Why Your Jam Or Jelly Isn’t Setting And How To Fix It


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Did your jam or jelly not set? If you are wondering what causes jam or jelly to not thicken and how you can fix it you’ll find there is more then one cause but it’s easy to fix your recipe.

Jam and jelly not setting is usually a problem that is caused by temperature, pectin problems, or incorrect measurements. Jellies cooked at too high a temperature can destroy the pectins’ ability to gel while if it’s not boiled long enough it won’t set either. While measuring fruit differently from how the original recipe wanted can also cause the finished product not to set.

It can feel so frustrating to put all that work into making jelly only to have it turn out too runny.

While you can use runny jelly as syrup or an ice cream topping sometimes you really just want to have the jelly that you planned on making.

Let’s look more closely at the causes of why your jelly or jam recipe didn’t thicken and see what you can do to fix it.

How To Fix Runny Jelly text overlaid on a photo of 2 red jelly jars sitting on a wooden table

Reasons Why Jam Or Jelly Doesn’t Set

It Hasn’t Fully Cooled

Jam and jelly made with most pectins need to fully cool before it jells.

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Give it at least 24 hours to fully cool down and have a chance to set.

It’s not uncommon for jellies to take a few days to completely set.

Over Or Under Cooking

One of the biggest causes of jelly not setting is that the recipe was over or undercooked.

To little heat will cause the pectin not to set and to much heat will break down the pectin also causing it not to jell.

For most powdered pectins after adding the sugar you need to bring the mixture back to a full boil (a boil that can’t be stirred down) and continue to boil it for 1 to 2 minutes.

Over Processing

If you often have problems with your canned jellies and jams not setting but they do set for you before you’ve water bath canned them you could be over-processing.

Jams and jellies should be canned for 10 minutes in a water bath canner.

Make sure the water in the canner is almost boiling or fully boiling when you add the jars in. If the water is too cool and takes too long to come up to a full boil, this means your jars will be sitting in hot water longer then they should be.

This can break down the pectin and cause your jam not to set.

Jars of homemade jelly that have set firm.
Jars of homemade jelly that have set firm.

Did You Try To Double The Recipe?

One common cause of jam and jelly recipes not setting is that you tried to cook a double batch.

I know it’s tempting to try and save time in the kitchen by cooking twice as much but it just doesn’t work when you are making jams or jellies.

Don’t use more than 6 cups of crushed fruit in your recipe. Amounts larger than this just can’t reach the right temperature that is needed for the recipe to set properly.

What ends up happening is that some of the pectin gets overcooked and some is undercooked.

Did You Over Measure The Fruit?

If you used more fruit or juice then your recipe called for it changes the amount of pectin you need. Even if you only slightly increased the amount you will need to add more pectin.

Was The Pectin Measured Properly?

Pectin needs the right balance of liquid, sugar, and pectin to set properly.

If you under or over measured this balance is off and your jelly or jam might not set. It’s always a good idea to double-check your measurements.

Did You Change The Type Of Pectin?

Pectin comes in 2 forms, powdered and liquid. So you will find many recipes made for both types of pectin. But you can’t simply use powdered pectin in a recipe that is made for liquid pectin.

Both types require a different way of cooking. So yes you can switch out the type of pectin you use but you need to adjust the recipe.

Did You Measure The Fruit Differently?

If your recipe says to use a certain amount of mashed fruit, you need to mash the fruit before you measure it.

If you measure the whole berries first you will end up with less fruit then the recipe calls for. This changes the ratio of sugar, fruit, and pectin.

Likewise, if you purée the fruit instead of mashing it you will have more fruit then the recipe intended on. This can also happen if you remove the seeds from the pulp before making jelly.

The Pectin Is Bad

Another common reason for jam or jelly not setting is that there is something wrong with your pectin.

You should always store pectin in an airtight container to keep the moisture out. Also storing in a cool, dry place is best.

High temperatures can cause the pectin to break down and lose its strength.

To Much Water

If you added to much water when you were making the juice for jelly it creates a thinner juice that will need more pectin to properly jell.

Sweetened Juice

If you bought presweetened juice to make jelly with this also throw off the balance of sugar and pectin in the recipe and can cause it not to set.

For best results always start with unsweetened fruit juice.

How To Fix Jam And Jelly That Didn’t Set

1. Refrigeration

If it’s been over 24 hours and your jam or jelly hasn’t set take one of the jars and place it into the fridge.

Sometimes the cooler temperature can help make it set up nice and firm.

When it’s well-chilled remove it from the fridge and check to see if it has jelled. If it has set it on your counter and let it return to room temperature.

If it retains the jell constantly then you can refrigerate the rest of the jars until they have jelled. Then remove them to store in your pantry.

You could also simply store the jars in your pantry and refrigerate 1 jar at a time before use.

2. Recooking

Recooking your jelly or jam will be the most effective way of helping it to set properly.

If you choose this method then it’s very important to use no-sugar pectin. This type of pectin is made to form a gel with little to no sugar.

If you were to use regular pectin you would have to add the full amount of sugar you used in your recipe over again making the finished product way to sweet.

Ingredients & Supplies

How To Remake Jelly Or Jam With Powdered Pectin

Open the jars and measure out how much jelly or jam needs to be recooked.

For each quart (4 cups) of jelly or jam that you need to recook, you will need to have 1/4 cup of water, 1/4 cup of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Place this in a large pot and mix together.

Then pour the jam or jelly into the pot and bring the mixture to a rolling boil over high heat. Remember to stir it constantly as it can burn easily.

Once the mixture has reached a rolling boil, boil it hard for 1 minute. Remember that a hard boil can’t be stirred down and often makes the jam foam and swell upward in the pot.

I like to keep a spoon on a place in my freezer when I cook jelly. At the 1 minute stage take it out and place a little jam on an ice-cold spoon. Let it cool down to room temperature on the spoon and see if it thickens up.

If it has you know your jelly or jam is ready. If it still hasn’t set then add another 1/4 to 1/2 a package of no-sugar pectin and bring it to a boil for 1 minute again.

Remove the jars from the heat and skim the foam off. Fill the jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.

Then place new lids on the jars and close the rings until they are finger tight.

Process them in a water bath canner for 10 minutes or according to your altitude.

How To Remake Jelly Or Jam With Liquid Pectin

For each quart (4 cups) of jelly, you will need 3/4 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of liquid pectin, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.

Bring the jelly to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly. As soon as it reaches a boil remove it from the heat and quickly add the pectin and lemon juice and stir to combine.

Bring the mixture to a boil, and boil hard for 1 minute.

Then remove the pot from the heat, skim off the foam and fill the jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.

Add lids and tighten until finger tight and process for 10 minutes or according to your altitude.

How To Remake Jelly or Jam Without Added Pectin

Pour your soft jelly or jam into a medium-sized pot and add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice for each quart of jelly.

Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes.

Then test the jelly to see if it’s setting. If it’s not continue to boil for another minute and then test again.

When the jelly is setting, remove the pot from the heat and skim off the foam. Then ladle into your jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.

Add lids and tighten until finger tight and process for 10 minutes or according to your altitude.

Processing Times For Water Bath Canning

  • 0-1000 feet 5 minutes
  • 1001 to 6000 feet 10 minutes
  • Above 6000 feet 15 minutes

Prep Time
5 minutes

Cook Time
1 minute

Canning Time
10 minutes

Total Time
16 minutes

Instructions

Powdered Pectin

  1. For each quart of jelly or jam that you are recooking, you will need 1/4 cup of water, 1/4 cup of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Measure this into a large pot and mix together.
  2. Then add the jelly or jam that you want to recook and bring it to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly.
  3. Boil hard for 1 minute then test a little on an ice-cold spoon to see if it sets up. If it doesn’t boil for another minute, if it does remove it from the heat, skim the foam and fill your mason jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
  4. Remove air bubbles, wipe the lids clean and add the lids finger tight and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes or according to your altitude.

Liquid Pectin

  1. For each quart you are recooking you will need 3/4 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of liquid pectin, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.
  2. Bring the jelly to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly.
  3. Remove it from the heat and quickly add the remaining ingredients, stir to combine.
  4. Return the pot to the stove and bring the mixture back to a boil and boil it for 1 minute.
  5. Test to see if the jelly is setting. If not then boil for another minute, if it is then remove it from the heat, skim the foam and fill your jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
  6. Remove air bubbles, wipe the rims clean and add the lids finger tight and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes or according to your altitude.

Without Adding Pectin

  1. Pour the soft jam or jelly into a medium-sized pot and add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice for each quart of jelly you measured.
  2. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes
  3. Test to see if it’s setting, if not continue to boil for 1 more minute if it is then remove it from the heat and skim off the foam.
  4. Fill your jars leaving 1/4 inch of headspace and remove air bubbles.
  5. Wipe the rims, add lids finger tight, and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes or according to your altitude.

Notes

Process jams and jellies in a water bath canner:

  • 0-1000 feet 5 minutes
  • 1001 to 6000 feet 10 minutes
  • Above 6000 feet 15 minutes

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