What’s the Difference: Orange Marmalade?

I want to share with you a lesson I’ve learned over the last week.  While testing a recipe I will be making later in the month for a catered event, I discovered that all orange marmalades are not alike.  I know, not a gasp-out-loud, jaw dropping revelation – because you’d expect differences; but I did not expect what I found.

Orange Marmalade

Let me start by clearing up one of the great mysteries of life…the difference between marmalade, jam and jelly!

  • Marmalade – a clear, jelly-like preserve made from the pulp and rind of fruits, especially citrus fruits.
  • Jam – a preserve made from whole fruit boiled to a pulp with sugar.
  • Jelly – a fruit product made by boiling sugar and the juice of the fruit.

So, back to my story….

I asked Jeff to pick up a jar of orange marmalade on his way home from work one night.  He asked if I had a brand preference and, since I didn’t he used his best judgment. He compared marmalades and found one that did not contain high fructose corn syrup (thanks for checking that honey!) and so he went with that one.

The recipe I am making is for chicken meatballs in a spicy orange sauce, of course with my own twist.  So I made the meatballs (which are scrumptious if I do say so myself) and I made the sauce.  This is a good time to share a secret with you (that for many of you may not be a secret).  When making a recipe that has separate components – like the meatballs and the sauce – taste each component separately before combining them in case there is a problem with one of the components.  I am so glad I did this, because had I not tasted the sauce before dousing the meatballs with it, I would have ended up throwing everything away!

I tasted the sauce and immediately knew there was a problem.  It was VERY bitter. So I tried to balance it with some honey.  Still VERY bitter.  I added a bit of fresh ginger.  Still VERY bitter.  Next I tasted each of the ingredients separately and when I tasted the marmalade I realized I had identified the culprit.

At first I wondered if it was just my tastebuds, so I looked in my pantry and found a mini-sized jar of orange marmalade by a different manufacturer.  I tasted that and was relieved that my tastebuds were fine.

I looked at the jar of the offending marmalade (which incidentally could be good in other preparations, but just doesn’t work for this recipe) and read the small (VERY SMALL) print.  I learned that the marmalade is made with Seville oranges, which the label describes as “bitter Spansih oranges.”

One of my favorite coffees is Seville Orange (interesting since I don’t typically enjoy flavored coffees).  I guess I never noticed a pronounced bitterness – probably because I use coffee as a milk and sugar delivery system!

This morning I remade the sauce with “regular” orange marmalade and the difference is amazing.  The sauce is great, without a hint of bitterness.  So now my quest begins. The quest for an orange marmalade that is not made with Seville oranges and that does not contain high fructose corn syrup.

The lessons here are:

  1. As I stated earlier – When making a recipe that has separate components – like the meatballs and the sauce – taste each component separately before combining them in case there is a problem with one of the components.
  2. Know your ingredients!  I made an assumption that all orange marmalades are made equally, but you have to read the fine print.

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