Although home-made jams, marmalade, lemon curd and other spreads usually have much tastier ingredients than those on the supermarket shelves, few of us have the time, opportunity or indeed inclination to slave over a hot stove making it ourselves. So for the healthiest spreads at breakfast and tea-time, seek out the brands whose jams have the highest percentage of real fruit, rather than concentrates, and don’t include artificial sweeteners and preservatives.
To be called jam, a preserve only needs to have a minimum of 25 per cent fruit content, while marmalade can have as little as 20 per cent fruit. It is not always obvious that in many commercial jams some of the fruit can be from frozen or concentrated sources. The fruit and sugar is also heavily boiled, which reduces its nutritional value.
‘Extra’ jam has 45g of fruit per 100g. Compotes are preserves with very high fruit levels, so they do not set in the same way as traditional jam, but they retain much more of the nutritional value of the fruit.
To be labelled as jam or marmalade, a preserve has to have at least 60g of sugar per 100g of product – even for the extrafruit varieties. Reduced-sugar jams have 30-55g, but will often have added colour, emulsifier, preservative and stabiliser. Fruit spreads are usually purely derived from fruit, relying on a fruit juice such as apple for sweetness. This means they are best kept in the fridge as they do not keep as long as sugar-rich jam or marmalade.
Vegetarians and vegans need to check the labels of jams and spreads before they buy, as some contain animal-derived ingredients. Lemon curd contains eggs, which are likely to be battery-produced except in the case of organic products. Some jellies and jams may contain gelatine, an animal byproduct, to aid with setting.
No genetically engineered fruit is permitted in the UK but the enzymes used to process the fruit, gelatine or added sweeteners could have involved GM. Choosing organic products helps to avoid all these additives. The only brand that is exclusively organic is Bionova. Other companies, such as Meridian, Whole Earth, Hartleys (Wm P Hartley brand) and Baxters make some organic jams. The Herb Stall was the only organic lemon curd producer found at the time of the research.
Sweeteners and preservatives
Artificial sweeteners may be used in ‘diet’ products, under a variety of guises such as aspartame, saccharin or xylitol. The first of these, aspartame, can be found in over 6,000 products (including crisps, vitamin pills and soft drinks), and has been the subject of numerous health scares – in a 2005 study it was linked to cancer in rats, and sparked a public call by one MP for the sweetener to be banned.
Moreover, some campaigners believe there is reason to doubt the original research that led to aspartame being approved for individual consumption, because they say there was pressure on the scientists from the sweetener industry. Nevertheless, the European Food Safety Authority has said that no changes will be made to its position on aspartame until a thorough review of the Italian study has been carried out.
Alongside sweeteners, preservatives may be used in higher fruit-content products. Preservatives such as potassium sorbate (E200-213) are suspected of causing allergic reactions, gastric irritation and problems with conception in some people. Manufacturers could avoid using them by noting a shorter shelf life and recommending refrigeration.
Although most fruit preserves are still packed in glass jars, there has been increasing use of squeezy plastic bottles or pouches by companies such as Hartleys and Robertsons. Some honey manufacturers are starting to pack their products in rigid plastic jars, and this could happen in the jam market too. Before you buy, check for the triangle symbol on the back of packaging to see if the product is suitable for recycling.
Ethical Jams & Spreads Rankings Detailed Table
Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.
We have created ethical rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Bionova, The Herb Stall, Meridian, Duerr’s, Whole Earth, Robertsons, Hartley’s, Frank Cooper, Tiptree, Stute, Bonne Maman, Baxters
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