How Sweet it is! Jams and Jellies Reflect their own Kosher Issues

People have enjoyed the sweet taste of processed fruit for ages. Jams and jellies were originally produced many centuries ago in Middle Eastern countries where sugar cane grew naturally. The returning crusaders introduced these products to Europe and they became quite popular by the late Middle Ages. When the Spanish arrived in the West Indies in the 16th century, they preserved the fruit using domestic sugar cane. It is interesting to note that the word jelly can be traced to the French word “gelée” which means “to congeal.” Some claim that marmalade was created in 1561 by the physician to Mary, Queen of Scots. He mixed orange and crushed sugar and this product was able to contain her seasickness.

Throughout the years, marmalade has been a king’s delicacy. Many different types were served to royal families. Louis XIV had magnificent feasts which concluded with marmalade and jellies served on silver dishes. Some of the fruit was grown in his own garden.

The early settlers in the United States preserved fruits with honey, molasses or maple sugar. Pectin was extracted from apple parings in order to thicken jellies. In 1897, Jerome Smucker first pressed apple cider at a mill in Orrville, OH. (The corporate office of Smucker is still located here.) Subsequently, Mr. Smucker started producing apple butter. Paul Welch received the first grape jam patent for the puréeing of grapes in 1917. The product was named grapelade and the entire production was purchased by the United States Army and went to the troops during World War I. This product was made in large quantities because the soldiers enjoyed it so much.

In 1940 the Food and Drug Administration established the Standards of Identity to define jam, jelly, preserves and fruit butter. The FDA decided that jelly is compiled of fruit, whether concentrated or unconcentrated and it lacks pieces of fruit. Jam is made from crushed or chopped fruit; it does not contain chunks of fruit. Preserves consist of large or whole pieces of fruit; the fruit is suspended in the syrup base. Preserves are not as smooth as jam or jelly. These items usually contain sugar, pectin, corn starch and lemon juice.

Marmalade is another type of preserved fruit. This is a soft jelly, usually citrus based, which contains the peel of the fruit or its flesh. The sweetness of the jelly is offset by the bitterness of the peel. Fruit butter is fruit purée or pulp containing sugar, lemon juice and spices. It is cooked slowly in order to obtain a smooth consistency, but does not contain any butter. Fruit spread is a reduced calorie product that has fruit juice concentrate and low calorie sweeteners replacing some or all of the sugar.

There are a number of issues pertaining to the kosher status of these products. Grape juice can be an important ingredient for preserved fruit. Grape juice is a kosher sensitive item and it requires special rabbinic certification. Therefore, if grape juice is used one must be careful about its kosher status. Flavors are also of concern. Since flavors can be created from many different sources, then proper certification is a must. Another ingredient which must be monitored is the defoamer. Since it is a fatty acid product, it therefore requires proper certification. In addition, processed fruit that are Kosher for Passover may not contain any corn syrup. There is a tradition not to consume any legume products on Passover and thus corn syrup may not be utilized during the holiday.

Presently, the most popular products are grape jelly and strawberry jam. Other favorites include grape jam, red raspberry jam, orange marmalade, apple jelly, apricot jam, peach jam and blackberry jam. These products account for approximately 80 percent of United States product. Another 28 flavors include the remaining 20 percent.

Research has shown that children prefer jelly while adults usually consume preserves. It has also indicated that the average child will eat 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by high school graduation.

Jams and jellies are quick energy foods. They contain half the calories of butter or mayonnaise. An added bonus is that they lack fat.

OU certified companies include J.M. Smucker Co., as noted above, of Orrville, OH; Roseland Manufacturing, whose brand name is Polaner, of Roseland, NJ; Clearbrook Farms of Sharonville, OH; Hero of Latham, NY; Clements Foods of Oklahoma City; Amazing Fruit Products Ltd. of Toronto; Meduri Farms, Inc. of Dallas; and SkylarHaley LP of Alamo, CA.

Rabbi David Gorelik joined the Orthodox Union as an OU Kosher rabbinic coordinator in 1995. Born in Holyoke, MA, he pursued his post-high school studies at Yeshiva University, where he received his B.A. degree as well as his rabbinic ordination and a Masters degree from its Bernard Revel Graduate School specializing in Medieval Jewish History. Rabbi Gorelik also spent time studying at the renowned Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel.

Prior to joining the OU, he served on the rabbinic staff at the Park East Synagogue in New York City, and as rabbi in Richmond, VA from 1991-1995.

Married and father of three children, Rabbi Gorelik resides in Passaic, NJ where he assists the communal board with kashrut administration. At OU Kosher, Rabbi Gorelik is rabbinic coordinator for General Mills, as well as companies producing cereals, jams and jellies, dried fruits and nuts, and snacks. He also administers the OU’s yoshon flour program.

OU Kosher Staff