Reducing Sugar in Food Preservation

Freezer Jam

Role of Sugar in Our Diets

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that Americans eat high amounts of added sugar in their diet, on average 17 teaspoons per day. Added sugars are considered to be any sugar source that is not naturally occurring in a food; however, this does not mean that all sugars are unhealthy.

Sugars are carbohydrates (also referred to as carbs) and our bodies need carbohydrates to function properly. Carbohydrates are the main energy source for our bodies and many carbohydrate containing foods contain nutrients that are essential to our health. A healthy intake of carbohydrates should be 45-65% of our daily energy. In other words, just over half of our calories for the day should come from carbohydrates. There are two general categories of carbohydrates simple and complex.

  • Simple carbohydrates which include refined sugars like granulated sugar, brown sugar corn syrup, honey, etc.
  • Complex carbohydrates include starches and are found in vegetables (like potatoes), grains, and pastas.

The average American eats more added sugar than is recommended for health because simple carbohydrates are a major part of processed foods. When individuals eat processed foods on a regular basis, they consume large amounts of added sugar without even recognizing the amount they are eating.

Overconsumption of added sugar can increase the risk of health problems. Approximately 60% of American adults have one or more diet-related chronic diseases. These can include hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease.

Reducing the amount of added sugar in our diets can have a positive effect on preventing disease, and improving symptoms of chronic disease, which is why the World Health Organization encourages individuals to decrease the amount of added sugar they eat.

In addition, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that we eat whole foods most often and eat processed foods sparingly. Whole foods are foods that have undergone minimal processing and include whole grain carbohydrates like oats, whole wheat bread, and brown rice. These whole grains add more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients to our diet than processed foods do. They also contain very little, if any, added sugar.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans also emphasizes that our goal should not be to cut all sugar out of our diets, but that we limit the amount of “added sugar” we consume to less than 10% of our daily calories. Food labels on packages can serve as a tool to help us know the amount of added sugar we are eating in our diet. All Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved food labels require that added sugar be listed. It is important to note that this does not only include granulated sugar, but any other sweetener like honey, syrups, and juice concentrates.

Role of Sugar in Food Preservation

Because of the need to reduce sugar in our diets, many individuals are interested in reducing sugar in home preserved foods. For many home food preservation recipes, this may not be as easy as changing the amount or type of sweetener used to preserve food. This article will provide science-based recommendations for reducing added sugar in recipes and provide advice and caution for topics that are lacking significant research information.

Sugar is used as a preservative and flavor enhancer in fruit and certain vegetable products. These types of products include whole and halved fruit, relishes, pickles, jams and jellies. When preserving fruit, sugar is often used to make a syrup that the fruit is submerged and bottled in. The syrup adds flavor and changes the texture of the final product but does not play a role in the actual safety of the fruit. Because of this, syrups can range from very light, at only ten percent sugar concentration, to heavy at 60 percent sugar concentration. Jams and Jellies are more dependent on sugar as a preservative. In this case, sugar will determine the texture and consistency of the product. It is relatively simple to reduce or cut sugar when preserving fruit, but not when making jams and jellies.

Reducing Sugar in Jams/Jellies: With and Without Pectin

When making a well-set flavorful jam or jelly, the quality of the final product depends on four ingredients: fruit, acid, pectin, and sugar. Fruit naturally contains a compound called pectin, which is a gelling agent that becomes more available when fruit is cooked for long periods of time. It is possible to make jams and jellies without adding pectin, but adding commercial pectin improves the quality, or set, of the jam or jelly in a shorter amount of time. Whether you choose to use pectin or not, it is possible to substitute some of the sugar in the recipe with light corn syrup or honey, which will result in changing the flavor.

To substitute sugar for corn syrup or honey see below.

When using commercial pectin:

  • Half of the sugar required by the recipe can be replaced with light corn syrup.
  • Honey can replace up to two cups of sugar for recipes that make seven or more half pints.
  • Honey can replace one cup of sugar recipes that make six or less half pints.

When using non-pectin recipes

  • Substitute a quarter of the sugar called for by the recipe with light corn syrup or honey.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends using the tested recipes provided in the pectin package. Using the recipe for the pectin will improve the chances your jam/jelly will set as desired. Since pectin needs sugar to gel properly, it is important to use the recommended amount of sugar listed for each recipe. To reduce sugar in jams and jellies with added pectin use a pectin specifically made for no sugar or reduced sugar recipes. The pectin used for low or no-sugar jams are researched and tested for success and will produce a satisfactory product without large amounts of sugar. Be sure to follow the recipe included with the pectin without making additional modifications.

Fruit varies in the amount of natural pectin it contains which means different fruits will produce different outcomes based on their pectin content. Also, the time a fruit spread takes to set can vary between batches. If canning jam/jelly without added pectin and reducing sugar, it is likely that your end product will be more syrup-like than solid despite the length of time the product is cooked. Without commercial pectin your product depends on the natural pectin in the fruit to gel and the natural pectin cannot gel well without sugar. The effect for the jam/jelly is the same whether it is processed in a water-bath or stored as freezer jam.

Unflavored gelatin can be used as an alternative to pectin to thicken jams and jellies. Gelatin will form a gel with less sugar; however, sugar will directly affect how tender the gel is. Also, jams and jellies made with gelatin need to be stored in the refrigerator, they cannot be processed and stored at room temperature. Splenda (sucralose) can be used as a sweetener of jam or jelly if using a no-sugar added pectin. The sucralose will add sweetness, but it will not help a gel to form.

Jams/jellies made with less sugar can be processed and sealed, but they will have a shorter shelf life, generally 6 months instead of 1 year. The action of sugar as a preservative binds water to the sugar molecule which prevents the growth of molds and other microorganisms. When sugar is reduced in a jam or jelly recipe there is more water available for microbial growth and the product will spoil in a shorter amount of time.

Jams/Jellies made with Splenda (sucralose) should be stored in the refrigerator (for up to 1 month) to keep them from spoiling. Sucralose adds sweetness to a jam/jelly, but it does not bind water like sugar does. Low sugar, no sugar, or artificially sweetened jams/jellies store best in the freezer, up to 1 year.

Reducing Sugar in Preserving Whole/Halved Fruit 

When it comes to simply reducing the overall sugar in a home preserved fruit product, we are referring to preserving just the fruit, not jams or jellies. In this process it is important to factor in the desired quality of your end product. Adding less sugar to a syrup when preserving fruit can result in mushy texture, muted color, and distorted shape. The USDA has an option for preserving fruit with water or fruit juice which will likely affect the quality of the fruit, but fruit preserved in water or fruit juice is still safe to eat. Flavor can also be affected, but most of the time fruit is sweet enough and will still be pleasant to eat.

Methods for preserving with less or no sugar include using plain water, juice extracted from the fruit itself, bottled unsweetened juice, or juice/water that has been sweetened with an alternative sweetener. Using ascorbic acid pre-treatment can help retain some appearance and integrity of the product. Follow directions on the ascorbic acid package to determine how much to use.

To extract juice from the fruit to use as canning liquid, crush thoroughly ripe fruit, add a small amount of water, and bring to a boil over low heat. Strain through a clean cloth, then pour over juice over the jarred fruit. Fruit might also be packed with the addition of unsweetened juice from another fruit for an interesting contrast in flavor. Pears canned in unsweetened pineapple juice and peaches canned in unsweetened orange juice are two examples. Note that if both the fruit and the fruit juice are consumed, the amount of sugar ingested is higher, albeit lower than if you used canning syrup.

Alternative Sweeteners

Regarding alternative sweeteners, know your motivation behind reducing sugar. Alternatives will have different nutritional value but can have just as many calories as table sugar. Different sweeteners will also have different sweetness levels, which makes it possible to use less, reducing calories in the food. However, it is important to know that not all sweeteners are appropriate for canning. These factors and more are detailed in Table 1.

Alternative sweeteners fall into two categories, nutritive and non-nutritive. Nutritive sweeteners can be absorbed and provide energy (calories) to our bodies. Non-nutritive sweeteners are not absorbed by our bodies and don’t provide energy, they are commonly referred to as non-caloric sweeteners. The sweeteners discussed in this article are not an exhaustive list, but a collection of several of the most frequently used. Nutritive sweeteners include honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, agave, and aspartame. Non-nutritive include sucralose, saccharin, stevia, and monk fruit.

TABLE 1: List of Frequently Used Alternative Sweeteners


Sweetness compared to sucrose

Heat Stable

Calories per gram

Common Brand Names

Recommended for Canning


(Table sugar)










Fruit Juice, fruit fructose, fruit sugar, levulose


Acesulfame K




Sunett® and Sweet One®


Light Corn Syrup





Light Corn Syrup



200 x



Equal® Nutrasweet®



600 x






200 to 700x



Sweet and Low®, Sweet Twin®, Necta Sweet®



200 to 400x

Up to 200 C


Truvia®, Sweetleaf®, Pure Via®

Only in jams and jellies when using no-sugar pectin













Maple Syrup






Monk Fruit (Luo Han Guo, or swindle fruit)

100 to 250 x



Lakanto®, Whole Earth®, So Nourished®


Many of these are sweeter than sucrose, or table sugar, but not all of them perform the same way in food. When preserving food, the concern about using alternative sweeteners is with heat and acidity stability. Aspartame does not retain its sweetness when heated and will ruin your preserved product if used. Saccharin can also get more bitter when heated. These sweeteners can still be a great addition to a product if added after preserving and before eating. To do so, simply preserve the fruit using a low/no sugar syrup then sprinkle the artificial sweetener on the fruit before eating.

Other sweeteners like Stevia and sucralose (Splenda®) do hold up under heat. However, products made with sucralose are the only ones currently approved by the USDA for food preservation. More research needs to be done to understand the effects that an alternative sweetener can have on the acidity of a canned product. Using sucralose to preserve fruit will change the flavor of the fruit but it will not preserve texture, shape, or color like sugar will.

Any of the sweeteners listed in Table 1 can be used to sweeten jams, jellies, and other fruit products– but not all of them can be stored safely even if they are processed according to approved preservation techniques. Monk fruit is a good example of this fact.

Monk fruit is a non-nutritive sweetener, but commercially available monk fruit contains fillers or bulking agents as well as the sweetener. These compounds can buffer and change the pH of a product, making it impossible to know whether the acidity of the preserved product is safe for room temperature storage. Furthermore, many alternative sweeteners available commercially are not consistent in the amount of ingredients they contain from brand to brand, making it difficult to provide blanket statements on the safety of using these sweeteners for food preservation. Most approved recipes require that jams/jellies prepared with an alternative sweetener be refrigerated during storage, and the shelf life of these jams and jellies is much lower (generally 6 months or less) than those prepared with regular sugar.

Safety and Desirability of Artificial Sweeteners 

All the sweeteners highlighted in this article are approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States and are safe to be eaten by humans.

Freezing and Drying 

Use of sugar substitutes in freezing and drying will be similar to the results produced during canning. Sugar helps to retain flavor and texture using any type of food preservation technique. Sugar substitutes will help with flavor but will not have an effect on texture.




April Litchford, Extension Assistant Professor
Lexie Hart, Home and Community Intern
Melanie Jewkes, Extension Professor

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