How we tested
For this tasting, we first needed to define the difference between jellies, jams, preserves, and fruit spreads. A jelly is a clear, bright mixture made from fruit juice, sugar, and often pectin or acid. A jam is a thick mixture of fruit and sugar that is cooked until the pieces of fruit are very soft and almost formless. Preserves are almost identical to jams, but preserves may contain large chunks of fruit or whole fruit.
In most markets, jellies have been almost completely replaced by fruit spreads (made with juice concentrates, usually pear and white grape). Fruit spreads do not fall under the labeling standards applied to jellies and jams—hence the generic name, "fruit spreads." These products are usually made with concentrated grape and/or pear juice or low-calorie sweeteners, which replace all or part of the sugar.
In our raspberry tasting, tasters felt that the concentrated fruit juices in fruit spreads obscured the flavor of the raspberries. The result was a generic “fruit roll-up flavor," lacking a strong, recognizable raspberry flavor and being one-dimensionally sweet.
Based on our tasting, only a jam or preserve will do; tasters liked the bits of fruit. The difference between the two is minor; the term "preserve" implies the presence of large pieces of fruit, while a jam should have a smooth and uniform consistency. Most importantly, their flavor should speak loudly of raspberry, without too much tartness or cloying sweetness. As a final note, seedless versions came across as artificial and overprocessed.
Smucker's Red Raspberry Preserves
Our Favorite: Best of the bunch, preferred in bars and on toast. "Classic, clean" flavor, with an appropriate amount of seeds, is "exactly what this should be," one taster noted.
Trappist Red Raspberry Jam
Seedy Second: Flavor-wise, very similar to our favorite, but a few complaints of "too thick" or "too seedy" knocked it to second place.
American Spoon Foods Red Raspberry Preserves
Not for Kids: This very thick, reduced preserve is on the tart side; some tasters found it "deep and complex"; others, "burnt."
Bonnie Maman Raspberry Preserves
On the Sweet Side: Less thick and "more spreadable" than the higher-rated preserves, but some tasters found it "toothachingly sweet."
Smucker's Seedless Red Raspberry Jam
No More Seeds: This seedless option is a smoother, sweeter version of our winner. But even self-proclaimed "seed haters" liked at least a few to "add authenticity."
Polaner Raspberry All-Fruit Spreadable Fruit
Mystery Fruit: This spread reminded tasters of apples, strawberries, and grapes, but not raspberries. The "Jell-O-like texture" was no help.