No-Sugar Homemade Jam (choose your favorite flavor-even use frozen fruit-in this easy, small batch recipe)

By Ann Fulton

No-Sugar Homemade Jam-choose your favorite flavor (even use frozen fruit) in this easy, small batch recipe
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This flexible, small batch recipe doesn’t use pectin as a thickener, so there’s no need for a copious amount of granulated sugar as is used in traditional jams. Instead it relies on heart healthy chia seeds and a small amount of maple syrup or honey.

 

 

Healthy jam that tastes great…really?  The perks of this no-sugar recipe, however, extend beyond the obvious health benefits.  The flavor may be varied according to preference and what’s on hand.

It’s a small-batch recipe that can be whipped up quickly and there’s no need to process in boiling water.  Frozen fruit is fair game, making it an excellent year round option. And when it’s time to add the maple syrup or honey (you could use agave if preferred), you can taste for sweetness, adjusting to your exact liking.

Truth be told, I make most of my jam recipes just like my grandmother did, and they are not low in sugar.  My family and I still enjoy these jams regularly.  Standard recipes for canned jams and jellies rely on pectin to thicken the fruit and make it jell.  Pectin, though, is very sour, so it must be offset with sugar-a good bit of it.  The sugar also helps to preserve the quality of the fruit when canned.

Because I have gotten requests for low-sugar options-and because my kids do eat a lot of PB&Js-I started experimenting with jams that use heart-healthy and highly absorbent chia seeds as a thickener.

Enhanced by a light touch of honey or maple syrup, this virtually tasteless superfood allows the natural sweetness of the fruit to shine. No need for pectin and the resulting need for a copious amount of granulated sugar.

Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are my usual picks for this type of jam.  The pictured batch, however, uses blackberries and a peach.

The recipe below offers a variety of options, but the basic formula for just over one cup of jam is the following: 12 ounces of fruit, 3 tablespoons of honey or maple syrup, and 2 tablespoons of chia seeds.

No-Sugar Homemade Jam-choose your favorite flavor (even use frozen fruit) in this easy, small batch recipe
No-Sugar Homemade Jam-choose your favorite flavor (even use frozen fruit) in this easy, small batch recipe

A funny thing… The first time, I made this jam with all blackberries that were rather tart.  I asked my kids to sample it at a point where the jam tasted good to me but was still on the tart side.  I was certain they would want it sweeter, but they loved the tarter version.  It was a good reminder to me that not everything must be extra sweet for my kids to enjoy.

No-Sugar Homemade Jam-choose your favorite flavor (even use frozen fruit) in this easy, small batch recipe

An added note: An all-peach version, for example, would allow the tiny, black seeds to be visible.  Some kids may object to this before they even taste the jam.  Berry versions (or a mix of fruit) mask the chia seeds completely.

Alternatively, white chia seeds can sometimes be found. They taste the same as their black counterpart but often cost a little bit more.

No-Sugar Homemade Jam
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 1 Cup
My latest batch of this all-natural jam uses summer-fresh blackberries and peaches, but the beauty of this flexible recipe is that a variety of frozen fruit may be used to make this a healthy, delicious option all winter long. See the notes section for the many ways to vary the recipe.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup blackberries (see notes for fruit substitutions)
  • 1 peach, peeled, pitted and diced
  • 3 tablespoons honey or pure maple syrup (see notes)
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice and/or the zest the whole lemon or lime
Instructions
  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the blackberries, peach, and lemon juice and zest, if using (or substitute fruit of choice, amount directed below).
  2. As the mixture begins to boil, mash the fruit with the back of a fork until it breaks down. This should take 5 minutes, give or take a few minutes depending on the type of fruit used.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the honey, starting with 1 to 2 tablespoons. Taste, and add more honey (or sweetener of choice) to your liking.
  4. Add the chia seeds and stir to incorporate. Let the jam set for about 5 minutes to thicken. Cool and transfer to a jar or air-tight container and refrigerate.
  5. The jam will keep for approximately 2 weeks in the fridge and may be frozen.
Notes
  • This is a very flexible recipe.The trick is to start with 10-12 ounces of berries–a mix, if desired–chopped if large. As done in the above version, the berries may be mixed with fruits like peaches, apricots, or nectarines that have been peeled, pitted and finely chopped for a total of 10-12 ounces of fruit. (Frozen fruit works well and doesn’t have to be thawed. Do dice the larger pieces though; partially thawed fruit is easy to cut.)
  • To account for personal preference and varied sweetness among fruits, I recommend tasting as you add the sweetener. If you add lemon or lime juice, you may want a little more sweetener. (Using the zest alone will provide a hint of citrus flavor without added tartness.) Fresh summer fruit may require a little less sweetener than frozen fruit.
  • If you prefer a soupier jam-perhaps for a sauce or to blend into a dressing-simply adjust the amount of chia seeds down slightly, starting with 1 tablespoon or so. When varying the amount used from the recipe above, just be sure to allow at least 5 minutes before adding more. This will provide time for the chia seeds to swell, absorb the excess liquid, and thicken the jam. For a thicker mixture, you may add slightly more chia seeds.
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Comments

  1. Jennifer Yelczyn

    I didn’t make this recipe, but if you don’t want to use sugar in your jam or jelly try Pomona’s Pectin (usually mail order, but some stores carry it). It actually allows you to make Jam or jelly w/o using sugar. It makes wonderful jams and jellies! 🙂

    Reply
  2. sage

    if i don’t have chia seeds, could i use flaxseeds instead? if yeah, how much? the same amount?

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Sage, Ground flaxseeds, or meal, would thicken the jam but likely not as much as the chia seeds. Flaxseeds don’t plump up and absorb the same way that chia seeds do. So, you could try with the flax meal, but I think the texture would be somewhat less jam-like. Perhaps try with a small batch? I don’t think the outcome would be bad per se – just not quite same.

      Reply
  3. Yali

    Hello!

    I saw that someone already asked you this question related to added sugars (honey and maple syrup). However I wonder if you have tried without any added sugar at all. Also… if you have not… do you have any advice on process that I could get more sugar out of the fruit?

    Thank you for your time and for this recipe.

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Yali, The trick to the sweetest jam without adding any form of sweetener is to start with the sweetest and ripest fruits. So, fruits like in-season mangos, peaches, strawberries, and blueberries over tarter raspberries and fruits that haven’t hit their peak ripeness. Although the lemon or lime juice adds nuanced flavor, its tartness needs to be offset with something sweet, so I’d skip that – or perhaps add some freshly squeezed orange juice. As I think, you could also add finely minced dried fruit, which would soften and provide natural sweetness. Dates would contribute caramel-like flavor, while golden raisins would provide more neutral sweetness and blend in better. A pinch of salt, perhaps counterintuitively, also enhances the perception of sweetness. I hope this helps and that you enjoy.

      Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Cindy, I can’t say for sure without knowing the recipe, but it could be worth experimenting with a small batch. If you try, I’d love to know how you make out. The recipe sounds intriguing!

      Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Sherri, The chia seeds are used to thicken the jam, so you’d need to add something else to perform that role. One thought it arrowroot flour, as it has virtually no flavor and it won’t cloud the vibrant color of the jam.

      Reply
        1. Matthew W. I. Dunn

          Two questions:

          (1) When it says, “boil”, what does that mean? Other than the lemon juice, I do not see any other liqud being added.
          (2) Could one substitute cornstarch for arrowroot?

          Thanks!

          Reply
          1. Ann Post author

            Hi Matthew, You will start to see bubbles when it reaches the boiling stage, and the fruit has enough liquid that you don’t need to add more. You actually want to cook the fruit down and thicken it with the chia seeds so it becomes jam-like. I mentioned the arrowroot powder as an alternative to the chia seeds because it won’t cloud the jam like cornstarch. They both function the same way, so you can try using cornstarch if you don’t mind the appearance. Hope this helps!

  4. Monica Alexander

    Hello! I make Chokecherry Jam; Chokecherries are very tart/sour, (hence the name!) and they require alot of sugar in the recipe, 6 cups. Do you think it would be possible to make this recipe with honey or Agave nectar? The recipe calls for 3-4 cups of the pulp and juice, 1/2 cup lemon juice, 5 tbls., plus 1 tsp. of pectin. Hope you can help! Thanks! Monica Alexander

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Monica, Love your mention about the name ; ) Your recipe sounds like a traditional jam/jelly recipe. The addition of pectin causes jelly to thicken, but because it is sour, it also means that more sugar is needed. The half cup of lemon juice would mean even more sugar is needed to balance the flavor of the already tart chokeberries. I might make a test batch using this recipe as a guide. You’ll likely find that you can create a very good jam with far less sugar–and you can use honey or agave. These sweeteners might work with a traditional canning recipe, although you run the risk of the jam not setting if you stray from the recipe. I hope that helps!

      Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Kathy, I haven’t canned this myself (I have frozen it with good results), but you likely could. The only issue would be if the pH is safe for water bath canning as opposed to canning at high pressure. Most fruits should be fine, and the addition of lemon juice would likely make the pH acceptable if otherwise borderline.

      Reply
  5. Madison Lenig

    If made in larger batches could you can this recipe ? If so would you use pressure canner or water bath?

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Madison, If you’d like to can this, I’d use a pressure canner because I’m not sure the pH would be in the safe zone for the water bath method.

      Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      The chia seeds act as a natural, flavorless thickener, replacing the sour pectin in traditional jam recipes.

      Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      I haven’t tried, Carla, but passion fruit would likely work well. If you try, feel free to report back!

      Reply
  6. Mari

    I was looking for a recipe without sugar, but honey and maple syrup have the same effect as sugar, so I was disappointed thinking I’d finally found my recipe!

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Mari, I mention the specifics in the intro–that this recipe offers an option to traditional jams made with pectin and an abundance of granulated sugar. I am sorry that it isn’t what you were searching for. You could omit the small amount of honey or maple syrup and rely solely on the natural sweetness of the fruit. The end result may still be appealing to you depending on your preferred level of sweetness.

      Reply
  7. Alex

    Wow this is excellent! I used strawberries, it’s the best jam I have ever tasted. I always wanted to make jam but it seemed more like a chemistry experiment and to complicated. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe!

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      I’m so glad this was your first venture into jam making, Alex, and that it was a hit. Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  8. Bob

    Hi! I have never made jam so your recipe will be my first try.

    I want to make this with mangoes.

    Except for the fruit, would anything in your recipe need to be changed?

    Thanks!
    Bob

    Reply
    1. Ann Post author

      Hi Bob, Mangos tend to have more natural sweetness than many fruits, so you may find you need less maple syrup or honey to achieve your preferred level of sweetness for the finished jam. Just taste as you go. Also, since mangos can be somewhat fibrous, I recommend chopping the fruit finely to encourage the breaking-down process as it cooks. That said, you could chop some of the fruit more coarsely if you’d like some chunkiness to the jam. Hope that helps and that you enjoy!

      Reply