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What’s the difference between apple butter and apple preserves?

Apple butter and apple preserves are two popular apple-based spreads that are often confused with each other. While both are made from apples, there are some key differences between the two:

What is Apple Butter?

Apple butter is a spread made by cooking down apples into a thick, sweet concentrate. The apples are mashed into a pulp and slowly simmered for hours until the moisture evaporates, leaving behind a thick, smooth spread.

The main ingredients in apple butter are just apples, sugar, spices, and sometimes apple cider. It often contains warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. The spices and the long cooking time give apple butter a deeper, darker color and a caramelized flavor.

Apple butter has a very thick, smooth texture, almost like a fruit paste. It is spreadable at room temperature but can firm up when chilled. The smooth texture comes from the apples being cooked down to a pulp until the natural pectin thickens the spread.

Compared to other fruit spreads, apple butter has a higher fruit content and not as much added sugar. It has a rich, concentrated apple flavor that is more intense than apple sauce or jam.

Apple butter originated as a way to make use of extra apples from orchards. It has been produced in America since colonial times. Today it is still popularspread, often eaten on bread, biscuits, or muffins.

How Apple Butter is Made

Making apple butter takes patience and time. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Apples are washed, peeled, cored and chopped
  2. The apples are cooked down into a thick pulp or apple sauce
  3. Sugar, spices and sometimes cider are added
  4. The mixture is cooked down very slowly, often for 8+ hours
  5. It is stirred frequently to prevent burning
  6. Cooking continues until nearly all liquid evaporates and it reaches the desired thickness
  7. The apple butter is bottled while still hot

The most time-consuming part is evaporating the moisture to achieve the super thick, spreadable consistency. Slow cooking allows the flavors to meld and become more concentrated.

What are Apple Preserves?

Apple preserves refer to any type of preserved or candied apples. There are a few major types of apple preserves:

  • Apple jam – Made by crushing or chopping apples and cooking briefly with sugar and pectin. Has a soft set texture and may contain apple chunks.
  • Apple jelly – Uses just the juice of the apples cooked with sugar and pectin. Has a clear, jelled, wobbly texture.
  • Spiced apple slices – Apple slices cooked in a sugar syrup with spices. Keeps the apple slices intact.
  • Candied apples – Whole apples coated in sugar syrup and dried. Apples retain their shape.

The goals of these preserves are to extend the shelf life of the apple harvest and deliver the apple flavor in a shelf-stable form. The texture can range from soft to chewy depending on pectin content.

Apple preserves have been made for centuries as a way to enjoy apples year-round before refrigeration. They remain popular today as a sweet treat and an alternative to jelly for peanut butter sandwiches.

How Apple Preserves Are Made

There are some general steps in making the various types of apple preserves:

  1. Apples are washed, peeled, cored and/or chopped
  2. For jams and jellies, the apples are juiced and strained
  3. Sugar and sometimes pectin are added
  4. The mixture is boiled until it thickens and sets
  5. For candied apples, whole apples are boiled in sugar syrup then dried
  6. The preserves are filled into sterile jars or containers while still hot

Cooking times vary based on the type of preserve. Jellies require the shortest cooking time to avoid losing pectin, while candied apples need to be boiled extensively in syrup before drying.

Nutrition Comparison

Both apple butter and apple preserves are high in natural sugar because they need added sugar to help set the fruit. Apple butter has higher fruit content and less added sugar than many jellies or jams. Here is a nutritional comparison:

Nutrition Facts Apple Butter (2 tbsp) Apple Preserves (2 tbsp)
Calories 60 65
Total Carbs 15g 17g
Sugars 12g 15g
Fiber 0.5g 0.3g
Protein 0g 0g

Apple butter has slightly less sugar and more fiber than apple jelly or jam. However, all apple spreads are high in natural sugar from the fruit.

Cost Comparison

Apple butter and apple preserves tend to be around the same price at the grocery store. Here is a cost comparison:

Product Typical cost
Apple butter (12 oz jar) $3.29
Apple preserves/jam (12 oz jar) $3.49
Spiced apple slices (12 oz jar) $3.79
Candied apples (8 oz bag) $5.99

Apple butter is often the least expensive, while candied apple slices or rings cost more since they require more labor. But all types of apple spreads tend to cost around $3-5 per standard sized jar.

Storage and Shelf Life

Both apple butter and preserves are shelf-stable products with a long shelf life. Here is how their storage and shelf life compare:

  • Apple butter – Can be stored for 1-2 years unopened. Refrigerate after opening and use within 4-6 weeks.
  • Apple jam/jelly – Can be stored for 1-2 years unopened. Refrigerate after opening and use within 3-4 weeks.
  • Canned apple slices – Can be stored for 2-3 years unopened. Refrigerate after opening and use within 4-6 weeks.
  • Candied apples – Can be stored for 1 year in a cool, dry place. May harden over time.

The water activity and sugar content allow both apple butter and preserves to remain shelf stable for years if unopened. Refrigeration extends the shelf life for a few more weeks after opening.

Taste Comparison

Apple butter and apple preserves differ most distinctly when it comes to taste:

  • Apple butter – Deep, rich caramelized apple flavor. Complex flavor from spice blend. Very thick, smooth texture.
  • Apple jam – Bright fresh apple taste. Milder flavor. Soft, loose texture with small chunks.
  • Apple jelly – Clear, pure apple juice flavor. Smooth and jelled texture.
  • Spiced apple slices – Warm cinnamon apple flavor. Firm tender texture.
  • Candied apples – Heavily sweet preserved apple flavor. Chewy dried apple rings.

Apple butter stands out for its intense, layered flavors that develop during slow cooking. Preserves have a fresher apple taste and vary in texture depending on type.


Apple butter and apple preserves can both be used in cooking and baking, but they tend to serve different purposes. Some common uses are:

Type Common Uses
Apple Butter – Toast or pancake topping
– Sandwiches
– Baked goods like muffins
– Pork or chicken glaze
Apple Jam – PB&J sandwiches
-Linzer cookies
– Cheeseboard item
Apple Jelly – Toast or biscuit topping
– Glazing ham
– Jelly donuts filling
Spiced Apple Slices – Salad topping
– Cheeseboard item
– Snack
Candied Apples – Cake or cookie decoration
– Snack
– Salad topping

Apple butter’s complex flavor and caramelized notes make it a popular topping for toast or waffles. Apple preserves lend fresh apple taste to sandwiches, charcuterie, and baked goods.

Baking Substitutions

In a pinch, apple butter can be substituted for apple jelly or jam in baking recipes. The moisture content may differ slightly, so adjust the wet ingredients. For best results:

  • Substitute 1 cup apple butter for 1 cup apple jelly/jam
  • Reduce any milk or water in the recipe by 2-4 tablespoons
  • Add an extra 1/2 teaspoon flour or cornstarch if the batter seems too thin

While apple butter works as a substitute, the flavor and texture may not be exactly the same as using jelly or jam in baked goods.

Selection and Storage Tips

When shopping for apple butter or apple preserves, check for the following:

  • Apple butter – Smooth, thick texture. Deep brown color. Fruit should be the first ingredient.
  • Apple jam – Spreadable texture. Bright color. No artificial ingredients.
  • Apple jelly – Clear or translucent appearance. Should jiggle when inverted.
  • Spiced apple slices – Plump moist apples with visible spice flakes.
  • Candied apples – Uniform color and lack of excessive crystallization.

Once opened, apple spreads will last 4-6 weeks in the refrigerator. Discard if mold develops.


Apple butter and apple preserves both provide ways to enjoy apple flavor year-round. Apple butter is characterized by its dark color, caramelized flavor, and ultra-smooth texture. Apple preserves like jam, jelly, and candied apples deliver fresh-picked apple taste with varying textures. While their shelf life and costs are similar, apple butter stands out for its concentrated apple taste. Both can add fruit flavor to a variety of recipes and treats.