Marmalade generally refers to a fruit preserve made from the juice and peel of citrus fruits boiled with sugar and water. It can be produced from kumquats, lemons, limes, grapefruits, mandarins, sweet oranges, bergamots, and other citrus fruits, or any combination of them.

For many decades now, the preferred citrus fruit for marmalade production in the British Isles has been the Spanish Seville orange, Citrus aurantium var. aurantium, prized for its high pectin content, which sets readily to the thick consistency expected of marmalade. The peel imparts a bitter taste.

The term "marmalade" is not precise, universal nor definitive, but unless otherwise stated, marmalade is generally distinguished from jam by its fruit peel. However, it also may be distinguished from jam by the choice of fruit. Historically, the term was more often used in senses other than just citrus conserves.[1]


The Romans learned from the Greeks that quinces slowly cooked with honey would "set" when cool (though they did not know about fruit pectin). Greek μελίμηλον (melimēlon, "honey fruit") transformed into Portuguese marmelo— from the Greek μῆλον (mēlon, "apple") stood for all globular fruits, and most quinces are too astringent to be used without honey. A Roman cookbook attributed to Apicius gives a recipe for preserving whole quinces, stems and leaves attached, in a bath of honey diluted with defrutum—Roman marmalade. Preserves of quince and lemon appear—along with rose, apple, plum and pear—in the Book of ceremonies of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos, "a book that is not only a treatise on the etiquette of imperial banquetting in the ninth century, but a catalogue of the foods available and dishes made from them."[1]

Medieval quince preserves, which went by the French name cotignac, produced in a clear version and a fruit pulp version, began to lose their medieval seasoning of spices in the 16th century. In the 17th century, La Varenne provided recipes for both thick and clear cotignac.[2]

In 1524, Henry VIII received a "box of marmalade" from Mr Hull of Exeter.[3] As it was in a box, this was probably marmelada, a solid quince paste from Portugal, still made and sold in southern Europe. Its Portuguese origins can be detected in the remarks in letters to Lord Lisle, from William Grett, 12 May 1534, "I have sent to your lordship a box of marmaladoo, and another unto my good lady your wife" and from Richard Lee, 14 December 1536, "He most heartily thanketh her Ladyship for her marmalado".[2]

Scottish grocer James Robertson created Golden Shred marmalade in 1864

The English recipe book of Eliza Cholmondeley, dated from 1677 and held at the Chester Record Office in the Cheshire county archivists, has one of the earliest marmalade recipes ("Marmelet of Oranges") which produced a firm, thick dark paste. The Scots are credited with developing marmalade as a spread, with Scottish recipes in the 18th century using more water to produce a less solid preserve.[4]

The first printed recipe for orange marmalade, though without the chunks typically used now, was in Mary Kettilby's 1714 cookery book, A Collection of above Three Hundred Receipts (pages 78–79).[5][6][7] Kettilby called for whole oranges, lemon juice and sugar, with the acid in the lemon juice helping to create the pectin set of marmalade, by boiling the lemon and orange juice with the pulp.[4][7] Kettilby then directs: "boil the whole pretty fast 'till it will jelly" – the first known use of the word "jelly" in marmalade making. Kettilby then instructs that the mixture is then poured into glasses, covered and left until set. As the acid would create a jelly, this meant that the mixture could be pulled from the heat before it had turned to a paste, keeping the marmalade much brighter and the appearance more translucent, as in modern-day marmalade.[4]

The Scots moved marmalade to the breakfast table, and in the 19th century the English followed the Scottish example and abandoned the eating of marmalade in the evening. Marmalade's place in British life appears in literature. James Boswell remarks that he and Samuel Johnson were offered it at breakfast in Scotland in 1773. When American writer Louisa May Alcott visited Britain in the 1800s, she described "a choice pot of marmalade and a slice of cold ham" as "essentials of English table comfort".[7]


Antique marmalade cutter, used to cut citrus fruit peel into thin slices

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, marmalade appeared in the English language in 1480, borrowed from French marmelade which, in turn, came from the Portuguese language word marmelada. According to José Pedro Machado’s Dicionário Etimológico da Língua Portuguesa,[8] the oldest known document where this Portuguese word is to be found is Gil Vicente’s play Comédia de Rubena, written in 1521:

Temos tanta marmelada
Que a minha mãe vai me dar um pouco[9]

The extension of marmalade in the English language to refer to a preserve made from citrus fruits occurred in the 17th century, when citrus first began to be plentiful enough in England for the usage to become common.

In Portuguese, according to the root of the word, which is marmelo, "quince", marmelada is a preserve made from quinces, quince cheese. Marmelo in turn derives from Latin melimelum, "honey apple",[10] which in turn comes from the earlier Greek μελίμηλον (melímēlon),[11] from μέλι (meli), "honey"[11] + μήλον (mēlon), "apple".[11]

There is an apocryphal story that Mary, Queen of Scots, ate it when she had a headache, and that the name is derived from her maids' whisper of Marie est malade (Mary is ill). In reality, the word's origin has nothing to do with Mary.[12]

International usage

Marmalade spread on bread

In much of Europe, the term "marmalade" and its variations are still used as a generic term for preserves of all fruits, whereas in Britain it refers solely to a citrus preserve.[4] The name originates in Portuguese, where marmelada applies exclusively to quince jam.[13][14] In Spanish the term usually refers to what in English is called jam, and jalea — used in Mexico and Central America — is similar to the American English jelly. In Italian, marmellata means any jam and marmalade, as does the German word Marmelade.

Legal definitions

Canadian regulations

Under the Food and Drug Regulations (C.R.C., c. 870), marmalade strictly requires sweetening ingredient that must be at least 65% water soluble solids. Marmalade can also contain some acid chemical that can balance the natural acidity within citrus fruit, a pH adjusting agent and an antifoaming agent. Marmalade with pectin must have at least 27% ingredients of citrus fruit components and at least 65% water soluble solids and pectin. It optionally contains class II preservatives (examples include benzoates, sorbates, nitrites), a pH adjusting agent, and an antifoaming agent.[15]

European regulation

Since 1979, the EU directive 79/693/CEE define marmalade as a jam made from citrus fruits. The directive was replaced on 20/12/2001 by the ruling 32001L0113.[16]

Dundee Marmalade

Jars of homemade marmalade

The Scottish city of Dundee has a long association with marmalade.[17] James Keiller and his wife Janet ran a small sweet and preserves shop in the Seagate area of Dundee.[18] In 1797, they opened a factory to produce "Dundee Marmalade",[19] a preserve distinguished by thick chunks of bitter Seville orange rind. The business prospered, and remains a signature marmalade producer today.[20]

According to a Scottish legend, the creation of orange marmalade in Britain occurred by accident. The legend tells of a ship carrying a cargo of oranges that broke down in the port of Dundee, resulting in some ingenious locals making marmalade out of the cargo.[18][21]

In children's literature

Paddington Bear, a fictional character in children's literature, is renowned for his liking for marmalade, particularly in sandwiches, and kept it in his briefcase wherever he went.[22] He is now used on the label of Robertson's Golden Shred marmalade, and release of the 2014 film based on the book led to a slight increase in marmalade sales in the UK.[23]

See also


  1. ^ a b Maguelonne -Samat, (Anthea Bell, tr.) A History of Food 2nd ed. 2009, p. 507
  2. ^ a b C. Anne Wilson, The Book of Marmalade: its Antecedents, Its History, and Its Role in the World Today, revised ed., 1999, p.32 & others
  3. ^ Public Record Office, Letters and Papers, Foreign & Domestic, of the reign of Henry VIII, vol. VI (1870) p.339, noted by Wilson 1999, p. 31f, and by other writers.
  4. ^ a b c d Diana Henry (2012). "Salt Sugar Smoke: How to preserve fruit, vegetables, meat and fish". Hachette UK,
  5. ^ Bateman, Michael (3 January 1993). "Hail marmalade, great chieftain o' the jammy race: Mrs Keiller of Dundee added chunks in the 1790s, thus finally defining a uniquely British gift to gastronomy". The Independent. Retrieved 15 February 2016. 
  6. ^ Wilson, C. Anne (2010). The Book of Marmalade (2nd ed.). Prospect Books.  (cited in The Independent)
  7. ^ a b c "Spread over centuries" (19 August 2003). The Age. 8 June 2015. 
  8. ^ "Etymological Dictionary of the Portuguese Language"
  9. ^ Translation: We have so much quince jelly / That my mother will give me some. Maria João Amaral, ed. Gil Vicente, Rubena (Lisbon:Quimera) 1961 (e-book)
  10. ^ Klein’s Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language
  11. ^ a b c Melimelon, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek–English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  12. ^ "Marmalade". World Wide Words. Retrieved 2016-07-13. 
  13. ^ Wilson, C. Anne. The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, Its History and Its Role in the World Today (Together with a Collection of Recipes for Marmalades and Marmalade Cookery), University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. Revised Edition 1999. ISBN 0-8122-1727-6
  14. ^ "Marmalade" in Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper apud[clarification needed] Dictionary.com
  15. ^ Branch, Legislative Services. "Consolidated federal laws of canada, Food and Drug Regulations". laws-lois.justice.gc.ca. 
  16. ^ Branch, Legislative Services. "EUR-lex". eur-lex.europa.eu. 
  17. ^ "Features - Scottish Food, Traditions and Customs - Dundee Marmalade". The GBK Cookbook. The British Food Trust. Archived from the original on 2008-01-29. Retrieved 2017-01-26. 
  18. ^ a b "Features - Scottish Food, Traditions and Customs - Dundee Marmalade". scotsindependent.org. 
  19. ^ "James Keiller & Son Dundee Marmalade, Orange". wegmans.com. Archived from the original on 24 July 2011. 
  20. ^ W.M. Matthew, The Keiller Dynasty 1800-1879 narrates the history of Keillers; BBC News "Legacies: Keiller's: Sticky Success": offers an abbreviated version.
  21. ^ C. Anne Wilson, The Book of Marmalade. Constable, London. 1985. ISBN 0-09-465670-3.
  22. ^ Paddington: My Book of Marmalade: Amazon.co.uk: Michael Bond, Peggy Fortnum: 9780007269464: Books. amazon.co.uk. ASIN 0007269463. 
  23. ^ Davies, Caroline (February 24, 2017). "Marmalade in decline as Paddington struggles to lift sales". The Guardian. Retrieved February 25, 2017. 

Further reading

  • Allen, Brigid (1989). Cooper's Oxford: A history of Frank Cooper Limited. 
  • Mathew, W. M. Keiller's Of Dundee: The Rise of the Marmalade Dynasty 1800-1879. 
  • Mathew, W. M. The Secret History of Guernsey Marmalade. 
  • Wilson, C. Anne (1985). The Book of Marmalade: its antecedents, its history and its rôle in the world today together with a collection of recipes for marmalades & marmalade cookery. Constable. ISBN 0-09-465670-3.