Farm To Table

How to Fix Jam/ Jelly That Didn’t Set

Don’t worry if your jam or jelly didn’t set. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you salvage your preserves.

Peach jam on a pink board.Pin
Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

We’ve all been there. You think you did everything right, but your jam or jelly ends up runny. It’s frustrating after all of the time and energy and the expense of the produce but fear not, they can be saved!

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Determining your preserves didn’t set

First and foremost, ensure you’ve given the jam or jelly enough time to set. It can sometimes take up to 48 hours (or even longer sometimes) to set fully.

Place one of the jars in the refrigerator overnight. Then check to see if the set is to your liking. If it is, store it as usual. If not, you can reprocess it.

Before reprocessing, you should test the set by placing a spoonful of the jam or jelly on a cold plate (you can chill it in the freezer). Allow it to sit for a minute, then push the jam with your fingertip. If the surface wrinkles slightly, it has reached the setting point. If not, proceed to the next step.

Why didn’t my jelly set?

First, let’s review some reasons that may have contributed to preserves that weren’t set.

Understanding these reasons can help troubleshoot and prevent the issue in future batches:

  1. Insufficient Pectin: Pectin is a natural fruit substance that forms a gel when combined with acid and sugar. Some fruits have higher natural pectin content than others. For fruits low in pectin, you may need to add commercial pectin or mix them with high-pectin fruits.
  2. Overripe Fruit: As fruit ripens, the pectin content diminishes. Using fruit that is just ripe or slightly underripe will usually yield better results for jams and jellies.
  3. Inaccurate Fruit Measurements: Overmeasuring your fruit can lead to the sugar, pectin, and acidity levels being insufficient and can cause runny preserves.
  4. Inaccurate Sugar Measurements: Sugar helps to bind with the pectin and form the gel structure. If there’s too little sugar, the mixture might not set. Conversely, too much sugar can also prevent setting. Adding sweetened fruit juices can also affect the balance required for a proper set. If you want to produce a low-sugar preserve, be sure to use low-sugar/no-sugar pectin.
  5. Inaccurate Pectin: Insufficient pectin can also lead to poor sets.
  6. Acidity Levels: Pectin requires a certain level of acidity to set correctly. Some fruits may not be acidic enough and require an added acid, like lemon juice, to achieve a proper set.
  7. Overcooking or Undercooking: If the jam or jelly is undercooked, it might not reach the gelling point. Conversely, overcooking can break down the pectin and prevent setting. A candy thermometer can ensure the mixture reaches the correct temperature (around 220°F or 104°C at sea level).
  8. Overprocessing: If you process the jars for too long, this can also lead to the breakdown of the pectin. Process for the time in your recipe instructions. Let the jars rest in the hot water for 5 minutes, then remove them from the canning pot to a towel placed on the counter to cool.
  9. Batch is too large: Making an overly large batch can affect the cooking process, leading to uneven heating and potentially preventing the mixture from reaching the setting point uniformly.
  10. Insufficient Boiling: The mixture needs to reach a full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop when stirred). Maintain boiling for the specified time to activate the pectin and evaporate enough water to achieve the proper consistency.
  11. Old or Expired Pectin: If you’re using commercial pectin, ensure it’s not expired. Old pectin may lose its gelling power over time.
  12. Stirring Issues: If powdered pectin isn’t dissolved and stirred properly, it can lead to uneven setting.
  13. Water Content: Fruits vary in water content. Sometimes, even with the same kind of fruit, one batch can be juicier than another. This variance can affect the set.
  14. Improper Canning: If you’re canning your jams or jellies, ensure jars are properly sterilized if the recipe calls for processing times under 10 minutes. In addition, use the correct water bath canning method. An improper seal can allow air in, affecting the consistency of the jam or jelly.

Remember that making jams and jellies is both an art and a science. Even with practice, occasional batches can turn out differently than expected. However, understanding the potential causes of a poor set can improve consistency and results.

How to fix runny jelly or jam that didn’t set

Remake with added powdered pectin

What you need

  • Pectin: Use only low-sugar/no-sugar pectin. Regular pectin would require adding too much additional sugar.
  • Acid: Use the acid that was used in the original recipe, either bottled lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar.
  • Sugar: Add ¼ cup of sugar per cup of runny jelly.
  • Water: Mix the above with ¼ cup of water.
Ingredients needed to fix runny jam. See recipe below for details.Pin
Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Step One:

Add the pectin and the sugar to a small bowl.

Pectin and sugar added to a small bowl.Pin
Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Step Two:

Mix them together well.

Sugar and pectin mixed together.Pin
Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Step Three:

Heat the water with your chosen acid and pour in the sugar/pectin mixture.

Sugar mixture added to water and acid in a medium saucepan.Pin
Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Step Four:

Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly.

Mixture heating in the saucepan.Pin
Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Step Five:

Add the unset jam or jelly and sugar. Stir well to combine and dissolve the sugar.

Runny jam added to the pot.Pin
Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.
  • Bring the mixture to a rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) over high heat while stirring constantly.
  • Once it reaches a rolling boil, keep it boiling for 5 minutes, continuing to stir.

How to fix it with liquid pectin

If you made a jam using liquid pectin that didn’t set, you can try to salvage it. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help:

  • Pour the unset jam back into a large pot.
  • For every cup of unset jam, measure two tablespoons of sugar, two tablespoons of water, and one tablespoon of bottled acid. You’ll also need one tablespoon of liquid pectin for every cup of unset jam.
  • Combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in the pot with the unset jam.
  • Stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves.
  • Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat.
  • Once it’s boiling, add the liquid pectin.
  • Continue to boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly to ensure the pectin distributes evenly and to prevent burning.

How to fix it without pectin

Some jams and jellies can be fixed without resorting to additional pectin, relying instead on the natural pectin content of the fruit and the gelling power of sugar and acid. Here’s how to do it:

  • Pour the unset jam or jelly back into a large pot.
  • Some fruits have lower natural pectin, but increasing the acidity can help the preserves set. Add lemon juice or vinegar to the preserves to help with the setting process. Start with one tablespoon of lemon juice per cup of jam or jelly, and adjust to taste.
  • Boil until the mixture comes to a full rolling boil over high heat. Stir constantly to prevent sticking or burning.
  • Keep the jam or jelly at a rolling boil for 5-10 minutes. The exact time may vary depending on the amount and type of fruit and how runny your jam or jelly initially was.

For all types

4. Test the Set:

  • You can test its set using the cold plate method. Place a small plate in the freezer for a few minutes to chill. Remove it and drop a spoonful of the hot jam onto the cold plate. Let it sit for a minute, then push the edge with your fingertip. If the jam wrinkles, even just slightly, it’s likely set. If not, you can boil the mixture longer and test again.

5. Skim off any Foam:

  • If there’s foam on top of the jam, skim it off to ensure your finished jam looks clear and appealing.
Jars of peach jam on a pink board with peach leaves.Pin
Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

Re-canning

4. Canning: If you are preserving the jam or jelly in jars:

  • Prepare them as you would for canning.
  • Ladle the hot jam or jelly into the jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace.
  • Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp towel to clean any debris and seal with new lids and bands.
  • Process in a boiling water bath canner according to the original recipe’s instructions or for 10 minutes to ensure a good set.

If your jam or jelly still doesn’t set after re-cooking, you can use it as a syrup for pancakes, ice cream topping, or a mix-in for yogurt or oatmeal.

Tools to help avoid poor sets in the future

The mixture must reach a specific temperature, known as the gelling point, to achieve a proper set.

Gelling Point: The gelling point for jams and jellies is typically around 220°F (104°C) at sea level. However, this temperature can vary depending on altitude:

  • Sea level: 220°F (104°C)
  • 1,000 feet (305 meters): 218°F (103°C)
  • 2,000 feet (610 meters): 216°F (102°C)
  • 3,000 feet (914 meters): 214°F (101°C)
  • …and so forth, decreasing approximately 2°F for every 1,000 feet increase in elevation.

Using an Instant-Read Thermometer:

  1. Calibrate: Before using your thermometer, it’s a good idea to calibrate it to ensure accuracy. You can do this by placing it in boiling water (which boils at 212°F/100°C at sea level) and adjusting it based on your altitude.
  2. Cleanliness: Ensure your thermometer is clean before inserting it into the jam mixture.
  3. Avoid the Bottom: When checking the temperature, ensure the probe doesn’t touch the bottom of the pot, as this can give a false high reading.
  4. Stirring: Stir the jam mixture constantly to ensure even heating and avoid sticking or burning. When checking the temperature, it’s helpful to stir the jam and then hold the thermometer in the mixture for a few moments to get an accurate reading.

Other Setting Tests:

While the temperature is a good indication of the gelling point, many jam makers use multiple methods to check for set:

  • Sheet or Spoon Test: Dip a cold metal spoon into the boiling jam. Over a bowl, turn the spoon on its side and observe how the liquid drops. If the jam forms two drops that flow together and “sheet” off the spoon, it’s close to being done.
  • Cold Plate Test: Let a plate sit in the freezer to chill. Drop a small amount of the boiling jam onto the cold plate and let it sit for a minute to cool. Push your finger through the jam after it cools; if it wrinkles and doesn’t flood to fill the gap, it’s ready.

Using an instant-read thermometer with these traditional tests can give you a good sense of when your jam or jelly has reached the desired consistency.

Other Ways to Thicken it Without Pectin

See Important notes below!

  • Chia seeds: Add chia seeds to the jam to thicken it. Measure the leftover runny jam that you want to thicken. Bring the jam to a boil. Add one tablespoon of chia seeds per cup of runny jam. Remove from the heat. Stir well. Allow the jam to cool. It will thicken as it cools.
  • Cornstarch: Thicken the jam with cornstarch. Heat the leftover jam. Use about one tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with two tablespoons of water to thicken a cup of liquid. The jam will thicken as it cools. The cornstarch may give the jam a milky appearance, but it will not alter the flavor.
  • Gelatin: Use powdered gelatin or gelatin sheets. Heat the jam and add gelatin according to the package instructions.

Important Notes! The jams thickened with the “Other ways to thicken without pectin” section above are not safe to recan! The reasons vary, but the above either alter the pH levels to make them unsafe for canning, or there is a reheating unevenly after thickening concern. Only jams and jellies thickened with pectin can be reprocessed. Use these methods to thicken small quantities at a time and keep them refrigerated.

Jars of reprocessed jams that have set.Pin
Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

How to use it without reprocessing it

Runny jam may not have achieved the perfect set, but it’s still delicious and can be used in various ways. Change your expectations and use it as is. Changing the name to syrup or sauce opens up lots of uses for this delicious preserve.

  1. Syrup: Use it as a syrup for pancakes, waffles, or French toast. It’s also delicious drizzled-over ice cream.
  2. Smoothies: Add a spoonful to your morning smoothie for some added flavor and sweetness.
  3. Yogurt and Oatmeal: Swirl it into yogurt or oatmeal to add a fruity flavor.
  4. Dessert Toppings: Drizzle over cheesecake, puddings, or custards for an added layer of flavor.
  5. Beverages: Use it as a base for beverages. A spoonful in a glass of sparkling water can make a refreshing fruity soda. It can also be used in cocktails or mocktails as a sweetening and flavoring agent.
  6. Dressings: Whisk together with some vinegar and oil to make a sweet salad dressing.
  7. Baking: Thicken some of it with cornstarch and use it as a filling for cakes, muffins, or pastries. It can be swirled into cake batters or used as a glaze for pastries.
  8. Sauces: Mix with soy sauce, garlic, and some spices to create a sweet and savory sauce for meats or tofu.
  9. Fruit Salad: Drizzle over a fruit salad to enhance the natural sweetness of the fruits.
  10. Marinades: Combine with other ingredients to make a marinade for meats or fish.
  11. Gift It: If you label it as a “syrup” or “sauce” rather than jam, it makes a delightful homemade gift.
  12. Ice Cream Making: If you make homemade ice cream, swirl the runny jam into the base before freezing for a fruity flavor.
  13. Tarts: Fill pre-baked tart shells with the runny jam thickened with cornstarch and top with fresh fruits for a quick dessert.

Remember, even if your jam didn’t set perfectly, it’s still packed with flavor. Embrace its versatility and enjoy it in a myriad of delicious ways!

Delicious jams and jellies

Helpful tools

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you go to the link and purchase something at no additional cost to you. See FTC Disclosure here.

Jars of peach jam with fresh peaches and peach tree leaves.Pin
Photo Credit: Binky’s Culinary Carnival.

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Peach jam in jars with fresh peaches.Pin

How to fix Jam or Jelly That Did Not Set

Don't worry if your jam or jelly didn't set. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you salvage your preserves.
See Step by Step Photos Above!Most of our recipes have step by step photos and videos! Also helpful tips so that you can make it perfectly the first time and every time! Scroll up to see them!
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Course: canning, jam
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Canning time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 2 pints
Calories: 2022kcal
Author: Beth Neels
Cost: $2

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Mix the water, sugar, lemon juice, and pectin in a large pot.
    ¼ cup sugar, ¼ cup water, 2 tablespoons Bottled Lemon Juice, 4 teaspoons Ball RealFruit™ Low or No-Sugar Pectin
  • Add the runny jam or jelly.
    4 cups runny jam or jelly
  • Bring to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for one minute. Test for set. (See recipe notes below) If it doesn't continue to boil for another minute.
  • Ladle hot jam into heated jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe the rims of the jars with a damp towel. Screw on the bands fingertip tight.
  • Process the jars for 10 minutes. Remove the canning pot lid. Let jars rest in the hot water for 5 minutes. Remove from the canning pot and allow them to cool.
See all of my favorite tools and gift ideas on my New Amazon Store!Check out Binky’s Amazon Store!

Notes

IMPORTANT NOTE:
Use the acid that your original recipe called for. Bottled lemon juice, lime juice, or vinegar (for jellies like pepper jelly).
 
Gelling Point:
The gelling point for jams and jellies is typically around 220°F (104°C) at sea level. However, this temperature can vary depending on altitude:
    • Sea level: 220°F (104°C)
    • 1,000 feet (305 meters): 218°F (103°C)
    • 2,000 feet (610 meters): 216°F (102°C)
    • 3,000 feet (914 meters): 214°F (101°C)
    • …and so forth, decreasing approximately 2°F for every 1,000 feet increase in elevation.
Using an Instant-Read Thermometer:
    1. Calibrate: Before using your thermometer, it’s a good idea to calibrate it to ensure accuracy. You can do this by placing it in boiling water (which boils at 212°F/100°C at sea level) and adjusting it based on your altitude.
    1. Cleanliness: Ensure your thermometer is clean before inserting it into the jam mixture.
    1. Avoid the Bottom: When checking the temperature, ensure the probe doesn’t touch the bottom of the pot, as this can give a false high reading.
    1. Stirring: Stir the jam mixture constantly to ensure even heating and avoid sticking or burning. When checking the temperature, it’s helpful to stir the jam and then hold the thermometer in the mixture for a few moments to get an accurate reading.
Other Setting Tests:
While the temperature is a good indication of the gelling point, many jam makers use multiple methods to check for set:
    • Sheet or Spoon Test: Dip a cold metal spoon into the boiling jam. Over a bowl, turn the spoon on its side and observe how the liquid drops. If the jam forms two drops that flow together and “sheet” off the spoon, it’s close to being done.
    • Cold Plate Test: Let a plate sit in the freezer to chill. Drop a small amount of the boiling jam onto the cold plate and let it sit for a minute to cool. Push your finger through the jam after it cools; if it wrinkles and doesn’t flood to fill the gap, it’s ready.
Using an instant-read thermometer with these traditional tests can give you a good sense of when your jam or jelly has reached the desired consistency.

Nutrition

Serving: 1quart | Calories: 2022kcal | Carbohydrates: 503g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 0.1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.01g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.3g | Sodium: 239mg | Potassium: 540mg | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 355g | Vitamin A: 1IU | Vitamin C: 66mg | Calcium: 139mg | Iron: 4mg
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