Compote, Tapenade, Chutney, Confit, Curd, Jam and Jelly

Compote, Tapenade, Chutney, Confit, Curd, Jam and Jelly

By: David Wells

In the “jelly” aisle of most grocery stores, glass jars line the shelves and contain foods that may look similar to another, but are used for different purposes. I am often asked to explain these differences, and describe their purposes. Often the lines are blurred, but it is useful to know the original purpose for each product, because quality items are still best suited to their intended use.

Chutney is a pungent relish of Indian origin made of fruit, spices and herbs. Originally, chutney was made and eaten fresh, but now preparations are reduced with sugar and vinegar to provide a suitable shelf life. Mango, pear, apple and onion chutneys have become popular in the U.S., and are used as a condiment for pork, ham, fish and, of course, any curry dish.

Compote is a dessert which originated in France and is made of fruit pieces in sugar syrup. It is served warm or chilled and is usually topped with whipped cream and cinnamon. Dried fruit soaked in water is another preparation, and is common as a Passover food.

Confit derives from the French word “to preserve.” Here, we are referring to the preservation of fruit or vegetables which have been seasoned and cooked in sugar (or honey). Savory confits, such as those with garlic or tomatoes, may be preserved with virgin olive oil. Confits are more difficult to make than a standard jam because the ingredients are cooked or steeped long enough for the flavor to be extracted, but not long enough to break down or liquefy.

Curd is a dessert topping and spread, usually made with citrus fruit or raspberries. The usual ingredients are a mix of egg yolk, sugar, zest and fruit juice, which is gently cooked until thick and then cooled to a soft, smooth, intensely flavored spread.

Jam is usually made from the pulp and juice of a fruit. The fruit is heated with water and sugar to activate the pectin which serves as the gelling agent. Jam has a soft, even consistency (though some contain fruit pieces), a bright color and a good fruit flavor.

Jelly is made by a similar process to that for making jam, with the additional step of filtering out the pulp. Jelly is a clear or translucent spread that can be made from sweet, savory or hot ingredients.

Tapenade originated in Provence, France. The name comes from the Provincial word for capers. The base ingredients are capers and olives finely chopped, crushed or blended, then mixed with olive oil to form a paste. Tapenades are often flavored with regional herbs, anchovies, nuts, lemon juice or brandy. It is usually eaten as an hors d’oeuvre, but is also used to stuff fillets for a main meal.

Pectin occurs naturally in fruit, especially citrus. It is extracted by heat in the cooking process, and is the agent that causes the ingredients to gel when cooled. Pectin is becoming increasingly popular, because it has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels and is a soluble dietary fiber. Commercially produced pectin (usually extracted from citrus) is now often an added ingredient.

Quality products are usually versatile but rely on the original intent when selecting the best product for a specific dish.