Create Your Own Signature Jam By Mixing and Matching Flavors

It’s unofficial Preserve Week here at Northwest Edible Life. I know because my floor is sticky with canning syrup and my refrigerator smells like pickle brine. It’s hard for me to think of anything else but putting food by right now, so I’m going to be talking jams and pickles all week long. I hope you enjoy this week’s line up of preserving posts.

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Adding Zing To Your Jam

There is nothing wrong with a jam that has nothing but fruit, sugar and a bit of lemon in it. The sublime simplicity of pure strawberry has a lot going for it, for example. But when you are ready to get creative with jam making, it is possible to turn a simple fruit preserve into something of a food statement. All you need to do is add a bit of flavor zing to enhance the fruit.

Then you start to develop flavors like…

  • Pear with Ginger and Rum
  • Strawberry with Black Pepper and Balsamic
  • Sweet Cherry with Mint and Kirsch
  • Nectarine with Lime and Cointreau
  • Plum with Cardamom and Port Wine
  • Apricot with Vanilla and Earl Grey Tea

I tend to think of jam flavoring options as either Dry Zings or Wet Zings. Dry Zings include ground spices, citrus zests or dried herbs and are typically added in small quantity towards the beginning of the jam-cooking process. Wet Zings are liquids like alcohols and liquors, vinegars, maple syrup or citrus juices. They are added in slightly larger volume and are added towards the end of jam making to keep their flavors bright.

I have found that adding one Dry Zing and one complimentary Wet Zing to my basic preserve tends to give me just the right level of creative, appealing flavor without getting into that land of “yeah, that’s just…too much” that can happen when too many flavors are competing. However, just adding either a dry or wet zing is a great way to dip your toe into the world of Signature Jams, too.

I’ve been putting together a remarkably geekish list detailing Dry Zing and Wet Zing options by fruit. These are flavors that will, when used in appropriate quantity and paired appropriately, taste good with the fruit they are supporting.

The list is by no means exhaustive, it’s just my opinion on what spices and herbs and alcohols one can add to particular fruit preserves. It focuses on the fruits I preserve as jams most, and so does not include things like citrus or tropical fruits, which are rarely available in my area except through traditional (expensive-ish) commercial channels.

Do yourself a favor and don’t try to combine multiple spices and boozes like some sort of crazed Swedish Chef of jam making until you have a few solid crowd pleasers, like Blueberry-Cinnamon or Apricot with Nutmeg and Bourbon or Blackberry with Lemon Zest and Grand Marnier under your belt.

Then you can start to really have fun and experiment with some more unusual flavors, like Strawberry with Cocoa and Framboise or Pear with Curry and Maple Syrup or Apple with Rosemary and Calvados.

Get the full, printable .pdf version of this chart for free on the Downloadables page.

Tomorrow I’ll be giving step-by-step instructions on how to incorporate Dry Zing and Wet Zing flavor options into pectin-free jam making. I hope you’ll come back to see how to ditch the pectin box and really become the master of your own jam recipe.

What’s your favorite custom jam flavor? Do you have a family favorite?


  1. Brandi D. says

    I’m not much of a jam maker, but this years I made a Blackberry Coriander Honey jam that was pretty great. I didn’t make nearly enough!

    • says

      If you download the full chart there is a key. Basically + = classic combo; * = strong flavor; use carefully; ^ = daring flavor; not for beginners.

  2. says

    Oh! How awesome is this!! I just happen to be making Lavender-Blackberry Jam today (8/13) so thanks for the encouragement that someone else will be standing over a big pot of hot water.

  3. says

    This is great! I’m new to the whole jam making thing, but after a wildly successful batch of blackberry, I got bitten the jam making bug! This past weekend, I helped my daughter with batches of spicy peach jam, and now we’re both thinking, “Okay…what type of jam shall we make next?” This list is perfect!

  4. Jessica Parsons says

    Erica- Thanks for putting such a useful list together for all of us to try our hand at being more gourmet with our jams! Looking forward to the pectin-free recipes too!

  5. says

    I recently found your site and am so excited that I did! I need to make some ground cherry jam — would you have any suggestions on wet & dry zing for ground cherries? I would have gone with pineapple as the main flavor, but that wasn’t an option. I’m very excited by the idea of playing with my jams.
    Thanks so much!

  6. says

    Back when mom was making jam she’d make raspberry vanilla and blackberry vanilla, and they were simply wonderful. No other jams compare. Also, the most beautiful jelly is red currant, the jars are radiant red, bright and clear, and they shine like rubies.

  7. Wynn says

    The link to the email sign up is wrong. It takes me to the August garden tour post. Would you mind doing a post on your grocery budget pre and post gardening and how much you think you have saved? If not no worries, just thought it would be informative (like everything else you post :)

    • says

      Hi Wynn, thanks for letting me know. I have no idea how that happened. Fixed now. I like the idea of a budget post – I will try to work that in to the upcoming rotation. Thanks!

  8. says

    I love the combinations you’ve come up with. My favorite jam to make is actually tomato with garlic and ginger. It’s a sweet/savory mix I put on crackers and things, but also meats. Great with chicken and pork. It resembles a chutney or pickle I guess. Thank you for the chart!

  9. Sande says

    Wow, this sounds amazing but will have to wait as I have not seen apricots at the farmers market for a few weeks now. Maybe I will try with peaches!

  10. che says

    Wow! I have been playing with herbs/spices but hadn’t thought about “wet zing.” I made some peach + sassafras that was great, as well.

  11. says

    Thank you for this and your other jam post– very helpful. I’m beginning to branch out a bit with my jam making now that I feel that I have the basics down. I’m about to make a batch of nectarine with ginger, I think.

  12. says

    In what form do you add lavender? I have lavender plants. Does it have to be a dried? Ground? Do I just toss a sprig in there (I’m guessing no).

  13. says

    P.S. I love this chart and this method! I have 4 boxes of plums from a friend’s tree that I’d like to turn into interesting jam for gift giving this Christmas. This is a brilliant way to make something fun and unique! Thank you!

  14. says

    I love your downloadables AND I have a request. I like to log how much produce comes out of my garden and the standard market prices in our area for said produce. Any chance you have a downloadable for logging weights, etc.??

  15. Lady Banksia says

    I am currently working on a batch of Fuji apple/blackberry (gently cooked and strained of seeds)/Cinnamon Apple Spice Tea. Should be interesting! Thank you for your chart of combinations, too!

  16. says

    What a fantastic idea! Can’t wait to give a few of these a try. My question is: As a homesteader/homemaker with children, how do you manage canning all day? Are they good helpers? Play well by themselves? Go to Grandma’s? Just plain get less done in a day? Curious, as I’m a homesteader without children but considering having one, and would like to be realistic about juggling all of these homesteader tasks with little ones underfoot.

  17. Jennie says

    I found your site a few weeks ago and love it. Thanks so much. I have a recipe for tomatillo lime jam that has tons of sugar in it. Do you see any problems with me using your guidelines in making tomatillo jam?

  18. Mari says

    I’m just writing to thank you for the Flavor Maker Chart because it has been a real godsend for my fruit concoctions! I put one copy in my preserving notebook and taped one to the inside of a cabinet door. I don’t just use it for jam/jelly/fruit butter/marmalade/etc., but for fruit sauces like applesauce, flavoring the syrups for canning fruit, adding “zing” to juice beverages, and even baking – jazzing up fruit crisps, for instance. My favorite creations this summer, thanks to you, have been Blackberry Jam with Rosewater and Vanilla Bean, Five Spice Pear Jam and Five Spice Applesauce, Apple Cider Jelly with Maple Syrup and Rosemary…

    I hope you’ll consider expanding the chart with a few more categories – rhubarb would be a big help, citrus (I once had an orange jam – not a marmalade, an actual jam with the orange pulp in it, although pectin-set – that was smashing on its own but I think back on it and it could be such a great “blank canvas”), pineapple perhaps (I pondered a pineapple jam recently when pineapples were on sale for $1 at a discount produce market), and maybe even tomatoes since sweet tomato-as-fruit preparations like jams and marmalades have taken such a big jump in popularity. I do my best, and thanks to Marisa over at Food In Jars I’ve gotten the hang of “microbatching” to test flavors, but some of your flavor combinations (like the heavenly blackberry and rosewater) are things I’d never have thought of in a million years!

  19. Gina says

    Hi! I just found your blog, and the posts have been super interesting! One of my favorite jam combos is peach with finely slivered kaffir lime leaves. You can always strain out the leaves before jarring if you don’t like their texture. Wonderful cooked with chicken and Thai spices. Thanks for your ideas~

  20. mlaiuppa says

    This year I macerated my apricots (according to the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook) and during the making I steeped a spiceball containing a cinnamon stick, whole cloves, peppercorns and cardamom pods in the jam. After removing it I added bourbon. Best jam I’ve ever made.

    Now I’m looking at a say to jazz up my nectarine jam. I’m looking at lime, ginger, possibly cardamom and maybe Amaretto.

  21. mlaiuppa says

    This year I macerated my apricots (according to the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook) and during the making I steeped a spiceball containing a cinnamon stick, whole cloves, peppercorns and cardamom pods in the jam. After removing it I added bourbon. Best jam I’ve ever made.

    Now I’m looking at a way to jazz up my nectarine jam. I’m looking at lime, ginger, possibly cardamom and maybe Amaretto.

  22. Federal Way Mom says

    So I’ve reached the “experimenting” stage of jam making and your flavor maker chart is an incredible resource. I was just wondering, have you tried all of these flavors/combinations that you’ve listed?
    And if you ever find that you have too much overstock, I’m willing to help you out and take a few jars off your hands. That’s what friends are for, right?

  23. TSandy says

    White nectarines with dry zing mixture of half tsp Korintje cinnamon and half tsp pumpkin pie spice mixed together. The spiced white nectarine flavor was crazy good. We liked it better than the all fruit flavor half batch. I was afraid to do the whole batch spiced but next year I’m branching out to try at least one batch with a vanilla bean cooked into the jam. Then a second batch with the spiced white nectarines again.

    This was my small batch proportion recipe-

    6 cups chopped nectarines, DO NOT PEEL
    3 cups sugar
    4 tablespoons lemon juice
    1 teaspoon spices, of your choice*

  24. Nedia says

    Can this be done with jelly too? Would you add the zing while simmering your fruit? I have a ton of crabapples & am trying to figure out different things to do with them. Oh….and I am new at this whole jam/jelly making thing – aside from a few fond “well, now that we picked them lets see what we can make with them” experiments my father & I tried when I was quite young

  25. Alesia Adams says

    Thanks! I just ran across this today and it is EXACTLY what i was looking for! thanks for sharing. I can’t wait to try your method. I’ve been winging it a little with the no pectin method and so far have felt a little like Goldlocks – out of 3 batches one jam was too firm, one was too soft and one was just right!

    thanks again!

  26. Kirsty says

    This is fabulous! Thank you so much, really appreciate your time in putting this together. Inspiring me! Only got ten kilos of plums to play with though…

  27. says

    I love reading through your recipes. Unique flavor combinations for low-sugar jams is what we make at Luna’s Garden. I have a customer who wants hot, hot, hot jalapeno sugar-free jelly. I found a recipe that uses Splenda. I picked the hottest red jalapenos I could find. The fumes and taste of pre-sugared mix indicated I had achieved the hotness I wanted. But after adding in the pectin and sugar and going through the canning process, the finished jam was delicious but it had lost its heat. I wouldn’t even consider it having a mild pepper heat. Have you had any experience with the sugar or sugar substitute taming the heat of peppers in any jellies you may have made?

    Thanks for any input you can give. BTW, I can’t wait for next strawberry season to try out the strawberry, black-pepper and balsamic flavor you have in the article today. It sounds incredible.

    Tina Blakley, Owner
    Luna’s Garden


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