Peanut butter goes with jam or jelly like Batman goes with Robin, right? Every day, millions of Americans enjoy the sweet taste and unique texture of jams and jellies. These popular spreads have been a household staple in our country, and many others, for a very long time.
Jellies, jams and such
Commercial jelly is made from sugar, pectin, acid and fruit juice (not whole fruit). It is a spread that is firm enough to hold its shape, but not blob-like. Jellies can also be made from herbs, tea, liqueurs, vegetables, wine and flowers.
Jam is a thick mixture that is comprised of fruit, pectin and sugar. The mixture is boiled gently, but very quickly, and the fruit is soft and has an organic shape. Jam is thick enough to spread and can come out in a blob. Jams are often used for spreading, but also appear in fillings of sweet treats.
You may have also heard of preserves, which are actually chunks of fruit surrounded by jelly or marmalade, which is a citrus spread made from the peel and pulp of fruit. Fruit butters are made by slow-cooking fruit and sugar until it reaches the consistency of a smooth spread.
The common factor
Jams and jellies both contain pectin and sugar. In fact, the British, famous for their delectable jams, have an industry standard of 60 percent added sugar. If jam does not contain this much sugar, it can’t be called a jam in England.
The 60 percent rule was made by the University of Bristol in the 1920’s, by scientists who wanted to include sugar in jam as a preservative to extend shelf-life for up to a year. However, apart from extending shelf-life, the inclusion of so much added sugar brings with it a host of serious concerns, especially for those that eat a great deal of jam.
This fact has come to the attention of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in England, which has recently proposed lowering minimum amount of sugar allowed in traditional jams to 50 or 55 percent (amounts used by both French and German jam makers).
Producers are still awaiting a ruling on the new proposed sugar amounts but many worry that it will forever change the way English jams are viewed. Others are in favor of such a move in light of rising lifestyle illnesses, partly fueled by an overconsumption of sugar.
American jellies and jam
A closer look at American favorites doesn’t bring good news either. A quick glance at the back of a Smucker’s Concord Grape Jelly jar reveals the sordid truth:
Concord grape juice, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, fruit pectin, citric acid, sodium citrate
The grape juice itself has a high amount of natural sugar, and with the second ingredient being high fructose corn syrup, there is cause to be concerned. There are 12 grams of sugar per tablespoon. The main problem with this jelly is that the sugar is not natural, but added in one of the most dangerous forms of all: high fructose corn syrup.
High fructose corn syrup is a type of sugar found in many processed foods, with a higher fructose to glucose ratio than regular sugar. It can be even more dangerous for the body than sugar, because the excess fructose content is absorbed directly by the liver. This can lead to weight gain, inflammation, fatty liver, a dramatic spike in blood sugar and an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes.
In fact, it is thought by many experts that high fructose corn syrup is the driving force behind America’s obesity epidemic. It slows down the body’s secretion of leptin, the hormone which signals to your brain that you are full. This leads to cravings for more and more high fructose corn syrup.
While Smucker’s Strawberry Jam does list strawberries on the ingredient label, it too is loaded with high fructose corn syrup.
And so it goes with most other commercial jams and jellies sold in America. The predominant ingredient is not natural, wholesome fruit, but rather sugar and more sugar.
Sugar, the go-to ingredient
Sugar is that “magical” ingredient that food processors love, as it just seems to make everything taste a little better and last a little longer on the shelves. For food manufacturers, this translates into big money.
Food manufacturers don’t want us to know what really happens to our bodies when we consume sugar. Most of us associate sugar with energy – and rightly so – it provides an immediate source of energy. However, unless you are an elite athlete, which most of us are not, this can be a major problem.
When sugar is consumed, the bonds between glucose and fructose are broken and the fructose goes straight to the liver where it is absorbed. If there is not an immediate need for energy, the fructose is stored as fat. The overconsumption of sugar also causes insulin resistance and completely turns our internal balance upside down.
In addition, every time fructose is processed, hydrogen peroxide is released inside of cells. While hydrogen peroxide on a cut may be a good thing, it spells disaster to our cells. In fact, it kills our cells and accelerates the aging process.
Of course, the health implications of sugar are well documented. Here are just ten reasons why you should avoid it completely:
- Sugar suppresses the immune system.
- Sugar elevates blood sugar.
- Sugar disrupts mineral balance.
- Sugar disrupts digestion.
- Sugar causes tooth decay.
- Sugar contributes to obesity.
- Sugar can cause heart disease.
- Sugar can cause food allergies.
- Sugar can cause depression.
- Sugar increases the risk of certain cancers.
What about homemade?
The problem with sugar in jams and jellies is not indicative of just commerical products. If you have ever tried to make jam or jelly at home, you have probably been astounded at the number of cups of sugar that your recipe called for.
In fact, to make just 5 cups of strawberry jam, a favorite of many people, most recipes call for 4 cups of mashed fresh berries and up to 6 cups of refined sugar. That’s a lot of sugar!
If you have ever tried to eliminate some of the sugar, you may have ended up with a runny mess – certainly nothing that is spreadable.
While the sugar is instrumental in giving jams and jellies their notorious sweet taste, it also does something else.
Take our strawberry jam example: strawberries are about 90 percent water by weight, and when sugar is added to the mashed berries, it dissolves in the juice. Once enough sugar has been added it begins to draw water out of the fruit, and chemical bonds are created that actually cause the water and sugar molecules to bind together. Because the water is held tightly by the sugar, it cannot support the growth of microorganisms – it is in this way that sugar acts as a preservative.
The sugar also has an interesting relationship with pectin, another main ingredient in most jams and jellies. Pectin comes from the peels of citrus fruits, generally oranges. It can also come from tart apples.
Pectin is a large molecular compound which can form bonds with other pectin molecules to form a gel under certain conditions. When making jam, these conditions are possible only when we add enough sugar. Without the sugar binding the water, the pectin can’t form a gel, and that means no texture.
Can we have our jam and jelly and eat it too?
Of course, the big question is… can we find or make jams and jellies with less sugar? The answer is yes and yes. You have to be very careful, however, about purchasing commercial products that are labeled as no-sugar. These products typically contain artificial sugar substitutes such as sucralose, which is just as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than refined sugar.
There is definitely no synthetic replacement for sugar that is not dangerous. This, of course, is not what the big companies want you to think. However, for many years now, the evidence has been mounting up against artificial sweeteners.
Sucralose, sold under the name Splenda, has been implicated in a number of serious health reactions including gastrointestinal problems, allergic reactions, blurred vision, seizures, weight gain and elevated blood sugar levels. Very few trials were ever done on this synthetic sugar, and those that were done looked at tooth decay, not human tolerance.
According to a study published in the journal Diabetes Care, this extremely popular, yet dangerous, sweetener confuses the body and changes the way it handles sugar. This is devastating news to all those who have put their trust in not only the FDA but also in the manufacturers of Splenda.
Low-sugar jams and jellies are a better option because they are generally made with a type of pectin that does not require as much sugar to do its trick. The healthiest way enjoy jams and jellies is to make your own delightful, no sugar added varieties. Here is a recipe that uses unpeeled, grated apples instead of pectin, and does not contain any refined sugar.
No Sugar Strawberry Refrigerator Jam
- 6 pounds of organic strawberries
- 3 ¾ cup raw honey
- 1 ½ unpeeled, grated apples
- 1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
- Rinse the strawberries, cut off the tops and slice them in half.
- Add berries, honey, apple and lemon juice to a big pot and heat over high heat.
- When the mixture boils, reduce the heat and allow it to boil for about 30-45 minutes.
- Keep stirring as the berries burst and the jam thickens. The longer you let the jam cook, the thicker it will be.
- Mash the berries once they become soft.
- Sterilize your jars and lids.
- Fill your jars with jam using a funnel. Leave about ¼ inch at the top of the jar.
- Place lids on the jars, allow jam to cool and place in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.
- You can also freeze the jam for a year if you use freezer-safe jars.
Note: You can also make no sugar jelly by using fruits high in natural pectin, such as apples, citrus, peaches and cherries, and replacing refined sugar with raw honey.
So, there you have it: you can have your jam or jelly and eat it too! After all, what would Batman do without Robin?
-The Alternative Daily