Jam can be a delicious and nutritious addition to a healthy diet, and has been a staple in cultures around the world for centuries. Before the days of refrigeration, people preserved all types of foods, jam being one. This sweet and satisfying spread helped people get through cold winter months with a taste of summer fruits, and while there are many ways to prepare jam, it is essentially some sort of combination of fruit with sugar.
In this article, we’ll dig deeper into the history of jam, its nutritional facts and health benefits, ways to use it, and the differences between jam, jelly and preserves.
Fun Facts About Jam
- Famous Spanish artist and sculptor, Joan Miró, used blackberry jam as a medium for his art.
- Jam falls somewhere between a solid and a liquid, as it contains chunks of fruit that are solid, but the fruit juice becomes liquid when left at room temperature.
- Vegetables can also be used to make jam, such as carrots, pumpkins, cucumbers and sweet potatoes.
History of Jam
Jam has a long and rich history, dating back to the first century in Rome. In fact, the first ever recorded cookbook, Culinary Matters, contained jam recipes. Jam has historically been used as a way to benefit from the nutritional properties of fruits all year round, especially in colder climates where fruit has a shorter growing season. Honey was often used as a sweetener before cane sugar came to be, and the jam-making tradition spread around the world, adapted and shared between cultures.
In the 16th century, marmalade was invented—originally as an intended cure for seasickness—by preserving oranges with sugar. It also came into use on sailing ships when British physicians discovered the Vitamin C in citrus fruits prevented scurvy. While fresh oranges and lemons would never survive months-long voyages, preserved marmalade could be easily stored and used the entire journey.
It wasn’t until the 17th century that recorded jam recipes came about in the United States, and were often also sweetened with honey, along with maple sugar and molasses. This is around the same time that people started boiling apple peels to obtain pectin, which was then added to jams as a thickening agent. 
Today, jam is a staple in many cultures around the world, and continues to offer both sweetness and nutrition to all who enjoy it.
Nutritional Facts for Jam
One serving of jam is about a tablespoon, which contains the following: 
- Calories: 56
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbohydrate: 14 grams
- Protein: 0 grams
While the above information will apply to most jams, the vitamin, mineral and plant compound content will largely differ depending on which fruits and/or vegetables are used. It will also change depending on whether the jam is prepared with white sugar, honey or molasses. A jam made with a more nutrient-dense sweetener will be more nutritious than one made with white sugar, and one using a lower-sugar fruit, or vegetables, will have even more nutritional benefits.
Health Benefits of Jam
Not only are jams amazingly delicious, but they also offer some very real health benefits. Check out the following:
High in Vitamins and Minerals
Again, the exact micronutrient content of your jam will depend on which fruit(s) it contains (add extra points for a veggie-based jam), but you can usually count on a healthy dose of vitamin C, folate and potassium. These vitamins and minerals are important for immune support, healthy blood pressure and the prevention of neural tube (brain, spine, or spinal cord) birth defects—a reason that jam is a good addition to a pregnancy diet. 
Low in Calories
Not only is jam low in fat (basically fat free), but also it is relatively low in calories, providing between 50-60 per tablespoon serving. It is a high-carbohydrate food, so should still be eaten in moderation (especially if you’re following a low-carb diet), but it can be a filling snack to give you a quick, low-calorie energy boost and keep you from craving less healthy sugary snacks later on. Try it with a slice of whole grain or sourdough bread.
Rich in Fiber
Jam and preserves offer dietary fiber, which have been linked to weight loss, healthy blood sugar levels, proper digestive health, and much more.  Especially if you pair it with a whole wheat or whole grain bread, you’ll be getting a decent dose of fiber, which is an essential part of a healthy diet.
Good as a Pre- and Post-Workout Snack
Jam does contain quite a bit of sugar and carbohydrates, so it will definitely give you a bit of an energy burst after eating. This can be great just before a workout, or in that magical, post-workout window when your body is best metabolizing carbohydrates.
10 Jam Uses You Might Not Know About
While spreading it on bread is tried and tested, consider these other fun and mouth-watering ways to incorporate jam into your diet:
- Combine a tablespoon of your favorite jam with plain, whole milk yogurt. Much healthier than sugary, commercial yogurt brands.
- Eat it with your favorite cheese. The protein from cheese helps to balance the carbohydrate from your jam, and tastes amazing.
- Combine jam with red wine to make a sauce for marinating meat.
- Mix it with your favorite liquor for a fruity and natural cocktail. Just shake and enjoy (in moderation, of course).
- Add a layer of jam to a grilled cheese sandwich. Your kids are sure to love this one as an occasional after-school treat.
- Add a spoonful on top of vanilla ice cream. Or better yet, make your own, one-ingredient banana ice cream for a far healthier version.
- Mix jam with water and freeze it in an ice cube tray with sticks, and you’ve got a much healthier version of a popsicle.
- Add it to any basic vinaigrette salad dressing for a little sweetness.
- Enjoy a serving with oatmeal in the morning. Far better than adding sugar.
- Include it in a homemade barbecue sauce, or add to a store-bought version for a nice twist.
Popular Varieties of Jam
The varieties of jam you’ll find are seemingly endless, but there are several popular varieties. The most commonly seen are (popularity in this order): grape, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, apricot, blueberry and cherry. 
However, don’t feel the need to stop—or start—with these. Other delicious (and sometimes healthier) varieties include apple, peach or cantaloupe. Even better, try a vegetable-inspired jam like tomato, red pepper, caramelized onion, carrot, or jalapeño.
Types of Jams
There’s a whole slew of different types of jams, jellies and preserves, so let’s take a brief look at the major differences.
A true jam is basically made of chopped fruit, sugar and sometimes added pectin. It is usually fairly smooth and not overly chunky, although it might contain some fruit chunks.
Jelly uses more fruit juice than whole fruit, and sugar. Pectin is more necessary with jelly for setting and binding, and jelly typically involves a longer cooking time so that it becomes more of a liquid consistency.
Chutney is a kind of fruit spread originating in India, and is used as a condiment instead of a spread. It comes in many forms with rich taste combinations using vegetables, fruits, spices, vinegar and sugar. Some are very sweet while others are savory and spicy.
Compote is more of a syrup that contains fresh fruit and is served as or alongside a dessert. Berries are commonly used in fruit compotes, along with spices such as cinnamon.
A preserve is basically a thicker, chunkier jam, the main difference being that the fruit chunks are left more intact.
Fruit spreads are usually the most processed product on this list, as they are often sweetened with artificial ingredients and made from fruit juice and sugar. The definition of fruit spreads widely varies, so reading ingredient labels is key.
The most popular being apple butter, this spread is made with fruit and sugar that is slowly cooked for a long period of time to make a paste. It is then spiced with extra ingredients like lemon and cinnamon.
As mentioned earlier, marmalade is specifically made with oranges or other citrus fruits, and is very popular in England. It is made with the citrus fruit and peel and mixed with sugar.
Best Places to Buy Jam
If you have a local farmers market, you might find a local jam maker who sells their products. These tend to be made with fresher, more nutritious ingredients—plus points if they use organic fruits—and fewer artificial ingredients. If this isn’t an option, try for a local health food store or co-op and find an organic brand. Always read the ingredient labels and choose products that do not contain added artificial sweeteners.
As you can see, jam can definitely be part of a healthy diet. Find a variety made from whole fruits and/or vegetables which does not contain artificial ingredients and sweeteners. Pair it with a whole grain bread, or try one of the fun and new ways listed above. While it is a fairly high-sugar food that should be eaten in moderation, you will benefit from plenty of fiber, vitamins and minerals—not to mention it is a low-calorie snack option. Next time you’re craving something sweet, reach for the jam instead of a more processed sugary treat.