A delicious fruit preserve is a great thing to enjoy for breakfast. And making your own is great fun, too, using seasonal fruits when possible, or with frozen organic ones during winter time. Get creative and mix different fruits to have your personal flavor combinations.
But why bother, you may ask, when there are aisles and aisles of preserves, jams, marmalades, and jellies ready-made at each supermarket? I started making my own fruit preserve after I paid more attention to the ingredients and the nutrition facts on those commercially available ones.
This is the label from a glass of strawberry jam. The main ingredient is… sugar! The naturally occurring sugar in the strawberries (actually almost in neglectable amount of 5%), and three artificially added ones. Taking a peek at the nutrition facts confirms this: 60% sugar content (and not a bit of fiber left over from the strawberries). Pardon my language, but I find this disgusting. And here is a bit of a marketing bluff: By law, the ingredients must be listed in the order of their amount; so by separating the added sugar into three components, the consumer is tricked into believing that there are more strawberries in this product than there actually are. I guess the only positive thing about the ingredients list is the lack of artificial (or “natural”) flavors.
I realize that it is convenient to buy a glass of jam instead of making your own preserve. But do you really want to eat this sugary sludge? It pays to take a close look at the ingredients and the nutrition labels. Some jams are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is more and more in the news for its detrimental health effects; others do with concentrated apple or grape-juice, which is also sugar, but not as heavily refined.
Unfortunately, pretty much all store bought fruit preserves are still very sweet. The only way around that is to make your own, where you have precise control over the kind and the amount of sweetener you add. See, from grandmother’s recipes I remember a fruit to sugar ratio of roughly one to one, meaning that for 2lbs of fruit you would add 2lbs of sugar. Admittedly, the main purpose of the high sugar content was preservation, but if you make your own in small batches, you can get away with much less, because it does not need to last for months in the pantry, but rather for weeks in the fridge. I generally use a bit less than 15% sweetener content, or about 3 parts sugar for every 19 parts fruit. I may modify this slightly based on the natural fructose content of the fruit, because some have more sugar than others (apples or berries or cherries contain much less sugar than tropical fruits like mangos or pineapples).
I usually sweeten my home-made fruit preserves with raw honey, but other options include raw agave syrup or maple syrup. And finally, there is the natural sugar alcohol xylitol, which I have been using more and more. While it is not a “zero-calory” sweetener (like stevia), it does not get metabolized as sugar, and thus has a very low glycemic index. Also, bacteria and yeast have a hard time growing on it, that is why it has been traditionally used to sweeten toothpaste. In most recipes, it can simply replace sugar using the same dose (making it much easier to use than stevia, for example). Since this sugar alcohol is gaining in popularity, there are plenty of websites about and products available with xylitol. Oh, one more thing: I only buy the xylitol extracted from birch, not the one from GMO corn.
Basic Home-Made Fruit Preserve
Yields approx two 12oz jars
- 20oz (570g) of fruits (e.g. 10oz Raspberries + 10oz Blueberries)
- 3.2oz (90g) xylitol, honey, mapple syrup, or agave syrup
- 2 tablespoons agar agar flakes
- juice of half a lemon
Take the fruits, put them in a pot and bring them to a boil. Add the sweetener of your choice, mix well and let cook uncovered for about 15 minutes on medium heat.
While the fruits are cooking prepare the canning jars. Bring a big pot of water to a boil. In the meantime, thoroughly wash the jars and the lids. Then plunge them all into the boiling water using a metal tongue, leave them in for at least a minute, and then take them out with the tongue and dry them with a clean towel (more detailed canning instructions can be found here).
Add the agar agar flakes to the fruit mixture and cook for another 5 minutes, then add the lemon juice and cook for a final 2 more minutes. Pour the preserve - while boiling hot – directly into your glass jars, close them immediately, and let them cool down. When at room temperature transfer to the fridge. It may be a bit more liquid than store bought preserve, but contains much less sugar.