        2. A lot more than I'd like to, is my answer. The amounts are crazy, I'd like to know how much I can cut back, or maybe add alcohol or something different, instead of 6 or 8 cups of sugar per small batch.

          2 Replies
          1. re: coll

            You can cut WAY back if you use (added) pectin, but otherwise it just won't set properly without all that sugar.

            1. re: MikeG

              Great, I have some so will have to experiment.

          2. I use pound for pound and only reduce if the fruit is really sweet.

            1. You can always cook the fruit down a lot more, which will give you a fruit butter (which of course does not contain butter), or close to it. At the moment I am overloaded with dried apricots and am thinking of making apricot butter. The Simon Fischer brand, which I enjoyed in NY, doesn't seem to be sold in MA. Pectin isn't an issue with fruit butter.

              Since there's a world of difference between the sweetness of barely to very ripe fruit, I'd err on the side of caution and do a lot of sampling while your jam cooks.

              1. About 50-50 (by weight) is a good place to start.

                In order for jam to be jam and preserve properly, the final product needs to be about 66 percent sugar by weight, so it's often a lot more than you would expect. Reducing the sugar may taste okay, but won't keep the same way jam does.

                2 Replies
                1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                  I made jam for the first time last Fall. I am type 2 diabetic and tired of paying high prices for sugar free jam. I used Pomona Pectin to make the jam jell and used no sugar. I alternated between using no sugar at all and an artificial sweetener (Splenda). The consistency of the finished jam is well, not jam like, just concentrated fruit! It really does allow the flavour of the fruit to shine. When I next make jam I will add some apple juice to allow the jam to more resemble regular jam. All my friends love the jam I made.

                  1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                    Is it safe to assume that if I cook my jam and it gels properly (after testing it on a cool plate), then I have the right amount of sugar?

                  2. I use Pomona's Pectin if I need pectin, and I don't use anywhere near 1-1 sugar to fruit ratio. But I keep the acid levels safe. I can tell you that my preserves are very cleanly fruit, and people do notice that. The downside is that the color seems to fade a bit quicker than high sugar preserves.

                    Basically, I sugar to taste. Get yourself the Ball blue book and check out a few canning blogs and go crazy. Just keep the technique safe.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Vetter

                      I'm not a fan of Pomona Pectin - it is made using lots of chemicals, even though it's called "natural". You can make your own pectin from apples/lemons. Here's what I wrote about it on my blog motherskitchen.blogspot.com (check it out for more canning info)

                      I was eager to find out how I could can jams without pectin because the stuff is expensive. I just got "Ball Complete Book of Home Canning" out of the library and I can't wait to buy it myself. In it, they have a recipe called "Natural Summer Fruit Jams" that rely on a pectin rich apple and lemon puree that thickens the jam without making it too sweet. The puree is made from boiling:

                      5 tart apples, stems and blossom ends removed and chopped coarsely, cores intact
                      1 or 2 lemons or limes, unpeeled and chopped fine *

                      *number and type of citrus depends on the the fruit type, some need more pectin than others

                      Boil apples and citrus in enough water to prevent sticking for 20 minutes until soft. Force through a fine sieve with the back of a spoon to make 2 cups puree.

                      Fruit and sugar needed to make different kinds of jams:

                      Blueberry - 4 cups berries, 3 cups sugar, use 1 lime in puree
                      Raspberry - 4 cups berries, 5 cups sugar, use 1 lemon in puree
                      Red Currant 6 cups currants, 5 1/2 cups sugar, use 1 lemon in puree
                      Peach - 6 cups pitted peeled and chopped peaches, 5 1/2 cups sugar, use 2 lemons in puree
                      Plum - 6 cups pitted chopped plums, 5 1/2 cups sugar, use 1 lemons in puree

                      Add fruit and sugar to puree in a deep pot, bring to a boil and stir frequently over medium heat. Boil for 20 minutes until mixture thickens and mounds up in a spoon. When I made the raspberry yesterday, I stopped boiling it after about 20 minutes. I wasn't sure that I went far enough with the boiling, but I didn't want to overdo it. I didn't see any "mounding up" on the spoon, but the raspberries seemed somewhat set when I ran my finger across the back of the spoon. Earlier this summer, I boiled a no pectin jam that ended up as tough as fruit leather.

                      Process 10 minutes. Shut off heat on canner and remove lid, and let the jars sit 5 minutes in the water before you take them out. This neat trick prevents the jars from spewing juice out of the lids before they seal like they sometimes do.

                      1. re: momskitchen

                        Thanks, I was hoping there was a natural way to thicken.

                        1. re: coll

                          Rose Levy Beranbaum gives a really unique method of making jam without adding pectin. She uses triple the amount of fruit of most jam recipes, so all the pectin comes from the fruit.

                      2. re: Vetter

                        I just made a batch of strawberry jam with Pomona pectin for the first time. Usually I use high-pectin fruits in combination with other fruits (or alone) or boil down the mixture so the sugar ratio is fairly high. Quince is always good, as are cranberries or small plums. This higher sugar level doesn't bother me when I make a jam solely with tart fruit like quince or plums.

                        For the pectin jam I used 4 cups mashed strawberries and 1.5 cups white sugar -- followed the recipe guidelines in the box. I added some liqueur as well (Chartreuse) and the jam set nicely and tastes really good. But after I processed it it became rather cloudy in the jar, with a layer of clearer gel at the bottom. The clear layer reminds me of jarring marmalade too hot, but what's the cloudiness all about? It doesn't seem to affect taste, but it's unattractive against the dark fruit...

                      3. i'm mostly a pectin girl, so when i make strawbanana jam, i do about 8 or 8 1/2 cups strawberries, 2 bananas, and 3 scant cups white sugar and 2 cups brown sugar, dark, not packed...

                        and for the carrot cake jam i made recently i severely cut back on the sugar, but i also sub some brown sugar for white as a general rule. and always add vanilla. :)

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Emme

                          I like the idea of brown sugar.

                          1. re: coll

                            i don't think i've ever made one without brown sugar... then again, in *most* things i bake, i usually increase the brown sugar to white ratio, or sub some brown (or all) for the white. i *almost* did this for my flourless chocolate torte on passover, but opted not to. that said, i highly recommend it in jam!

                            1. re: Emme

                              I often sub brown for white, that's why it appealed to me. Just never thought about doing it in jam. Can't wait to try it.

                              1. re: coll

                                and can't wait for you to try it!

                                1. re: Emme

                                  The first local strawberries just appeared yesterday, so it will be very soon!

                        2. I've been making jam all my life and have never used pectin.

                          The 1:1 ratio is a good start, but you can drop the sugar back quite a bit. The jam will be a little softer in set and will not keep as long, however. Taste your fruit and make a judgment call. If fruit is very ripe, add the juice of a lemon or two - this adds both pectin and the acid needed for piquant preserves.

                          The secret to good jam is small batches, a widemouthed preserving pan to reduce cooking time, and attention to detail. Jam is 'done' when it falls from the side of a spoon in either two symmetrical drips, or in 'sheets'. Try it a couple of times and you'll get the hang of it.

                          Also, (in my own opinion/experience) water bath preserving is not necessary if you observe basic hygiene. Jam is really, really hot, and flipping the filled jars sterilizes the closed jar just fine. Just remember to flip them back before they start to cool!

                          1. Christine Ferber's "Mes Confitures" is a great place to start for no-pectin recipes. But she uses more sugar than necessary. I had really great luck last year with the strawberry and apricot jam recipes on the Bay Area Bites blog. Same technique as Ferber's recipes but a lot less sugar. http://blogs.kqed.org/bayareabites/20.... I think her method would adapt well to other fruits. My one observation about no-pectin jams and seedy fruits like raspberries: the heavy reduction of fruit makes for a very seedy jam. The Le Cordon Rose rasberry jam calls for running the berries through a food mill, then adding back a little bit of the seedy pulp. In the future I will do that with any pectin-free raspberry or blackberry jam.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: carrme

                              I was glad to fin this thread late in the game. There is another thread on pectin. Sometimes I think Chowhound should have study groups for us to experiment and compare results. Anyhow, I was rather puzzled about the wide spread of sugar required in jam recipes, so this is a help. Some comments on carme's post. My impression is that most of Ferber's recipes are actually for preserves, rather than for what we would call jam--which means the fruit is suspended in jelly. The full gel for jelly requires about 65% sugar. A lot of people prefer a jam that is softer, so the sugar content of the final product can be as low as 45%--anything below that needs preservatives, already included in many low-sugar pectins. The method in the blog that carme cites of reducing the juices makes great sense. But it seems to me that you would still end up with a high sugar product--just more glucose from the fruit than sucrose from the sugar bin. What I like about it is that the fruit is not overcooked. That sort of moves us back to some medieval and renaissance methods--of preserving fruit in the reduced juice of grapes--something I note that is being done by some fancy jam manufacturers.