Product review: Jams and fruit spreads side-by-side

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Wednesday, 27 April 2016.
Tagged: carbohydrates, healthy eating, nutrition, review, sugar

Product review:  Jams and fruit spreads side-by-side

Do you prefer jam or fruit spread on your pikelets or scones? Is fruit spread a healthier choice than plain ol’ jam? It certainly sounds as if it is. Here we’ve reviewed four popular jams and fruit spreads, comparing the same strawberry variant against a straight strawberry conserve plus a spread with no cane sugar at the other extreme.

We compared IXL Strawberry Conserve, IXL Strawberry Fruit Spread, IXL Strawberry Spread (No Cane Sugar) and St. Dalfour Strawberry 100% Spreadable Fruit.

Jam or fruit spread?

First things first, what’s the difference between a jam and a fruit spread? A jam is defined by FSANZ (the governing body of our Australian food supply) as the product prepared by processing one or more of the following: fruit, fruit juice, concentrated fruit juice and water extracts of fruit; or such a product processed with sugars or honey.

To be classed as ‘jam’ it must contain at least 40 per cent of the fruit or fruits that appear on the label. Comparatively, the healthier sounding (to some!) fruit spreads do not have a strict definition or standard governing what they must (or must not) contain. These fruit spreads contain mixtures of fruit and concentrated fruit juices and can have as little as 30 per cent real fruit or as much as 60 per cent. Technically because they’re not called ‘jam’, they don’t have to conform to the standard.

Jams on spoons turnedTaste:

IXL Strawberry Conserve 8/10

Rich authentic strawberry flavour with whole fruit pieces and a thick, chunky consistency. However, the sweetness was overwhelming. I was left feeling as though I had slathered a thick layer on my crisp bread, rather than the thin scraping actually applied.

IXL Strawberry Fruit Spread 4/10

The overarching flavour is not that of strawberries, but an artificial taste of chemicals. This ‘off’ taste lingers after eating. The consistency is runny, watery and gel-like with minimal, if any, strawberry pieces.

IXL Strawberry Spread (No Cane Sugar) 10/10

Strong flavour that tasted just like the real deal. This fruit spread provided the perfect balance of sweetness to acidity and had a great mouth feel and aftertaste. It had a deeper, richer colour than the others and larger chunks of whole strawberries.

St. Dalfour Strawberry 100% Spreadable Fruit 9/10

Strong strawberry flavour, but like the IXL Strawberry Conserve it was very sweet. The consistency of the spread appeared a little watery, however there were chunks of strawberries present. Great aftertaste and mouth feel.

Nutrition:

Jams and fruit spreads overall 1/10

As anyone who’s ever made jam knows, it’s usually made from 50 per cent sugar and 50 per cent fruit which is then boiled and boiled until it thickens and sets. Jam is never going to be completely healthy.

While jams and fruit spreads contain real fruit, they are considered an ‘extra’ and should thus be consumed in moderation. Why? These products are high in kilojoules/Calories and sugar and contain next to no fibre, vitamins or minerals. Yes, they start with real fruit, but you’re better off enjoying the pleasure of an actual piece for more nutrition. Still, they do enliven a slice of wholemeal toast or oatmeal porridge.

Sugar vs fruit juice concentrate

The products reviewed contained from 40 to 55 per cent real fruit, with the remainder of the sweetness coming from either added sugar (in the case of the jam) or refined juice concentrate made from apple, pear or grape. Now these concentrates are contentious. They appear to be natural but in reality they’re simply a sweetener made by extracting the natural water from the fruit, leaving a highly concentrated, thick, sweet juice – full of fruit sugars.

They really are a cheeky way of tricking the consumer into thinking they are consuming a product which contains less sugar. Yes weight for weight, these juice concentrates are about one-third lower in kilojoules than sugar by weight. However, in the finished spreads, despite their healthy-sounding names, these products do still contain sugar, just in a different form!

The IXL Strawberry Fruit Spread with the claim ‘50% less sugar, half the sugar of IXL regular jam!’ contained approximately half the kilojoules and sugars to that of the other profiled products, but the poor taste certainly deterred us from consumption in the future.

The other jams and spreads contained similar kilojoules (ranging from 891-1123kJ), but did vary in sugar content (45-64g).

Jams short onesComparisons

For ease of comparison, let’s take a closer look at the kilojoules and sugar content in a standard 15g serve size which is approximately 3 teaspoons.

Product kJ per 15g serving Sugar per 15g serving
IXL Strawberry Conserve (jam) 169 9.7g
IXL Strawberry Spread (fruit spread) 134 6.9g

So, if you only enjoy the odd teaspoon, choosing a fruit spread with refined juice concentrate instead of a jam with added sugar will not make much of a difference to your overall intake. You’ll save a small 35kJ and 2.8g sugar.

Watch the serve size

Most of the spreads used a serve size of 15 to 20 grams which is 3 to 4 teaspoons, about the quantity you’d spread on a slice of bread. However, the St Dalfour’s says its serve is only one teaspoon or 5.7g so its figures then look comparatively better if you’re trying to eat less. That’s just a thin smear on a slice of toast. If that’s the amount you like, then bear in mind the other figures will be higher. Far better to compare the spreads on the same Per 100 gram comparison.

Read the Nutrition Panel

Looking at the nutrition information panel for each of the products, it becomes obvious that each contains a different serve size. This makes comparing products more difficult, so always refer to the information per 100g for ease of comparison.

Carbs and sugars per serve

Nutrition information per serve IXL Strawberry Conserve IXL Strawberry fruit spread (50% less sugar) IXL Strawberry spread (No cane sugar) St. Dalfour Strawberry 100% spreadable fruit
Serve size on Panel 15g 15g 15g 1 teaspoon - 5.7g
Energy kJ 169 83 134 50.39
                Cal 40 20 32 11.86
Carbohydrate, g 9.8 4.8 7.7 2.96
Sugars, g 9.7 4.7 6.9 2.96

Nutrition information Per 100g

Per 100g IXL Strawberry Conserve IXL Strawberry fruit spread (50% less sugar) IXL Strawberry spread (No cane sugar) St. Dalfour Strawberry 100% spreadable fruit
Energy kJ 1123 551 893 884
                 Cal 267 132 214 208
 Protein, g 0.3  0.4  1  <0.5
Fat, g   Total 0.3 <0.1 0.2 <0.1
                 Saturated <0.1  <0.1  <0.1  <0.1 
 Carbohydrate, g 65.2  31.9  51.2  52
 Sugars, g 64.4  31.5  45.7  52
 Dietary Fibre, g n/a  0.8  1.5  1.2
 Sodium, mg 14  3  36  11.7

n/a means not available

Jams on pikeletWhat energy and carbohydrate mean

Energy

This includes all the energy in kilojoules or Calories from the fruit, sugar and fruit juice concentrate. Most jams and fruit spreads are fairly high in kilojoules/Calories.

Carbohydrate

The carbohydrate content of the jams includes that of the fruit, sugar, fruit juice concentrate and a gelling agent called pectin. Pectin is a naturally occurring substance found in fruits, which when heated with sugar, thickens and forms a gel like consistency that sets jams and fruit spreads. Some jams rely only on the natural pectin in the fruit but some fruits have low natural pectin and so additional pectin is added.

Ingredient lists and claims

IXL Strawberry Conserve (250g jar)

Sugar, Strawberries (40%), Gelling agent (Fruit Pectin), Food Acids (330, 331).

IXL Strawberry Fruit Spread (210g jar)

On pack claim: 50% less sugar ‘half the sugar of IXL regular jam!’

Water, Strawberries (40%), Sugar, Gelling Agents (fruit pectin, locust bean gum), Food acids (330, 331), Preservative (202), Mineral salt (509), Colour (124).

IXL Strawberry Spread (No Cane Sugar) (270g jar)

On pack claim: No cane sugar

Strawberries (42%), refined apple juice concentrate, refined pear juice concentrate, grape juice, gelling agent (fruit pectin), food acids (330, 331), mineral salt (509), lemon juice.

St. Dalfour Strawberry 100% Spreadable Fruit (284g)

On pack claim: Low GI; ‘An old French recipe of delicious strawberries sweetened only with grape juice concentrate’

Strawberries (55%), grape juice concentrate, fruit pectin, lemon juice.

Note: the berry, plum, pear and peach fruit spreads from St Dalfour are low GI as the fruit itself is low GI. Nothing special about the spread or the grape juice concentrate which would function as a sweet sugar extract and cane sugar replacer.

Convenience: Jams and fruit spreads overall 10/10

Jams and fruit spreads provide a quick and easy toast topping or sandwich filler. Their high sugar content retards the growth of food spoiling microbes; however, they must be refrigerated following opening to prevent deterioration. This refrigeration is essential, especially for the lower sugar varieties, which have less microbe-fighting power.

The final word

If we had to choose between the two, we would opt for a fruit spread over a jam simply because the flavour is more authentic, rich and fuller with larger fruit pieces. The juice concentrate as a substitute for sugar made little difference – it’s all about the flavour.

While OK every now and then, these spreads are certainly not an everyday food. Enjoy them as a scraping, not a thick slather!

If you want something on your bread, try spreads such as avocado, hummus, peanut paste or ricotta as they are nutrient-rich and tasty!

Thank you to dietitian Hannah Gilbert for her assistance on this post.

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby knows nutrition! She is an accredited nutritionist, food commentator, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Catherine Saxelby's Food and Nutrition Companion answers all those tricky questions on healthy eating, diets and supplements. It draws together a lifetime of advice and gives you all you need to know to eat right! It's a complete A to Z. A handy desk go-to reference.