Jams & Jellies Problem Solver

Jams and Jellies Problem Solver

Wondering why fruit floats in your jams, your jellies are filled with bubbles, or your soft spreads seem too soft? Or maybe you want to know what to do if your jam hasn’t set. The Jams and Jellies Problem Solver gives you simple solutions to ensure your jams and jellies are perfect with each serving.

Soft Spreads Problem Solver

The Soft Spreads Problem Solver is designed to help you identify the general conditions that may occur when fresh preserving jams, jellies and other soft spreads. If your jelly won’t set or jam won’t set after two weeks and you followed the recipe instructions completely and accurately, you may remake it in order to achieve a firmer set.

This troubleshooting chart offers advice and solutions for many common problems you may encounter when making jams, jellies and other soft spreads.

Follow the directions below or download and print our Jams & Jellies Problem Solver


Soft spread is tough or stiff.

  • This can happen when there’s too much natural pectin in the fruit. The solution is to make sure fruit is fully ripe, not under-ripe.
  • Another possible cause is cooking the jam or jelly too long. If you are not adding commercial pectin, use a gel stage test to check doneness before filling jars.
  • You may have used too much sugar. If commercial pectin is not used, 3/4 cup to 1 cup sugar for each 1 cup of juice or fruit should be adequate. Use standard dry measuring cups and level sugar even with the top edge of the cup.

Soft spread ferments (bubbles are apparent in or on top of spread).

  • This is usually caused by not bringing the soft spread to the correct temperature before filling jars and/or under-processing, which prevents spoilage microorganisms such as yeasts from being destroyed. Always bring soft spread to a full rolling boil when using commercial pectin or to 220°F when preparing a recipe with no added pectin. Fill jars and apply and adjust lids and screw bands once at a time. Process in a boiling water canner. Refer to recipe for correct processing time.

Soft spread weeps (liquid forms at the top).

  • Syneresis, or “weeping,” occurs in quick-setting soft spreads and is due to an imbalance of acid and pectin in fruit mixture or the quality of pectin in the fruit. There is no way to prevent or solve for it.
  • Another cause of weeping is a lack of ideal storage conditions. Store soft spreads in a dry, dark place between 50 and 70°F.

Soft spread contains glass-like particles (crystals in grape spreads).

  • This can occur when you use too much sugar. Be sure to follow recipe instructions and sugar measurements. Use standard dry measuring cups and level sugar even with the top edge of the cup.
  • Another possible cause for this is undercooking the mixture. When the cooking time is too short, sugar does not dissolve completely and does not mix thoroughly with the juice or fruit. It’s important to follow cooking instructions closely.
  • You may have cooked the mixture too slowly or for too long. Long, slow cooking results in too much evaporation of the water content of the fruit. Again, follow cooking instructions closely for best results.
  • Undissolved sugar that was sticking to the pan may have washed into the soft spread as it was poured. To avoid that, carefully wipe the side of the pan free of sugar crystals with a spatula during cooking or with a damp cloth before filling jars. Instead of pouring, ladle soft spread into jars.
  • When this happens with grape products, crystals are formed by tartaric acid, a natural substance in grapes from which cream of tartar is made. Allow grape juice to stand in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours. Ladle juice from bowl, being careful not to disturb sediment that may have settled on the bottom, and strain through a dampened jelly bag or several layers of dampened cheesecloth.

Soft spread made with no added pectin is too soft.

  • This can be caused by an imbalance of your proportions of sugar, juice or fruit, acid and pectin. Make sure to follow instructions precisely for soft spreads with no added pectin.
  • This can also happen when you make too large a batch all at once. Never make a double batch; use no more than 4 to 6 cups of juice or fruit in each batch.
  • Your fruit may have been too ripe. Select fruit that is fully ripe but not over-ripe. Using some slightly under-ripe (but not green) fruit will help because it has more natural pectin to aid with gelling.
  • You may not have boiled the soft spread to the correct temperature. Use a gel stage test to check doneness before packing jars.

Soft spread is cloudy.

  • The fruit may have been too green or under-ripe. Fruit should be firm and fully ripe.
  • You may have cooked the fruit too long before straining it to collect juice. Fruit should be cooked only until it is tender.
  • Some fruit pulp may have been extracted when juice was squeezed from the fruit. To obtain the clearest jelly possible, let juice drain through a dampened jelly bag or several layers of dampened cheesecloth. Do not squeeze jelly bag.
  • You may have ladled the soft spread into jars too slowly or allowed it to stand before ladling it into the jars. When cooking time is complete, work quickly to fill jars before your soft spread starts to set and process immediately.

Fruit floats in soft spread: mixture gels, but fruit solids and clear jelly separate into layers.

  • This can occur when you use immature fruit or porous, textured fruit. Be sure to use fully ripe, freshly picked fruit and berries, either fresh or frozen. Some imported out-of-season fruits are firm textured and tend to float more easily.
  • Another cause could be that the sugar content of your soft spread was too high. Be sure to measure carefully and cook mixture at a full rolling boil for the time indicated in the recipe before filling jars.
  • The cause could also be air in the fruit, which can be dependent on the growing season. There is no solution if this is the case.

Was one of your issues not listed above? If not, please view our full printable version or contact us.