The History of Jelly

In North America, jelly is a variation of a fruit preserve. It is a clear fruit spread that is made from cooked fruit juice, sugar, and possibly pectin, which helps it become a gel and thicken. It differs from jam because it does not include the fruit’s flesh. However, outside North America, jelly refers to a gelatin-based dessert. But the term jelly also refers to clear jams, like blackcurrant and apple. In the United Kingdom, jelly is a condiment that is usually served with lamb, game meat, turkey, and goose in a festival or Sunday roast.

In Canada, jelly is categorized into two types, which are jelly and jelly with pectin. Jelly, for them, is made from the fruit, the fruit juice, or fruit concentrate. It also must contain at least 62% water-soluble solids. Jelly with pectin, on the other hand, should be made with a minimum of 62% water-soluble solids and a minimum of 32% juice of a certain fruit. It can also contain an acid ingredient to fill in the lack of the natural acidity of the fruit.

No matter what jelly is to different nations, one thing in common is that they are all fruit preserves. The history of jelly also starts with the history of food preservation. If you want to know further, read on because we are going to tell you more about the history of jelly.

Fruit Preservation

Before we go on to the history of jelly, let us first understand how the concept of food preservation began, because it plays a big role in the history of jelly, too.

Did you know that during the Stone Age or the Paleolithic period, which is about 2.6 million years ago, people were already preserving food? During these times, they have realized that saving food they collected in times that they are abundant, could help them survive during the times of scarcity. Aside from that, preserving food could also help them avoid constantly roaming to greater distances to find food.

There are different ways of preserving food, and some of the earliest methods include freezing, drying, using salt, using honey, and more. Before, when people do not have any freezers yet, what they used were cold areas with ice and snow. They froze food by putting them under ice or in frozen caves and cellars. Drying is another method of preserving food wherein people eliminate the moisture from food by exposing it to the sun, smoking, or applying pressure. Based on some evidence, Asian and Middle Eastern cultures were drying foods as early as 12,000 B.C.E.

When the Bronze Age began, which is 3200 B.C.E. to 600 B.C.E, the use of salt for preserving food was introduced. A lot of salt roads, which are trade routes overland and via the river, carried salt to trade in regions that have none.

The modern preservation methods were started in 1785 by Napoleon Bonaparte. It was during the time when he needed to send food that would not spoil with his armies. With this, the method of canning began, which enabled fruits and vegetables in all their forms to be preserved for a year. Later on, cans were followed by mason jars that were used by home cooks to store fruit preserves like the jellies and jams we have today.

History of Jelly

Many years ago, people in the Middle East began making jelly and jam. Jellies that are centuries-old are renowned throughout the world because of their fragrance and rich, fruity taste. The word jelly is taken from the French word “gelée,” which means to congeal or gel.

However, it wasn’t easy to make jelly before because finding a sweetener is difficult and expensive. Back then, people used naturally-grown sugar cane to preserve fruits. Even though honey could also be used to sweeten jam and preserves, sugar was the one that’s preferred when it comes to sweeteners.

About 10,000 years ago, people of New Guinea in the South Pacific domesticated sugar cane. It was later on planted in India where growers in the Ganges Delta got used to refining the sweet cane juice into crystallized sugar. In 549 to 485 B.C.E., Darius the Great took sugar back to Persia after invading India. With this, Persia became a fruitful sugar-producing region, and Middle Easterners also had lots of it, but not the countries to the north.

Western Europeans only discovered sugar in the 11th century C.E. after the Crusades from 1095 to 1291. The crusaders who were going home talked about how pleasing the “new spice” was. It was in 1099 when sugar was first mentioned in England. This means that jellies, preserves, and other sugar-based foods would have been restricted to the wealthy and royalty.

In fact, the magnificent feasts of Louis XIV always ended with jellies and marmalades served in silver dishes. These were also eaten using silver spoons. This is because during that time, sugar wasn’t cheap, and the British middle classes cannot afford it. But with the enormous expansion of industry and opportunity starting with the 19th century Industrial Revolution, most people could afford sugar for their coffee.

Did you know that among the varieties of fruit preserves, jelly actually came centuries later? It’s because it needed gelatin to set in. Since ancient times, gelatin had been made through boiling animal and fish bones and connective tissues. However, it was a very elaborate process that was largely undertaken by the kitchens of the wealthy, which had the staff resources to undertake it.

In early New England, settlers used honey, molasses, or maple sugar to preserve fruits. After World War I, jam became extremely popular in the United States. Troops also ate “Grapelade”, which was a product introduced by Paul Welch. From then on, jellies and jams have made their permanent mark on American history.

After World War II, the market for preserve products grew. In the present time, there are more than 1 billion pounds of fruit spreads being produced each year. Most jellies today also come in a wider variety of flavors compared to those traditional mass-produced brands.


Jelly might be different from jams and marmalades when it comes to texture and ingredients, but they all have one history, which is under fruit preservation. It’s amazing to know that the jelly we enjoy today as a condiment on our breakfast toast, as a snack, or as a dessert, has been made and enjoyed from many years ago. We hope the information we shared helped you in knowing more about the history of jelly.