The French know how to start their day off right: Not only do they have great baguettes or croissants and real full-fat butter, but they also have delicious French artisanal jams. They serve them at breakfast, brunches, with cheeses and certain desserts.
They consume 4.4 kg (almost 9 lbs) of jam per person per year!
You might ask the same question I did years ago: Isn’t a French artisanal jam the same as what’s sold at the grocery store – but at twice the price with a cute piece of checkered cloth on the lid?
These artisan-made jams have nothing to do with the strawberry flavored, sugar-laden product I put on toast or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as a kid.
To my surprise, I found these jams seriously delicious, packing a powerful fruit flavor without any chemical enhancers.
And starting off your day with delicious food on your breakfast table can change your outlook on life – at least until lunchtime.
Five things that make a French artisanal jam or jelly great:
1. Quality of ingredients:
The fruit used is not just any fruit but the most flavorful varietals, and they’re at their peak ripeness and flavor when used.
A few examples: “Meeker” Raspberries, “Mara des Bois” Strawberries, Apricots from the “Coteaux du Layon,” Mirabelles from the Lorraine region.
2. Use of copper cookware:
Why? It conducts heat better than your average cookware. It heats up faster so that the water in the fruit evaporates faster. The fruit cooks quickly and doesn’t risk being over-cooked.
3. Timing in cooking:
A tremendous artisanal jam is neither too liquid (undercooked) or too stiff (over-cooked)
4. A high ratio of fruit to sugar.
Yes, artisan-made jams do contain some added sugar, but there’s often a lot less than in similar products sold in the average supermarket.
However, if the fruit is of low quality, then it makes little difference if the amount of fruit is higher than the sugar.
5. The absence of artificial ingredients: no preservatives, colors, chemicals, sugar substitutes, or taste enhancers.
What’s the difference between a jam, a jelly, a marmalade, and a preserve?
First, let’s clear up any confusion:
Jams: are made from fruit pulp or fruit purée.
Jellies: are made from fruit juice.
Marmalades: are usually made from citrus fruit and contain pieces of the fruit and its rind.
Preserves: In English, the word “preserves” is used to describe all types of jams and jellies, but is often interchangeable with” jams.”
A “preserve” (without the “s” at the end) or a “conserve” is a marketing term used for a jam with high fruit content.
Jams, jellies, and marmalades are all examples of different styles of fruit preserves that vary based on the fruit used.
Still with me?
What’s the difference between a jam and a jelly in France?
The French have strict ratios and types of ingredients that define a jam or a jelly.
Jam (or “Confiture” in French)
Jam is a mix of fruit pulp or purée with water and sugar.
There must be a minimum of 35 grams of fruit pulp or purée for 100 grams of the finished product.
An exception is made for certain fruits such as passion fruit.
The term “Confiture Extra” means it’s like a super-confiture: It will have a minimum of 45 grams of fruit pulp or purée for 100 grams of the final product.
Some top French artisanal jams will go as high as 55-60 grams of fruit purée or pulp for 100 grams of product!
What does all this mean for you?
It means you’re getting a lot more fruit and a lot less added sugar than in a highly processed, industrially made jam. While that does increase the price, the high fruit content also means you’re getting a lot more flavor.
Jelly (in French “Gelée”)
Jelly is made directly from the juice of a pressed fruit or with added fruit juice plus water and sugar.
The minimum quantity of pure pressed or added fruit juice used to make jelly is the same as for the fruit pulp/purée of a confiture: 35 grams per 100 grams of the finished product.
A “Gelée Extra” has the same ratios as a “Confiture Extra”: a minimum of 45 grams of fruit juice per 100 grams of the finished product.
Three things to look for when choosing a great jam or jelly
So if you’re convinced that switching out your supermarket jam for a well-made French artisanal jam could get you more excited about breakfast, here’s what to look for when you set out to buy one:
1. Look at the ratio of fruit to added sugar on the label
Top artisanal jams will have a fruit content as high as 55 or 60 grams of fruit to 100 grams of the final product. That’s a much higher fruit content than the minimum legal requirement for a confiture or gelée of 35 grams/100 grams of the final product.
2. Look for specific varietals of fruit used
It shows that particular care was taken in the selection of the ingredients and that’s a sign of a superior product. Examples of varietals used in France are “Meeker” Raspberries, “Mara des Bois” Strawberries, Apricots from the “Coteaux du Layon,” Mirabelles from the Lorraine region.
3. Make sure there are no artificial ingredients
Everything listed on the label should be natural: the added sugar is a natural preservative, so no need for chemicals. Coloring should just come from the fruit. If ingredients were chosen carefully, there shouldn’t be any need for artificial flavor enhancers.
The absence of chemical preservatives means that once opened, you cannot leave the jam in the fridge for months on end. It should be good for at least two weeks after opening if it’s kept in the coldest section of the refrigerator.
Read more about the flavors of jams, jellies, and confitures the French love most and other ways they pair them with food outside of breakfast.
Where to buy high-quality French artisanal jam on Amazon.com:
Here is a selection of reputable, high-quality brands of French artisanal jams available online:
- L’Epicurien Apricot and Lavender Jam
- Les Confitures à l’Ancienne Pear and Vanilla Jam
- St. Dalfour Red Rasberry 100% Fruit Spread (no sugar added)
Get to know France’s “Queen of Confitures”
Christine Ferber is one of the most talented artisans in France. Her jams and jellies are thought to be among the best in the world.
If you (or someone you know) would like to try making jams and jellies, then here’s a great resource by Christine Ferber:
Find out more about Christine Ferber in this short video clip