The history of jam

Etymology: Finding the origins

The word marmalade derives from the Latin melimelum which means “sweet apple”. Another theory claims that the origin may be the Portuguese word marmelo, wich means “quince jam”. The word jam is probably related to the verb to jam, which by the early 18th century meant to “press tightly”, but its origin is unknown.

Jam and marmalade: Spot the differences

Jam and marmalade are not the same thing. But there is no consensus on whats the difference actually is.

Some people believe that the difference lies in the amount of sugar used when boiling.

Others think that jam is made with whole fruit or fruit pieces, while with marmalade the fruit is crushed or passed through a sieve. In English, marmalade usually refers to preserves using citrus fruits, while jam or preserve refer to all other fruits.



Food preservation: a need with a long history


Long before fridges became essential appliances in every home, there was already a long tradition of food preservation.

In the Paleolithic period, people had already realized that if they could preserve the food they collected in times of plenty, it would make survival easier during the periods when food was scarce. By preserving food they could also avoid having to constantly look for fresh food.

And so they began to implement the earliest natural methods of preserving food, using cold (in areas with ice and snow) and drying (eliminating water from food by exposing it to the sun, applying pressure, or smoking). The use of salt for preserving food also hat its roots in distant times.

The Romans were the most enthusiastic about the sweet pleasures of conserving fruit and flowers in honey, while Mediterranean cultures have traditionally used the products of olive trees and vineyards (oil, vinegar and other distilled substances) to preserve foods.


And then came the sugar…

Sugar was discovered in Asia, but it was the Arabs that introduced it to Europe. And so jam was born:

Fruit macerated in sugar is boiled and passed through a sieve or strainer.
Whole fruit or pieces of fruit are boiled in syrup.
The fruit is boiled with 10% or 15% of its wight in sugar. As the sugar content is so low, it has to be consumed quickly.
Is obtained by boiling the juice of juicy fruits rich in pectin together with sugar.
Fruit paste
Part of the pulp remaining when fruit has been strained to make jelly is boiled until it reaches a solid consistency. The most common example is quince cheese.
Fruit in syrup
The fruit is generally boiled whole in sugar dissolved in water, until a syrupy consistency is reached.


The French Revolution or the preserves revolution

The French Revolution also revolutionized eating habits. The new middle classes were well-off and they spent their money inn pleasures such as gastronomy. Chefs experimented with ways to please their new customers. Preserves, which had been a basic necessity, became luxury products.

Nicolas Appert: The man who was able to trap time in a bottle

In 1795, the Parisian pastry chef Nicolas François Appert laced food in sealed containers and heated them in a bain-marie. He had just taken the first step towards the implementation of the sterilization process, which was a key element in the birth of the food preservation industry. Properly sealed food could be protected from external germs, and the heat eliminated those already present in the food. Years later, Louis Pasteur’s research provided the scientific basis for Appert’s empirical discoveries.



Jam lovers


Kings, alchemists, scientists and saints have delighted in the taste, smell, and color of jams

It is said that Joan of Arc would always eat quince jam before a battle. It gave her courage!

When the Italian aristocrat Catherine de’ Medici married King Henry II in 1533, she took with her to France a court of perfumers, pastry chefs and cooks. Among other gastronomic pleasures, the queen delighted in jams.

For the alchemist Nostradamus, jam was a source of beauty and happiness. In 1552, before writing his famous prophecies heralding the end of the world, he wrote a treatise on jam and preserves.

Jam was introduced to Scotland by Queen Mary Stewart. Following the death of her husband, in 1560 Mary I of Scotland left France and returned to her home country including in her luggage several jars of jam. As she was often sickly, the queen often ate these fruit preserves.

As well as investigating radioactivity, the physician Marie Curie would often experiment with making jam in her spare time.

In 1771, in a simple and elegant prose, Voltaire explained by letter to the Marquise de Deffand the difficulties of sending her a jar of peach jam from Geneva. The confectioners of Paris demanded a protectionist policy that went against foreign products.