The Real Reason You Need To Add Lemon To Homemade Strawberry Jam

It's both a blessing and a curse that fragile fruits like strawberries are in season as briefly as they are. Though we can find fresh strawberries in the grocery store year-round, there's nothing like berries that are locally grown. A trip to your nearest pick-your-own farm can set you up with not only all the fresh strawberries you can eat, but it can put you in a position to preserve that sun-ripened goodness by making strawberry jam.

Making jam may seem old-fashioned or labor intensive, but it's much, much easier than you'd think. In fact, this easy strawberry jam recipe only contains four ingredients, and it's pretty darn close to foolproof. If you're looking for a fun and easy way to experiment, check your grocery store for some of the new varieties of Driscoll's strawberries, like Rosé, Sweetest Batch, and Tropical Bliss. Once you've procured your strawberries, you'll notice that two of the four ingredients in the recipe are lemon juice and lemon zest. Don't omit them! There's a very good reason that lemon is a central ingredient in jam.

Lemon provides both acidity and pectin

According to Pick Your Own, pectin occurs naturally in fruits, but in varying levels. When pectin is heated with sugar (as in the jam-making process,) it causes the mixture to gel or set, which is exactly what you're looking for when you're making strawberry jam. Acidity levels also vary among different fruits, and the perfect jam has a balance of both sweetness and acidity. Pick Your Own's pectin concentration chart shows that some fruits supply enough of their own natural acidity and pectin to set as jam, while others, like strawberries, need added acid and pectin.

And that's why lemon zest and juice are so important in making homemade strawberry jam. Not only does the lemon juice add just the right amount of acidity to balance out the sweetness of your strawberries, but the zest also provides plenty of pectin to set your jam. One tip from The Kitchn recommends adding lemon wedges while you simmer the jam to ensure it sets. Just remember to pull the wedges out before you put the jam in a jar!