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Making marmalade: cooking temperatures & the jam setting point

Ever wonder about the setting point for marmalade? Or what temperature do you actually have to boil marmalade to? I investigated how the temperature affects marmalade set and I was really surprised by the results. Check it out! And if you are looking for a recipe, try my three fruit marmalade recipe.

I love shopping for preserves, and I love eating preserves. I love making preserves too, but here’s the thing: I cannot stand recipes that suggest that I cook my jam to the “desired consistency” or until it “passes the wrinkle plate test”. Say what?

Let’s be honest. I am not an expert at making preserves. Hence, I lack experience and therefore the visual cues are just about indistinguishable. As I stir boiling marmalade, sometimes I can feel that perhaps it is thicker than initially. Maybe. Well, I’m not entirely sure. See my point?

I hate guessing games and, as you know, I love to measure everything. And that is how the marmalade temperature experiment was born.

jars of marmalade cooked to different temperatures | kitchen heals soul

I cooked up a batch of three fruit marmalade, using the whole fruit method (no pectin). It contained two oranges, one lemon, and a grapefruit to be exact (recipe to come later this week, so stay tuned!  click here for the recipe ). I measured the temperature as the marmalade bubbled away with a pink Thermapen (Amazon), and I took samples every degree, starting at 217°F and all the way up to 222°F. I chose this range because most of the recipes I perused recommended cooking to somewhere in that range.

As the marmalade boiled and I sampled away, I honestly thought my experiment was a flop.
I could not have been more mistaken.

Behold, the results!

dollops of marmalade cooked to different temperatures | kitchen heals soul

It turns out there is a significant difference between marmalade cooked to 217°F and marmalade cooked to 222°F. To be more specific, I would remark that:

  • marmalade cooked to the lower end of the range (217–218°F) has a bright citrus flavour like fresh citrus fruit, but it is more on the watery side of set. The peel is very tender. Marmalade cooked to this temperature dribbles off your toast and leaves a trail in your kitchen or on your keyboard, if you are like me, doing chores while eating marmalade on toast in the morning, without a plate to catch the drips. Delicious, but drippy.
  • marmalade cooked to the middle of the range (219°F) is not as drippy, but not overly set. The flavour is still bright and the peel is tender, but the preserve is just a touch thicker.
  • marmalade cooked to the upper end of the range (220–221°F) is set just right: 220°F is considered the setting point of jam, and this is where things get really interesting. The marmalade is much thicker, but with a touch of dribble to it, the peel is firmer, and the flavour is completely different. The citrus flavour is still there, but it’s not as bright. The caramel undertone is coming through and there’s a bit of a bitter orange flavour that lingers.
  • marmalade cooked to 222°F is chewy and even thicker: this is the upper limit, in my opinion, as beyond this point, the peel gets really, really chewy. At 222°F, the peel is a “nice” chewy. Past 222°F, the peel is bordering on tough, and not so pleasant.
  • pectin: I must admit that this dollop of pectin-set orange marmalade was store-bought, not homemade and I felt it would be interesting to compare the texture to homemade marmalade made without pectin. The pectin-set marmalade is more jellied, and definitely not my preferred texture. It smears funnily on toast, and I found the jiggle of the pectin-set marmalade unpleasant, and a little freaky.

Click to get

It’s honestly a matter of personal preference, but now I hope that you can better understand your options and pick your favourite. I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong. Well… there’s definitely no wrong when it comes to marmalade. I love them all. My favourite was definitely above 219°F. Probably 220–221°F. I love the flavour of the marmalade in this range, and I am happy that it will stay put on my toast. Then again, I cooked a batch of marmalade to 222°F and I love how it’s a little darker, with a deeper flavour. In a perfect world, I would have a jar from each temperature on hand, at all times, to suit my mood.

Which marmalade do you think you would prefer?

The recipe for this three fruit marmalade is now available on Kitchen Heals Soul.

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24 Responses to Making marmalade: cooking temperatures & the jam setting point

  1. Liz January 13, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    A marmalade lover just like me! Great blog!

  2. Christelle is flabbergasting January 13, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

    I have ideas of packagings in mind… with beautifully lettered numbers! (just saying)(just my inner designer leaving a comment… don’t pay attention! ;p)
    Such an interesting post, Janice! I’ve already told you, but I Iooove it when you’re “Walter White-ing” pastry … or jam!

  3. seantimberlake January 15, 2014 at 12:26 am #

    I’m the founder/moderator for Punk Domestics (www.punkdomestics.com), a community site for those of use obsessed with, er, interested in DIY food. It’s sort of like Tastespotting, but specific to the niche. I’d love for you to submit this to the site. Good stuff!

  4. Anonymous January 16, 2014 at 9:27 am #

    Maz
    I think l like between 219 & 220, what l found intresting was that you say that you stir your marmalade when it has reached rolling boil stage… before it reaches setting point, where everthing l have read said not to stir at this stage. I found that my peel always burns at this stage even when only left for 5mins. I use all my peel so it is very chunky sliced quite thin. Still tastes good!!!!
    Will try stirring the next lot l make to see if it works, alsoread some where after softening peel removing it until after setting point feached then adding the peel so l will also try this to see which tastes the best.

    • Janice Lawandi January 16, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

      Thanks for your comment! Adding the peel at the end would be another interesting method to test! And please, if you have a chance to stop by and let me know the results, or by email, I would love to hear back!
      I have never burned the peel, but I know last year, I overcooked a batch of marmalade (by a lot, way past 222°F) and the peel became very hard to chew.

    • Chris January 30, 2015 at 5:12 am #

      Stirring the marmalade when it has started to boil is a good way of making sure that you have reached rolling boil. If stirring stops the boil then you have not quite reached boiling. It is when you cannot stir it off the boil that you have reached rolling boil

  5. Jean | DelightfulRepast.com January 20, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

    Janice, I’m not going to be keeping my marmalade in January tradition this year — can’t squeeze in one more thing — but next year I’m going to try stopping at 219 degrees. That looks good to me. I usually make mine too thick.

  6. Jennifer @ Seasons and Suppers January 25, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

    This is a great study in marmalade 🙂 Personally, I love the fresh citrus taste and a little dripping off my toast. I guess that puts me in the 219/220 range. Good to know!

  7. Lani Laskowski February 7, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    I flew to Oakland and took a class from June Taylor and it is so true that the temperature is everything. I also learned to make my own pectin from the guts and leftover stuff. xoxo

  8. Rachel L February 9, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    Those photos are enchanting. I must now attempt marmalade – thank you!

  9. Lasse B March 5, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    You have a wonderful site.

    The advice on jam and marmalade is really good. I love the esperimental-scientific approach. Maybe pectin is overrated but temperature is underestimated as setting factors. The fact that boiling temperature rises as you cook along is due to the water evaporating. Do you think it is possible to shorten the time needed to obtain a proper temperature could be decreased by adding more sugar from the beginning and start the boiling with a higher sugar concentration?

    The photos are brilliant. Do you have any tips regarding food photography?

    • Janice Lawandi March 5, 2014 at 9:39 pm #

      Thank you for your comments! I hope this post will help many when they are making marmalade. I have struggled with the plate test for years, and I always wondered about the temperature so that’s how I got the idea for this experiment.
      About the sugar content. I absolutely agree that part of the cook time is spent boiling off the water, but by having all that water, it helps reduce the risk of crystallization later on, by ensuring that all the sugar dissolves/melts properly. I feel otherwise there might be a risk of unevenly dissolved sugar which could lead to grittiness down the road… Once most of the water has evaporated off, at that point what you are measuring is the temp of the boiling sugar.
      I have to admit though, if you use a big pot, the boiling time is quite quick and the jam is done in under 10 minutes. It’s entirely pot-size dependant (well and also dependant on the volume of jam you are making).
      For the photography: have you read “Plate to Pixel”? It is such a useful/informative book. I cannot recommend it enough! http://amzn.to/1icXhPF

    • Chris January 26, 2015 at 9:57 am #

      I have a different approach. I like my marmalade to taste of fruit rather than sugar, so for many years I’ve been using much less sugar than most recipes suggest. The boil always took a long time, then one day I had a revelation. If you reduce the sugar, you also need to reduce the water, so that you are starting off with a sugar solution of a similar concentration. In doing this, I think I reduced it a little further than I need and now find 10 minutes is a long boil. But the shorter boiling time also gives, IMHO, a better flavour, so I’m kind of happy. So yes, I think you can reduce the boiling time by increasing the starting concentration, but do it by cutting down on water rather than increasing sugar. My recipe is at http://www.oak-wood.co.uk/2010/01/tangy-marmalade/

      As for temperature, I like the bright citrus flavour and will put with it being a little runny to get that, so about 218°F, or 219°F tops for me.

  10. Karen Calanchini January 9, 2015 at 3:59 pm #

    How did you attach the Thermapen to the cooking pot? It seems towards the end you could miss your perfect set time if you are taking the pen in and out. thank you for your response.

    • Janice January 14, 2015 at 10:16 am #

      Hi Karen, Thanks for your question!
      As far as I know, there aren’t any clip attachments for the Thermapen. Mine certainly doesn’t have a clip. So, yes, I was inserting and removing the pen as I removed aliquots from the pot of boiling marmalade, but I also took the pan off the heat to help avoid the issue you mention: missing the setting point and/or missing a degree. I wish the Thermapen had a clip! The Thermapen has a pretty quick response time so I find once you do put it back in the marmalade, within seconds, you know what temp it is (as opposed to old-school candy thermometers)
      But to be honest, when I’m making a batch of jam or marmalade, I just hold the Thermapen and I usually don’t constantly pull it in and out of the mixture. Sometimes I switch the thermometer from one hand to another so that I can then stir with a different hand too, but that’s about it. I don’t think there’s too much risk of missing the set point though because I find it does take a fair amount of time for the mixture to move up a degree when it’s above 215F.

      I hope that makes sense!

      • Mamabeat February 9, 2015 at 8:14 am #

        I love your experiment! I will be making some for the first.time this year and I plan on not using pectin.

        Really why I am commenting is I love to use my digital meat thermometer instead 🙂 I dont even use it for meat haha. It has a nice long cord I can just insert into the big pot, and place the box on the stove, two free hands!! Works like a charm for yogurt and candy 😉

  11. Karen January 28, 2015 at 3:26 pm #

    Yes, it does and thank you.

  12. Bronwyn December 15, 2015 at 12:34 pm #

    No one adds pectin to marmalade, citrus peel is full of it, so there is no need. Jam setting is a bit more complicated than getting to the right temperature though. The temperature tells you the sugar concentration you have reached, which is one important variable, but you also need acid and pectin or it will never set, it will just turn into a very thick syrup. The acid also helps some of the sugar hydrolyse into glucose and fructose, and those molecules interfere with sucrose crystallisation, stopping the jam/marmalade from becoming gritty.. The wrinkle test is actually very easy, and has the advantage that you don’t need a thermometer, but I guess it’s one of those things you need to have learned from your mother.

    • Janice December 15, 2015 at 12:58 pm #

      Thanks for your comment! The “pectin” sample was one I had bought and it was from Fauchon. I was curious about it but it was much too set for my liking, and you are right, the citrus should be adding all the pectin needed.
      As for the acid, I agree that acid hydrolyzes sucrose and prevents crystallization. The pH is also important for pectin gelification. If the pH isn’t adjusted, the pectin won’t gel properly. Of course, in the case of citrus marmalade, the fruits provide enough acidity for this, but with other fruits, the pH can be an issue.
      Loved hearing from you! Thanks for stopping by!

  13. JugglingMom December 22, 2015 at 9:31 am #

    Thanks so much for this article. I used my Mauviel copper preserve pan which is very wide, and allows a pretty quick boil off of the water in the mixture. I aimed for 220, but got nervous given the different readings I was getting off of two of my thermometers. I didn’t see anyone else mention this, but at around 219-220, the mixture starts to develop a very foamy bubble up to the top of the pan. It definitely was changing consistency at that point. The resulting marmalade is exquisitely silky and wonderful, Thick but not at a candy-like stage. Good set, equivalent to a pectin like jam. Texture much nicer than a pectin based marmalade.

  14. Ellen February 23, 2016 at 11:20 am #

    My father, 97, taught me to use pectin when making calamondin marmalade. It has a soft texture much like the 218-219 pictures and a bright flavor.

    I really appreciate this test, the article photo! and the great comments. I plan to try the no-pectin 219 degree method today. Thank you so much.

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