With fancy specialty-store fruit preserves costing $1 or more per ounce, we wanted to find good jams at everyday supermarket prices. First, though, a bit about definitions: According to the FDA, preserves (also known as jams) or fruit spreads must contain chopped or whole fruit cooked with sugar (it's what preserves them). Jellies, however, can be made entirely from juice—and not necessarily only from the fruit shown on the label. For the full fruit effect, we like jams.
BEST REDUCED SUGAR: Welch's Reduced Sugar Strawberry Spread, $3.19 (18.8 ounces)
This spread has a slightly thinner texture than others because water is the first ingredient (it helps reduce the amount of sugar). Otherwise, no artificial sweeteners, just full fruit flavor. (20 calories, 5g sugar per tablespoon)
BEST FRUIT SPREAD: Crofter's Premium Spread Strawberry, $3.49 (10 ounces)
A poster child for organics: bits of seeds and fruit, only five ingredients, and it's low in calories. We loved that this jam isn't too sweet. (35 calories, 8g sugar per tablespoon)
BEST PRESERVES: Smucker's Strawberry Preserves, $3.29 (18 ounces)
Every spoonful was loaded with chunks of fruit, and it just looked yummy: glossy, with a bright ruby color. (50 calories, 12g sugar per tablespoon)
FROM THE TEST KITCHEN: 3 tips for cooking with fruit spreads and preserves, beyond PB&J.
1. Make windowpane cookies. Roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness on a floured surface, cut using a 2-inch rectangular cookie cutter, then use a 1-inch rectangular cutter to remove centers from half of the cookies. Bake and cool cookies, then spread ½ teaspoon of preserves onto the center of a whole cookie; top with a cutout cookie that has been sprinkled with powdered sugar.
2. Sweeten your parfait. Make a quick and healthy parfait by layering plain nonfat Greek yogurt with granola and the fruit spread or preserve of your choice. Top with a sprinkling of fresh berries.
3. Create a quick glaze. Mix your favorite fruit spread or preserve with a little vinegar or lemon juice, then use a pastry brush to apply a thin layer to the top of chicken, pork, or lamb to add a sweet flavor about 10 minutes before it's done cooking. For easier spreading, heat your glaze in the microwave for about 10 seconds.
HOW WE TEST
Method: A panel of Cooking Light staff attended three blind tastings of 16 preserves and fruit spreads.
Nutritional guidelines: We tested preserves with no more than 50 calories and 12g sugar per tablespoon, and fruit as the first ingredient; and fruit spreads with no more than 45 calories, 10g sugar, and fruit as the second ingredient.