Over the years I’ve made a lot of marmalade batches, to just about call myself an expert. But, expert or not, I still get days, when batch of marmalade just doesn’t want to set or the flavour is not quite right.
I’ve been making my own marmalade for the last 25 years or so, running occasional marmalade and jam making courses and my friends and family are always asking me for tips on how to make their own marmalade.
I know that marmalade making can be really puzzling, so here is a list of frequently asked questions, that over the years my students (or me!) wanted to know the answers to.
I’ll be adding more tips as I have time. Hope you find them useful and do let me know if you have more questions in the comments below.
- Traditional Seville Orange Marmalade (smaller batch size) >>
- Orange Marmalade (reduced sugar) >>
- Tangerine Marmalade (all in one method) >>
- Orange & Lime Marmalade >>
- Grapefruit Marmalade >>
GENERAL QUESTIONS ABOUT MARMALADE
What’s the difference between jam and marmalade?
The main difference is the type of fruit you use. Any preserve made from citrus fruit is called marmalade and preserves made from all other fruits are called jams.
The other difference is that marmalades are usually made with the citrus peel (not the inside of the fruit) and water and jams are made from the whole fruit (often skins or peels are actually discarded if too tough).
Why is marmalade not called orange jam?
The fact that marmalade is made from citrus peel and water (and not the pulp – inside the fruit) is also the reason why marmalade is not called orange jam. I have however seen some recipes that are referring to jams made from oranges.
This is when the recipes used the soft pulp inside the oranges (usually sweet or regular type of oranges) with some sugar, but little amount of water. These recipes also don’t use the citrus peel as the process is not long enough for the peel to soften.
This type of orange jam is boiled only for few minutes like other jams and let to thicken a little. There is also less sugar in these recipes, which is a good news for anyone who is trying to cut down on sugar in jams or marmalades.
When to make marmalade?
If you are making traditional Seville Oranges marmalade then the best time is mid winter, depending on when Seville Oranges come to your shops.
The only problem is that Seville Oranges are in season only in January/February in UK and Europe and are not always sold in all supermarkets.
If you do find them in your local supermarket, buy few extra kilos and freeze them as you can always use them later on in the year.
If you want to make marmalade from other citrus fruit, then you can make marmalade any time of the year.
What does marmalade taste like?
The taste of your marmalade will depend on what type of citrus fruit you use and what type of sugar you use. As an example marmalade made from Seville Oranges will taste like concentrated orange flavour with slightly tangy and possibly bitter taste.
Most marmalades will have an intense citrus flavour, but won’t be overly sweet even when the recipe includes quite a lot of sugar. I find that citrus marmalades taste less sweet than any fruit jams or fruit curds.
What can you do with marmalade?
Marmalade is traditionally used as a spread for breakfast toast. But you can use it as spread for toasted hot cross buns, croissants, pancakes or toppings for porridge or oatmeal.
I also use marmalade if I wanted to add a little bit of citrus flavour (and sweetness) to my fruit smoothies.
Marmalade can be also used for savoury cooking and goes well with game meat or duck.
RECIPES WITH MARMALADE
QUESTIONS ABOUT ORANGES
What fruit can I use for marmalade making?
Any citrus fruit can be used – Seville Oranges, Lemons, Limes, Sweet oranges, Tangerines or Satsumas or other suitable Seville Oranges substitutes, that you can buy locally.
Marmalade is made using citrus fruits, traditionally these are Seville Oranges.
Saying that, you can use any other type of citrus fruits as a Seville Oranges substitute, such as lemons, limes, grapefruits, sweet oranges (normal oranges), blood oranges, tangerines, satsumas. You can make your marmalade with just one fruit or you can mix them together in any proportions you like.
Lemons and limes are going to be more bitter than tangerines and sweet oranges, but that’s just makes marmalade making more fun.
As you are going to use the citrus peel from your fruit, choose organic, unwaxed and untreated fruit if you can.
Can I make marmalade with ordinary oranges?
Yes, you can make marmalade with regular – ordinary sweet oranges following the same traditional recipes (see my recipe above). The flavour is going to be slightly different as ordinary oranges are not as bitter as Seville Oranges.
This means that to achieve similar bitter or tangy flavour, you will need to add some lemons or lime. Alternatively, you can make marmalade that will be less bitter, which might actually suit some people.
When can I buy seville oranges?
Here in the UK, seville oranges is very short. You can only buy seville oranges in January/February, when they are available in large supermarkets or your local fruit stall. It’s worth buying few extra ones and freeze them or make several batches.
500g of seville oranges will make about 5 smaller jam jars, so if you buy a few kilos, you have supply for most of the year!
Can I freeze seville oranges for marmalade?
Yes, you can freeze whole seville oranges and use them at later stage. It’s safe to keep your frozen seville oranges for up 12 months.
To make your marmalade making easier, I’d recommend to cut the oranges in halfs or quarters – partly because you will need less storage space in your freezer and partly because they will defrost quicker when you need them.
To use your seville oranges, just leave them to defrost for few hours in a room temperature before starting your recipe.
Can you make orange marmalade without seville oranges?
Yes, you can make orange marmalade with ordinary – sweet oranges, which are available all year round. The marmalade taste is going to be slightly sweeter, than when you make the marmalade with seville orange, so I normally combined the fruit with lemons for sharper finish.
Can I use orange concentrate to make orange marmalade ?
There is another way to make simple seville oranges marmalade, if you are in a hurry or if you want to make traditional orange marmalade any time of the year (outside of the main Seville oranges season).
These days you can buy seville orange concentrate in a tin in most large supermarkets and these are available all year round. You can usually find them on the bottom shelf with preserves, jams and ready made marmalade.
These are easy to use and a great substitute for fresh Seville Oranges if you don’t have any.
QUESTIONS ABOUT PECTIN
Do I need to add pectin to marmalade?
No, not normally. Citrus fruits have the most pectin content of any jam/marmalade making fruits, so there is no need to add extra pectin.
The only time you might need some, if your marmalade won’t set for the first time and you need to re-make your marmalade.
QUESTIONS ABOUT SUGAR
What is the ratio of sugar to fruit when making marmalade
First of all always use the right amount of sugar (about 2x the amount of the original weight of your fruit) and use only cane or beet sugar (granulated sugar).
To make sure your marmalade sets well, you have to use the full amount of sugar and you can’t use any substitute like honey or chemically produced substitutes (sweeteners).
Does it mater what sugar I use?
Yes and no…
Let me explain…
Cane sugar will give you much clearer finish. The marmalade will have wonderful translucent colour.
Beet sugar is fine to use, but it will give you slightly misty appearance.
How do you know which one is which? That’s not always easy to find out, but if the sugar packet says ‘grown in UK’ it’s sugar beet as sugar cane doesn’t grow in the UK.
Should I use granulated or caster sugar?
Either of these will be fine, but granulated sugar is usually recommended as you need a fair amount and it can all add up cost wise.
A mixture of caster sugar and granulated sugar is fine too, just make sure you wait until the sugar fully dissolves before you start boiling your marmalade.
Caster sugar is fine to use for marmalade making, but it’s more expensive than granulated sugar. Other than that, it doesn’t mater what type of sugar you use as long as you always wait for the sugar to dissolve fully before starting to boil the marmalade.
Can I use sugar cubes for marmalade making?
Again, yes, it’s absolutely fine to use sugar cubes for marmalade making as long as you let the sugar completely dissolve in the orange peel water before you start to boil the marmalade.
Sugar cubes are more expensive than regular sugar, so I wouldn’t go out to buy them purposefully to make marmalade with.
However if you have any sugar cubes leftovers ad them to the the rest of the sugar. I once had a bowl of sugar cubes, that got slightly wet and started to disintegrated. They were perfect to use for my marmalade and they didn’t taste any different than regular sugar.
Again if you are using dark or light brown sugar cubes, check out my notes for demerara or brown sugar as this kind of sugar will slightly alter the flavour of your marmalade.
Can you use raw sugar in marmalade?
Yes, you can use raw sugar or unrefined type of sugar in marmalade making. The raw sugar might add slightly different colour to your marmalade (it might be darker, depending on the type of sugar you are using) and flavour, but I think that’s rather nice! You can achieve different flavour of your marmalade depending on what type of sugar you use.
Do I need to use jam sugar for marmalade?
Citrus fruit generally has higher amount of pectin (than for example soft fruit), which means that you don’t really need a specialist jam sugar.
If you have jam sugar, by all means use it. You’ll achieve a perfect set without any problems, but jams sugars can be a bit pricey and you might not always find it in your local shop.
I don’t usually bother with special jam sugars, but I do have liquid pectin, if I feel that the marmalade is not setting properly.
What’s is the best substitute for jam sugar for marmalade making?
White cube sugar
Light brown sugar
+ any mix of the sugars above.
The more white type of sugar you will have in your mix the lighter the flavour is going to be.
Can you use demerara sugar in marmalade?
Yes, you can. Your marmalade will have extra darker colour and flavour as a result. A few tablespoons of whisky will work with the orange flavours and caramelised sugar perfectly and the final marmalade makes a great gift.
If you would like to have a marmalade with a deeper flavour, you can substitute some of the sugar in recipe for brown, Demerara or mollases sugars.
Depending on which one you use you get deeper and darker flavour. Don’t be tempted to use only molasses or very dark sugar unless you want the final marmalade flavour to be closer to a treacle than to a breakfast preserve!
Can I reduce the amount of sugar in marmalade?
It’s very difficult to make seville orange marmalade without the full amount of sugar that the recipe suggest. Your marmalade simply won’t set very well and the taste will be very bitter.
If you’d like to reduce the amount of sugar in your marmalade I would suggest to make a jam instead, where you can get away with either reducing the amount of sugar or swapping it around for a different type of sugar altogether.
You can also make various fruit curds, which usually use 50% or less amount of sugar than marmalade or jams and you can even reduce the sugar further if you adapt the recipe.
My marmalade is too sweet, what can I do?
That’s a tricky one! Ideally you need to know how much extra sugar you’ve added in to be able to tell how much extra fruit or sugar-less marmalade you need to make up to even out the mixture.
If you’ve added just a little too much sugar, you can add lemon juice to bring down the sweetness a bit.
If you’ve made a mistake and added say double the amount of sugar, it’s difficult to do anything else than to make another batch of marmalade (or just half if your marmalade is just a little bit sweet) without sugar and bring both marmalades together and re-boil them to achieve an even set and flavour.
If you don’t have any more citrus fruits to make more marmalade, I would probably leave the marmalade alone, pour it into a large container and use it for something else.
It would make a great baking ingredients, addition to sauces for game meat, adding to the festive mince pies or using it as a sweetener instead of sugar for lemon or fruit tea. You could also turn it into an orange ganache filling, bake orange marmalade brownies or use the sugary marmalade in breakfast pancakes.
Do I need to warm up my sugar for marmalade?
The idea behind warming up sugar before you pour it into the softened peel and boiling water is that the sugar dissolves quickly and that it doesn’t cool down the marmalade too much (and therefore slows down the boiling process).
I have to say, that I’ve never bothered to warm up my sugar and never had any problems with setting, cooking or finishing my marmalade the way I wanted it.
If you want to warm up your sugar, the best way to do this is to place the sugar on clean shallow baking tray and put it in the oven on 50 C (very low) for about 10 minutes. You want the sugar to be warm, but not too make it hot, so that the sugar starts to melt.
MARMALADE MAKING EQUIPMENT
What equipment do I need for marmalade making?
If you are going to make marmalade once a year, you can probably get away with using a large stock pot or saucepan, but if you are thinking of marmalade or jam making in a more serious way, a proper marmalade pan is a must.
Thermometer is also important to take the guesswork out of working out when the marmalade is set. (This is about 105-110 C)
QUESTIONS ABOUT THE MARMALADE MAKING PROCESS
How long to boil marmalade before it sets?
If you’ve measured everything correctly, marmalade usually takes about 10-15 minutes to reach the setting point (about 105C).
This of course depends on how big batch of marmalade you are making. Most of my recipes start with 500g of fruit, which take about 10 minutes to reach the setting point.
Marmalade setting point
The thermometer will tell you when you reach the setting point for your marmalade (about 110 C), but that doesn’t mean that the marmalade will set properly. You need to follow the steps bellow to make sure you achieve the perfect set on you marmalade.
How do you test your marmalade?
Depending on the volume of your marmalade liquid and the amount of pectin, the marmalade might be ready when it reaches 110C, but it might also not be!
That’s why I always do the ‘wrinkle test’. Before you begin your marmalade making place 2-3 small plates in the fridge. When your marmalade has reached the setting point temperature, turn off the heat and add a little of the marmalade to the cold plate.
Place it back to the fridge and if in 5 minutes the mixture is set, the whole marmalade is ready to be potted. You know when it’s set when you run a finger over the surface and you get a few wrinkles as you push the marmalade.
If the marmalade is not wrinkling and it looks a bit watery or runny, just turn the heat back on and boil for another 5 minutes. Test again and see…
How do I know that my marmalade is set?
To make sure that your marmalade will set once you pour it into your jam jars, it needs to set during the testing phase.
To test your marmalade follow the step by step process above. If the marmalade resists a little when pushed with your finger and creates sort of wrinkles, then the whole batch is fine and you are ready to pot your marmalade.
If the marmalade is too runny and doesn’t wrinkle or hardens a little on the plate, return the whole batch back to boil and boil for another 5 minutes and then test again.
How long does it take for marmalade to set?
Once you pour or spoon your marmalade into your jars and seal it, your marmalade will start to set. This process is initially slow as the marmalade needs to cool down first.
Once the marmalade jars cool down completely, your marmalade should be set and you can start to use. So, this part of the process can take about 60-120 minutes, depending on how big or small your jars are.
The marmalade process will continue for the next 12-24 hrs and you might notice that the marmalade is getting slightly firmer.
How do I fix runny marmalade?
The good news is that it is possible to fix runny marmalade – I’ve already written a whole article about how to achieve the perfect marmalade set and how to troubleshoot runny marmalade.
Can you overcook marmalade?
Yes, unfortunately, it’s possible to overcook marmalade, so you need to be careful.
Ideally you want to make sure that your marmalade is thick enough to set, but not to get to the stage where the sugar starts to caramelise and the orange peel becomes crystalised.
Why is my marmalade cloudy ?
Sometimes you might end up with air bubbles and marmalade scum on top of your marmalade as you finish boiling it. To disperse this (as the scum/air bubbles are not particularly pretty when they set in the jar), wait for the marmalade to cool down a little before potting up.
A teaspoon (or so) of dairy butter added to the marmalade as you switch off the hop also helps as well as simply scooping out the excess scum and throwing it away.
Cloudy marmalade can be also caused by using the whole method of marmalade making, where you first boil the fruit whole and then shred or cut the peel. This results in slightly cloudy set, than if you follow the traditional method of cutting the peel first.
The cloudiness doesn’t effect the flavour of your marmalade, just the way it looks.
Why is my marmalade so dark?
This is usually if the marmalade is boiled for too long (it’s possibly over cooked) or because you’ve used brown or dark sugar (or unrefined sugar).
It can also happen if you’ve measured your water incorrectly (didn’t add enough of water), but followed the recipe and boiled the marmalade for the same amount of time (essentially too long).
The good news is that as long as the marmalade flavour is fine (as in, it’s not overly bitter), there is nothing to worry about. Just make sure that the marmalade will set fine and pot it as normally.
How do I get the perfect peel distribution in my marmalade?
To get the perfect finish on your marmalade and not to get all your peel sinking to the bottom of the jar, wait about 5 minutes before you pot your marmalade.
The marmalade thickens a little and will be able to hold the peel suspended in the jar, rather than letting it to gather at the bottom.
QUESTIONS ABOUT MARMALADE STORAGE
How long does marmalade last?
Homemade marmalade last up to 2 years in a sealed and sterilised jam jars.
How long does marmalade last in the fridge?
Once opened, you should keep your marmalade in the fridge. Most shop bought marmalades are recommended to be eaten within 2 weeks, but I’ve never had any problems with keeping my marmalade in the fridge for much longer than that. 2-4 weeks as minimum.
Can you freeze marmalade?
I’m not entirely sure why you would want to freeze marmalade in the first place, but hey, whatever floats your boat!
The only reason, why this question might come up, is if you don’t have suitable jam jars that would keep your marmalade from spoiling. In that case, it’s actually a smart thing to freeze your marmalade and keep it for later.
Just make sure that you pour the marmalade first into a heat proof container (plastic), leave it to cool down and then place it to a freezer save container.
Putting a glass jar of marmalade into freezer is not exactly a smart idea as the glass can contract and expland in the coldness of your freeze and could possibly break.
I’d also suggest splitting the recipe amount into smaller containers unless you are a Paddington Bear and eat a lot of orange marmalade in one go!
Once your marmalade is frozen, it will keep for a minimum of 6-12 months. When you want to use your frozen marmalade, just take it from the freezer few hours beforehand. If you have the time, leave the marmalade to defrost overnight in the fridges or leave the container in the room temperature to warm up slowly.
Does marmalade go off?
If your marmalade jars are sterilised, potted and sealed properly, you shouldn’t have any problems with keeping your marmalade for 1-2 years.
But, if the jar lid is not sealed properly, you might get air coming, which can cause bacteria growth. It’s a good idea to check all your marmalade jars once in a while, to make sure that there is no mould.
If you do spot mould in your marmalade, then make sure that you deal with it straightaway. Some people are convinced that it’s not healthy to eat marmalade that got mould, but I’d say it depends on how much of the mould you have.
If it’s just a little bit, I’d removed a good thick layer of the marmalade and then tasted (snifted first) if the marmalade taste O.K. If it does smell and taste fine, then I’d normally use the marmalade.
But that’s just me, if you have a sensitive digestive system, you might not want to risk it.
QUESTIONS ABOUT MARMALADE FLAVOUR
Why is my marmalade bitter?
First of all if you are making a seville orange marmalade, your marmalade will be on the bitter side, but that’s exactly how it ment to be!
But if you find that your marmalade is very bitter that’s probably because you’ve left to much white pith in the orange peel.
If you prefer a lighter marmalade, peel of as much as you can of the white rind as you are preparing your oranges.
Another suggestion for a sweater marmalade is to use normal oranges, tangerines or clementines, which has a very mild taste.
How can I flavour my marmalade?
I love the traditional Seville Marmalade and you can’t really go wrong with leaving the recipe as it is.
If you wanted to add a hint of flavour to the existing recipe, here are my flavour suggestions that work with most Seville Oranges and citrus fruit marmalades.
Add the flavourings, spices or extra ingredients right at the end of your marmalade making process, when you’ve tested the marmalade and taken it off the heat.
Whisky Marmalade – add 3-4 tablespoons of whisky depending on how strong you want the flavour to be
Brandy Marmalade – add 3-4 tablespoons of brandy depending on how strong you want the flavour to be
Gin Marmalade – add 3-4 tablespoons of gin depending on how strong you want the flavour to be. Gin works best with Lemon Marmalde or Lime Marmalade. You can also add gin spice to infuse the marmalade for few minutes (but remove it before potting). You can use the gin spice to infuse the water first and then pour it through a fine sieve to make sure that no spice bits stay in the marmalade.
This blog post was originally written on 4 January 2018 and last tested and updated on 25 January 2023