Can jelly be sugar free?

Jelly is a sweet, jiggly fruit spread that is made by boiling fruit juice and sugar together until thickened. The natural pectin in the fruit juice allows the jelly to set into a gel-like consistency. Jelly is a staple breakfast condiment and is often used to complement foods like peanut butter sandwiches, scones, biscuits, and more. While classic jelly recipes call for substantial amounts of sugar to create the familiar sweet flavor and texture, some dieters and diabetics wish they could enjoy jelly without all the added sugar. This raises an important question – can you make jelly without sugar or with artificial sweeteners? Let’s take a closer look at how sugar affects the jelly making process and whether it’s possible to create a reduced-sugar or completely sugar-free jelly.

The Role of Sugar in Jelly

Sugar plays several important roles in classic jelly recipes:

  • Sweetness – Sugar is added to jelly to balance out the natural tartness of the fruit juice and achieve the expected sweet flavor.
  • Texture – Sugar enables jelly to set up into a pleasantly firm, spreadable consistency. The sugar particles interact with fruit pectin during the cooking process to create the jelly’s characteristic jiggle.
  • Preservation – The high sugar content of jellies helps prolong their shelf life by preventing spoilage and mold growth.
  • Mouthfeel – Sugar contributes body and thickness to the jelly.

These effects are difficult to replicate without using at least some amount of real sugar. However, there are some alternatives that allow you to reduce the sugar substantially or create sugar-free jelly.

Low Sugar or No Sugar Jelly Options

There are a few different options for creating reduced-sugar or sugar-free jelly:

Use Sugar Substitutes

You can substitute part or all of the sugar in a jelly recipe with lower calorie sweeteners such as:

  • Aspartame
  • Sucralose
  • Saccharin
  • Stevia
  • Monk fruit extract

These will provide sweetness without significantly increasing the calorie content. However, sugar substitutes may not set up the jelly as firm or contribute as much to the texture. Using a blend of sugar and sugar substitutes can help offset this.

Increase Pectin Content

Since natural fruit pectin is what causes jelly to set up, you can often use less sugar if you increase the pectin level. Some ways to do this include:

  • Adding pectin powder or liquid pectin
  • Cooking fruit peels and cores along with the juice
  • Using fruits naturally high in pectin like crab apples or gooseberries
  • Adding a small amount of a high-pectin fruit like apples to other fruit juices

The additional pectin can help the jelly set properly with less sugar. However, the texture may not be quite as firm.

Replace Some Sugar with Syrups

You can replace some of the granulated sugar in jelly with liquid sweeteners like fruit juice concentrates, agave nectar, or honey. This reduces the amount of refined sugar, although these syrups still contain sugars with calories. Using syrups along with sugar substitutes can help improve the flavor and texture.

Cook to Higher Temperatures

Cooking the jelly mixture to a higher temperature of 220-225°F can sometimes help it set up more firmly with less sugar. However, cooking to a higher temperature for an extended time can alter the fruit flavor and darkness the color.

Accept Softer Textures

If you’re willing to accept a softer, more syrupy texture, you can often make successful low-sugar or sugar-free jellies by using a blend of the strategies above. They may not cut as nice and firm or hold their shape as well, but can still be spreadable and delicious.

Troubleshooting Sugar-Free Jelly

Sometimes sugar-free jellies don’t turn out quite right on the first try. Here are some common issues and how to troubleshoot them:

Jelly Never Sets Up

  • The pectin content may be too low – try adding pectin powder or an extra high-pectin fruit
  • Acid level may be too high – add a small amount of calcium powder or baking soda to raise pH
  • May need to use a sugar and sugar substitute blend for some bulk and texture

Jelly is Stiff and Gummy

  • Pectin levels are too high – use less pectin powder or high-pectin fruits next time
  • Could have overcooked – cook to lower final temperature
  • Consider adding small amount of sugar or syrup for texture

Jelly is Runny

  • Pectin levels insufficient – add a pectin booster or try cooking fruit peels/cores
  • May need to cook to higher final temperature
  • Can try adding a small amount of gelatin to help set

Jelly Has Poor Flavor

  • Artificial sweeteners imparting off-flavors – try different sweeteners
  • Fruit juice is bitter – blending with milder juice can improve flavor
  • Overcooked – shorter cook times preserve fruit flavors
  • Not enough acid – add small amounts of lemon juice to boost

Jelly Mold or Fermentation

  • Store in refrigerator and use clean utensils
  • Process in a hot water bath to seal jars properly
  • Use potassium sorbate or sodium benzoate to prevent mold
  • Avoid using bruised or overripe fruit

Sugar-Free Jelly Recipe

Once you understand the function of sugar in jelly and some substitution options, you can experiment with your own reduced-sugar jelly recipes. Here is one recipe to try as a starting point:


  • 3 cups fruit juice (raspberry, strawberry, peach, etc.)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1⁄4 cup sweetener (stevia, erythritol, etc.)
  • 1 Tbsp unflavored gelatin powder
  • 1⁄2 tsp calcium chloride (optional)


  1. Combine fruit juice, lemon juice and sweetener in a saucepan. Sprinkle gelatin over top and let soften 5 minutes.
  2. Heat mixture over medium, stirring frequently, until gelatin dissolves completely and mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in calcium chloride if using. Pour into jars or containers.
  4. Refrigerate 4-6 hours until set. Store leftovers in refrigerator.

This sugar-free jelly may have a softer set than traditional jelly. Feel free to adjust sweetener, gelatin and cook times to suit your taste preferences. Be sure to use clean utensils and jars for mold prevention. Enjoy your delicious reduced-sugar fruit spreads!

Nutrition Facts of Low Sugar Jelly

Removing added sugar from jelly reduces its calorie content substantially compared to traditional full-sugar jelly. Here is a nutrition comparison of 1 tablespoon regular vs. low sugar strawberry jelly:

Nutrition Facts Regular Jelly (with sugar) Low Sugar Jelly (with sucralose)
Calories 50 15
Total Carbohydrates 13g 4g
Sugars 12g 0g
Protein 0g 1g

As you can see, the low sugar jelly contains far fewer calories and carbohydrates, and no sugar. This makes it a better choice for anyone monitoring their sugar intake.

Benefits of Low Sugar Jelly

Choosing reduced-sugar or sugar-free jelly offers several benefits:

  • Fewer calories – less sugar means lower calorie intake
  • Better for diabetes – won’t spike blood sugars as much
  • Less impact on teeth – decreased risk of cavities
  • More options on carb/sugar restricted diets like keto
  • Still enjoy jelly without the added sugar!

While it does take some trial and error to perfect sugar-free jelly, the results are worth it for the health benefits.

Storing and Serving Sugar Free Jelly

Sugar-free jellies have a shorter shelf life than traditional high-sugar jellies. Follow these tips for storing and serving your low sugar jellies:

  • Refrigerate after opening
  • Eat within 2-3 weeks for best quality and freshness
  • Store in airtight containers
  • Use clean utensils to avoid contamination
  • Discard if mold develops
  • Consider freezing in portion sizes for longer storage
  • Shake or stir before serving if liquid separates

Enjoy sugar-free jellies fresh on toast, scones, peanut butter sandwiches, or even as part of a meat glaze or sauce for chicken. The possibilities are endless once you learn how to make great tasting jelly without all the added sugar!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is sugar absolutely necessary to make jelly set up properly?

No, sugar is not absolutely required to make jelly set, but it does help the jelly form a firmer gel and achieve the right spreadable texture. Sugarless jellies can be made with the aid of pectin, gelatin, gums, or adjusting cooking methods. However, the texture is often softer.

What’s the best alternative sweetener for jelly?

Stevia and erythritol tend to work well in reduced-sugar jellies, as they dissolve easily in the fruit juice mixture. Aspartame can also work but may lend a slightly bitter aftertaste. Monk fruit or sucralose are also good options. Using a blend of sweeteners can help mimic sugar’s effects.

Can I use gelatin to make jelly without added sugar?

Yes, gelatin can help sugar-free jelly set up more firmly. Sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder into the fruit juice and allow to soften and dissolve thoroughly. Gelatin provides structure when pectin content is low.

Do you have to use commercial pectin to make sugar free jelly?

No, you can boost the natural pectin in the fruit juice by cooking crushed fruit cores, peels, and skins or combining juices together. Adding a tart apple juice high in pectin also helps jelly set up without added pectin.

How long does opened sugar-free jelly last in the fridge?

An opened sugar-free jelly will generally last 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator. Make sure to store it in an airtight container and inspect for mold before eating. The shelf life is shorter than traditional high-sugar jelly.


Creating great tasting jelly without loads of added sugar is absolutely possible with a little creativity and patience. While sugar-free jellies may be softer in texture than their sugary counterparts, they offer the benefit of reducing calories, carbohydrates, and blood sugar impact. With options like artificial sweeteners, added pectin, gelatin, and thickening hydrocolloids, even people with dietary restrictions don’t have to miss out on enjoying flavorful fruit spreads. Sugar-free jellies open up a whole new world of sweet breakfast and snack options for those looking to reduce their sugar intake.

Leave a Comment