If you’ve ever shuddered at the amount of sugar in a recipe for homemade jam, you’re going to love this guide to sugar-free jam. Because yes, it’s totally possible to enjoy homemade and home canned jams that are both delicious and free from refined sugars.
How to Make Sugar-Free Jam
When it comes to canning jam, some people think that sugar must be added in order to preserve the fruit, to achieve a proper gel, or to retain the fruit’s color. However, these are all myths.
Many fruits can be safely canned without sweeteners at all, although I do prefer to sweeten my jams with local honey. Maple syrup is another good option. Lemon or lime juice is typically added to increase the acidity and make jam safe for canning. The amount of juice added is enough for safe canning but not enough to impact the fruity flavor of the jam.
Even pectin can be optional, for reasons I’ll outline below.
Canning sugar-free jam is so simple that I often recommend it for newbies. Honey-sweetened jams are versatile, tasty, and healthier than store bought versions or sugary homemade jams.
Favorite Fruits (and Veggies) to Use for Sugar-Free Jam
I prefer to use local, in-season, and sometimes even homegrown ingredients for canning jam. However, you can definitely can fruit from the grocery store, including frozen fruit.
Sweeteners to Avoid in Jam
In addition to refined sugar, I recommend avoiding the following sweeteners in home canned jam.
- Agave: agave nectar is not the “healthy” natural sweetener it’s often cracked up to be. In comparison with honey, agave contains a much higher concentration of fructose and far fewer nutrients and antioxidants. Personally, I steer clear of agave nectar.
- Stevia: stevia is actually safe to use for canning, but I’ve never tried it. For canning, liquid stevia is easier but powdered stevia is the least refined option. Personally, I limit stevia to very occasional uses and choose local honey for sweetening sugar-free jam.
- Xylitol: according to my research, xylitol is safe for canning but I avoid it for several reasons. Xylitol is processed, often comes from GMO corn, and commonly causes intestinal distress.
- Aspartame: aspartame is not a healthy sweetener for jam or anything else, and it can cause an off taste in canning.
- Corn Syrup: by now, most of us are aware of the health dangers associated with corn syrup. For this reason, I do not recommend using it for canning jam.
Do You Need Pectin in Sugar-Free Jam?
Pectin is not necessary, although pectin-free jam may turn out a bit soft and loose. Soft jam doesn’t bother me one bit, because it’s still delicious! Plus, I love keeping my homemade jams as simple as possible, and free from any unnecessary ingredients.
As someone who turned to real foods in order to turn my health around, I’m on a mission to help others do the same. I now serve as a Natural Living Mentor, inspiring and encouraging families everywhere to embrace a less processed life, which includes simple, unprocessed foods.
When I began to emphasize real foods and eliminate processed foods from my family’s diet, I made it my mission to learn to can fresh, seasonal foods as simply and healthfully as possible. For me, this means no refined sugar. It also means avoiding pectin when possible.
My family and I are happy to eat a softer jam knowing it was made from fresh, local ingredients without unnecessary additives.
5 Tips for a Thicker Jam
Don’t be afraid to experiment, knowing that the results will always be delicious. A thin jam that doesn’t set well is still wonderful for stirring into oatmeal or yogurt, pouring over waffles or pancakes, serving over ice cream, and more.
- Use a low, wide pan. A low, wide pan provides more surface area, which allows for faster water evaporation.
- Cook a bit longer. A longer cook time may help to reduce and thicken the jam. There’s a bit of a learning curve here, however, because cooking for too long can cook away the natural pectin.
- Resist the urge to stir. Stir only enough to prevent scorching.
- Batch Size. Another variable that can affect the jamminess of jam is the batch size. Typically, the smaller the batch, the thicker the jam.
But who has time to can multiple small batches of jam? Not me, which is why I constantly push the limits for jam batch size. Personally, I’d rather turn out more jam in one batch, even if it’s a bit on the soft size.
Therefore, I tend to double and sometimes even triple or quadruple jam recipes, including my own. Just keep in mind that the bigger the batch, the greater the chances for a softer, looser jam.
• Jar Size. When it comes to canning jam, I recommend using the smallest jar your family will eat in one or two sittings.
Once you open the seal of your jam jar, it’s important to eat it up quickly. You don’t want to risk it spoiling!
At my house, we often have multiple varieties of jams going at once. The more open jam jars in the fridge, the longer it takes to finish any one jar. For this reason, I tend to can most jams in 4-ounce jars.
My #1 tip for when you can’t make everything yourself
I know that you can’t always make your own jam. Sometimes life is too busy, but you still want to feed your family the best options you can purchase. That’s why I’ve created a FREE list of healthy pantry staples at the store that breaks down the best choices when from-scratch isn’t an option.
Honey Sweetened Blueberry Jam
Honey Sweetened Blueberry Jam
- Large Wide Pot
- Potato Masher
- Long Handled Spoon
- Half Pint Mason Jars
- Jar Lifter
- Waterbath Canner
- 3 pounds blueberries, 2 quarts
- 1⅓ cup honey
- 1½ tablespoon bottled lemon juice
- Add the berries to a large, wide pot. The lower the better.
- Mash well.
- Stir in honey and lemon juice and allow to rest for a few minutes until the honey dissolves.
- Bring the berry mixture to a boil and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- When the jam has thickened, pour it into clean, hot jars.
- For canning, process in a hot water bath for ten minutes.
Kathleen Henderson is the natural living mentor behind the Roots & Boots blog and YouTube channel and the creator of the brand-new Real Food Family Meal Plan, which is earning 5-star ratings–and saving time and money–in kitchens across the country. Because everyone needs to improve their pantry, and incorporate a little more real food in their family’s menu, you’ll want to be sure to go snag Kathleen’s FREE downloadable printable, 12 Healthy Choices at the Grocery Store.