How to fix jelly (jam) that didn’t set

This post was most recently updated on March 10th, 2021

Nothing beats a thick slab of homemade jelly on a well-done peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But that’s all ruined if the jam isn’t set enough. Luckily, if you make a runny batch of jam or jelly, you can fix it. Here are a few tips to help you reclaim your jam.

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But first, why didn’t your jam or jelly set?

There are a few causes for runny jam or jelly. Usually the cause of jam or jelly not setting up is either not following the recipe correctly, not enough pectin be it either naturally occurring or added, or not cooking the jam out long enough.

RELATED POST: Mulberry Jelly Recipe

Why Did My Jam Not Set?

Some of the reasons why jam won’t set include: 

Not enough sugar

Sugar is not just for making the jelly sweet. It has a significant role in the setting process too. Therefore, if you use less sugar than the recipe calls for, the jam will be runny. Try to use granulated or jam sugar. If you use Splenda, Truvia, or any other substitute, remember to adjust the pectin (use more).

Wrong measurements

If the recipe calls for a weight of fruit, it’s talking about the prepared fruit, ready to cook. Suppose you measured your fruit before you prepared it for cooking; you’ll have way less than you need. That could be the reason for the watery jam.

Too little pectin

Pectin’s the stuff that makes the jam gel together. You either use the store-bought or the natural one found in seeds and peels. If your jam doesn’t set, it could be because you didn’t put enough pectin. Some fruits like citrus have more of it than other fruits. Thus, when you are working with lower pectin fruits, you need to add more of it.

Too much water

Some fruits have more water, and the recipe should account for this. Therefore, if you add too much water to watery fruits – the result is a runny jam. 

Over or undercooking

Another reason why jam won’t set is either you are not cooking it enough or overcooking it. If it doesn’t get a sufficient amount of heat, the pectin won’t set. On the flip side, if it overheats and destroys the pectin, it still won’t set.

It’s not yet cool

The jam needs to cool down fully before it sets properly. Hence, it might be that you checked too early. 

Too much fruit

Did you double the recipe to make more? That could be the problem. If you put a lot of fruit in one pot, the fruits and pectin will cook unevenly.

The weather

When it’s raining or humid out, jam tends to get gloomy, and it won’t set. 

Here’s How To Fix A Jam That Didn’t Set

If your jam hasn’t set up, there are some steps you can take to fix runny jelly or jams. The solution does depend on the cause in the first place. If the jam is still warm, it might just need to cool, otherwise sometimes re-cooking the jam will be enough to make it set again. 

Give it time

It’s entirely possible that you need to wait a little longer. It can take more than a day for your jam to set. Store it in a cool place and wait. 

If you are in a bit of a hurry, you can pop it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. That should help it set faster. Once it sets, you can take it out, and it should be ready for that sandwich. 

Cook it again

Put your jam back in the pot and start over, it won’t take too long this time. Bring it to the boil and simmer it until a small amount placed on a cold plate wrinkles when you push it with your finger once it is cool.

Add in pectin (the store kind)

You can put more pectin as you recook. (1 to 4 teaspoons) But this time, instead of using regular pectin, use the one that says “no sugar pectin.” That’s because if you use the regular pectin, you may need to add the same amount of sugar as you did the first time – sweetness overload. 

Add in pectin (the natural kind)

Most of the pectin in fruit is in the peels and seeds. You can add these bits to the fruit instead of throwing them away. Wash them thoroughly. Then add and let it boil until it sets.

Remember to remove any bits and pieces before you bottle, or else it will make your jam bitter. If you don’t want the added hassle of removing the bits of pieces, put them all in an easy to remove muslin bag.

Mix with pectin rich fruit jam

Seeing as some fruits have more pectin than others, you can use that to your advantage. Make a new batch of jam using a pectin-rich fruit like guava, oranges, or apples ( if you don’t already have one). Next, mix the two jams and recook until it’s no longer runny.

Without pectin

Pour the jam back into the pot and reduce the heat to get rid of excess water. Don’t add anything.

Add more lemon juice

You can pour in more lemon juice instead. The citrus in lemon juice helps the setting process; as little as a teaspoon (or half) for every 4 cups of syrupy jam will do. Then bring the jam to boil again until it’s close enough to set. 

How To Tell If Your Jam Is Cooked Enough And Ready To Set

You don’t want to have a syrupy jam re-run after recooking. Here is how you can tell if your jam’s ready. 

When you start preparing the fruit, put a few small plates in the freezer. If you think your jam is cooked enough (should be thick and simmering down to sizzle, not a vigorous boil), put a little on a plate. And look out for these things;

Firstly, if it’s runny or watery, it’s not yet done. It shouldn’t flow on the plate, and you shouldn’t see any water.

Secondly, after it sits for a few minutes, gently poke at it with your finger. If it looks like it’s forming a gel-like substance, it’s ready.

Thirdly, check if it’s forming a skin on the surface. This will look like a transparent, almost peelable layer.

Finally, push the blob with your finger. When the jam sets, you’ll be able to move your finger right through, forming a wrinkly path. 

If it doesn’t pass the plate test, keep stirring and try again after a few minutes. Take the pot off the heat when you’re testing, just in case it’s done. You wouldn’t want to overcook and then end up with runny jam (again!)

Oven “bake” your jam

Put the jam in a baking tray and bake at low heat until it looks thick enough. Just be careful not to leave it too long. Otherwise, you’ll get an unplanned super sweet fruit pie for dessert.

Use cornstarch

You can use cornstarch to give it a thicker consistency. Put the jam back in the pot, add the cornstarch and stir until it’s thick enough.

Approximately one spoon of cornstarch for every cup of jam should do. If it still doesn’t thicken, add more. The cornstarch won’t change the taste of the jam, but it might affect the color. 

Add chia seeds

A tablespoon of ground chia seeds for a 200g/7 to 8-ounce jar will help thicken it. Chia seeds will act as a gel to bind the jam together. 

If you don’t mint a gritty jam variant, you can add the unground seeds. They’ll do the same job, just with more texture.

Add gelatin

Gelatin can help give it a wobbly jelly-like consistency. Dissolve the gelatin in hot water. 1 or 2 teaspoons will be enough. Then heat the jam, take it off the stove, mix the jam and gelatin in a bottle. After it cools, refrigerate. 

When you take it out, it will be a thick, spreadable consistency. With this option, you have to remember to keep the jam refrigerated between uses so it won’t separate. 

If you’re a vegan, you can use agar-agar (a Japanese gelatin-like powder from a seaweed) instead of gelatin. 

Tips For Jam Making; Avoid Making Jam That Won’t Set!

The kitchen is fun. But with the amount of time it takes to make jam, it’s no fun having to do it again. Here a couple of tips to help you get it right the first time. 

• Use a candy thermometer to check the temperature as you cook. Aim for about 104C or 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher or lower temperatures can affect the setting.

• Get the widest pot you can. A wider pot will distribute the temperature evenly and improve evaporation. 

• Stir your spatula in the same direction. Choose clockwise or anticlockwise and stick with it- try not to interchange. This helps ensure even cooking. 

• Only skim the frothy white stuff off the surface when it’s done cooking, not before. 

What Can You Do With Runny Jam?

Sometimes, besides your best efforts, it still won’t set. Don’t feel bad, it could be the weather! Simply call it what it is – a syrup- and use it for something else. 

For starters, this may make an excellent glazing recipe for your baking projects. You might even use the jam to flavor your cakes or muffins.

Another great idea is to use it as a yummy fruit syrup for your pancakes or ice cream. Or as a sauce for your desserts.

Conclusions for helping fix runny jam

There are several reasons why the jam won’t set, some of them beyond your control. If this happens to you, try recooking or any other of these methods to fix the jam.  If none of it works, enjoy your syrup! 

Nothing beats a thick slab of homemade jelly on a well-done peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But that's all ruined if the jam isn't set enough. Luckily, if you make a runny batch of jam or jelly, you can fix it. Here are a few tips to help you reclaim your jam.

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