Why Didn’t My Jelly Thicken? Tips To Save Unset Jelly

by Texas Homesteader ~ 

Making jelly is one of the easiest (and most delicious) home preservation steps you can take.

Concord grape jelly recipe with no added pectin. #TexasHomesteader

But sometimes it just happens. For some reason your jelly just didn’t gel as you’d expected. What did you do wrong? And can the jelly be fixed? 

Homemade Jelly An Easy Homemade Treat!

I love making jellies, jams and preserves. Some of my favorites are:

Wild Plum Jelly – Fruit from the wild plum trees in our pasture.

Blueberry/Lemon Jelly – Fresh, clean taste combination.

Honeysuckle Jelly – Sweet childhood memories in a jar!

Concord Grape Jelly made from the grapes in my garden.

Homemade Concord Grape Jelly toast on white plate with napkin. #TexasHomesteader

Homemade jams & jellies are not only delicious but they make a perfect Homemade Gift too!

There’s a complete list of our delicious jam, jelly & preserves recipes at the bottom of this post. Or you can click the button below to see them all in one place:

All our favorite jelly recipes. #TexasHomesteader

But what if your homemade jelly just didn’t thicken? Read on, dear friends…

Reasons Why Your Jelly Didn’t Thicken

We’ve all been there… You thought you did everything right. But then you’re disappointed that instead of the beautiful jars of sweet jelly you’d expected, you end up with a much thinner or syrupy version.

You’re left wondering why.

Although making jelly is easy, there are many simple reasons why jelly might not set correctly:

    • Most jellies need sugar and an acid (such as lemon juice) to set. Incorrect measure of sugar or acid can cause jelly failure. Don’t try to amend a recipe to lower sugar or acid.
    • Not all lemon juice you buy in the store is the actual juice of lemons. Some bottled lemon juices are used as beverages, the same as apple juice & orange juice. Use only real lemon juice for your recipe.
    • For me, liquid pectin is more reliable for jelly than powdered pectin. But the procedures are different for each type. So use the type of pectin specified in the recipe.
    • There are often different boil times after adding liquid pectin than when using powdered pectin. Be sure to follow the recipe.
    • The shelf life for pectin is around 18 months to 2 yrs on the store shelf, older pectin will be less effective.
    • Not boiling jelly hot enough to reach the jell point can cause a gelling failure.
    • Over-heating your jelly can break pectin down.
    • Undercooking can cause an imbalance of sugar concentration.
    • Doubling the recipe often results in failed gelling.
    • Sometimes jelly needs extra time to set.

What Is The Gel Temperature When Making Jelly & Jam?

You may not know that the jel (or gel) temperature required for successfully making jelly and jam can vary based on your altitude.

For my altitude here in NE Texas the gel point is 220 degrees. Check to see what the gel point is for you in your own altitude using this handy chart:

Making jelly or jam - Temperatures to reach gelling point #TexasHomesteader

Does Jelly Thicken After Processing?

The pectin in your recipe can sometimes take from 24-48 hours to set up completely. I’ve had jelly thicken slowly over the course of 2 weeks!

So if your jelly didn’t thicken right away, give it some time. It will usually thicken at least a little after you’ve made it.

Honeysuckle jelly tastes just like those childhood memories. #TexasHomesteader

If not you can either use the unset jelly in its current state (a list of suggestions is at the bottom of this post) or you can try to remake your unset jelly.

How Do You Remake Jelly That Didn’t Set?

If after waiting 24-48 hours your jelly is still not thickened to your liking, you can try to reprocess your thin unset jelly.

Keep in mind that reprocessing thin jelly isn’t always successful. But there are some things you can try.

Important Note – only work with 4 – 6 cups of unset jelly at a time.

To remake unset jelly according to the National Center For Home Food Preservation:

How To Fix Runny Jelly With Powdered Pectin

For each quart of jelly, mix ¼ cup sugar, ½ cup water, 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice, and 4 teaspoons powdered pectin. Bring to a boil while stirring. Add jelly and bring to a rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Boil hard ½ minute. Remove from heat, quickly skim foam off jelly, and fill sterile jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Adjust new lids and process as recommended. For more information on how to sterilize jars see “Sterilization of Empty Jars”.

How To Fix Runny Jelly With Liquid Pectin

For each quart of jelly, measure ¾ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons liquid pectin. Bring jelly only to boil over high heat, while stirring. Remove from heat and quickly add the sugar, lemon juice, and pectin. Bring to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil hard for 1 minute. Quickly skim off foam and fill sterile jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Adjust new lids and process as recommended.

How To Fix Runny Jelly Without Added Pectin

For each quart of jelly, add 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice. Heat to boiling and boil for 3 to 4 minutes. Use one of the tests described in Testing Jelly without Added Pectin to determine jelly doneness. Remove from heat, quickly skim off foam, and fill sterile jars, leaving ¼-inch headspace. Adjust new lids and process as recommended.

What Can You Do With Jelly That Didn’t Set?

If despite your efforts your jelly just didn’t set, don’t despair. There are many delicious ways to still enjoy your homemade goodness.

What can you do with thin homemade jelly that didn't set? #TexasHomesteader

If your Unset Jelly is pourable:

Use in place of pancake syrup for pancakes, waffles or French toast. 

Unset Jelly is delicious as an ice cream topping. 

Fun sweet fruit flavor for plain milk or sparkling water.

Use in flavorful marinades for meat or fish.

If your unset jelly is partially set (texture of fruit butter)

Dehydrate to make Fruit Rollups.

Swirl into Plain Yogurt to add a sweet fruity flavor.

So don’t despair if your jelly didn’t set. You can either try to reprocess it again or enjoy it as-is for a delicious syrup for pancakes or topping for ice cream.


This post categorized in        

Tagged in    All our favorite jelly recipes. #TexasHomesteader      All our posts about food preservation - dehydrating, canning, freezing, etc. #TexasHomesteader  

Our Delicious Jelly & Preserves Recipes:

All Jelly, Jam & Preserves Recipes

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National Center For Home Food Preservation – Jelly Problems 

National Center For Home Food Preservation – Remake Soft Jelly


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