Tomato Jam is what you’ve been missing in your life. Seriously.
I know, it sounds weird…why would you make jam out of tomatoes?
When you actually stop to think about it, tomato jam makes sense. Modern ketchup is basically just runny tomato jam in a bottle, with just enough added vinegar to balance out the intense amount of sugar (or corn syrup in the case of most ketchup bottles). It has little to offer flavor-wise besides tomato, sugar, and vinegar though.
Tomato jam is different. It is sweet and acidic like ketchup, but it’s also rich with nuanced flavor that’s hard to get anywhere else. Fresh tomatoes are slow-cooked with spices until they thicken naturally. Tomatoes, believe it or not, actually have a lot of natural fruit pectin, so they will actually set up into a lovely spiced jam.
I’m not talking about putting this on your morning toast, but it is unbelievably good on a hamburger. Add on a little bacon, caramelized onions, and maybe even a crumble of blue cheese (or aged cheddar) and you’ve got the fanciest restaurant burger that money can buy (right from your home kitchen).
Ingredients for Tomato Jam
Making a good tomato jam is all about high-quality tomatoes. Find the freshest, most flavorful tomatoes that are available. Ideally from your own home garden or the farmer’s market. The long-shipped supermarket tomatoes may hold up well on the shelf, but they just don’t have the flavor required to make this tomato jam really special.
Ideally, you’d use an heirloom paste tomato, which will give a better yield. Paste tomatoes have less water in their tissues, so they’ll cook down less. Good choices include Opalka, Gilberte, Amish Paste, and San Marzano.
Lacking paste tomatoes, flavorful heirlooms will also work wonderfully, but the yield will be lower.
One important thing to note is that the tomatoes are only coarsely chopped before cooking, and the peels and seeds are left intact. Most tomato canning recipes start by peeling tomatoes and then go on to seed them which means both a lot of work (and waste). I tend to make this tomato jam toward the end of the season, when I just can’t stomach the thought of peeling even one more tomato.
Beyond the tomatoes, there’s sugar, salt, lemon juice, and spices.
This particular recipe has quite a bit of sugar, and that’s required to get the jam to set. With less sugar, the tomato jam just won’t set and you’ll have spiced tomato sauce instead, with obviously still too much sugar to be a decent sauce.
I’m all about low sugar jam recipes, and often there are substitutions that can be made to accommodate different dietary requirements…but this recipe just won’t work any other way. Using low sugar pectin will result in a really undesirable texture, and substituting sugar alternatives (splenda, etc) will not make the jam set.
Keep in mind that this is a condiment, meant to be used in small amounts to enhance other dishes. You’re not going to be eating this out of the jar with a spoon. (Though you could, if that’s your thing, no judgment.)
The added lemon juice is there to balance out the sugar by adding acidity, but it’s also there to help preserve the jam. Tomatoes may seem acidic, but they’re actually borderline for canning. Do not reduce the lemon juice in this recipe if you’re canning.
The spices included are flexible, and while I think ginger, red pepper, cinnamon, and cumin result in a versatile (and incredible) tomato jam, they can be changed.
Other good options include garlic powder, smoked paprika, and cloves (just a pinch).
How to Make Tomato Jam
The basic process of making tomato jam isn’t all that different than making jam in general. This is an old-fashioned jam without pectin, which results in a much nicer texture than if you added boxed pectin.
Since there’s no pectin added, all the ingredients can just go into the pot. (When you’re using pectin, the order of operations matters, and things can get complicated based on the type you use.)
The main thing here is the cooking time.
Like grandma’s old-fashioned spaghetti sauce, this is going to be better after a long time on the stove. The cooking also helps thicken the jam and get it to set.
Start by placing all the ingredients in a pot, including chopped tomatoes, sugar, salt, lemon juice, and spices. Stir to evenly distribute everything, and then turn the heat up to medium-high.
Bring the mixture to a hard boil on the stove, and then turn it down until it’s just simmering.
A simmer will allow the tomato jam to slowly thicken as the water evaporates, and it’ll begin to carmelize the sugar a bit and develop the flavor from the spices.
Keep stirring the pot as it simmers to keep it from sticking to the bottom. Make sure you scrape down the sides of the pot, as the jam will begin to form around the edges first. It’ll burn to the sides as the liquid level drops in the pot, if you don’t use a spatula to scrape it down and keep everything well mixed.
After about 2 to 3 hours, the jam should have thickened considerably. You should be able to scoop out a spoonful and turn it sideways without it immediately falling off.
Alternately, you can drag a spoon through the pot and it should take a few seconds for the jam to fill the space back in. Like parting the red seas, it should stay open for a while when it’s sufficiently thickened. (You can see a picture of what this looks like in my article on canning tomato paste, which also needs to be cooked down slowly.)
Mine took exactly 2 1/2 hours to fully cook down and set. It’ll be slightly longer if you’re not using paste tomatoes, and slightly shorter if your stove runs hot. Be sure to stir more frequently as it thickens to keep it from scorching.
Once the jam has thickened, ladle it into prepared jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
Canning Tomato Jam
You don’t have to can this jam, and it’s perfectly fine to make it as a refrigerator or freezer preserve. It’ll last about a month in the refrigerator, or up to 6 months in the freezer.
That said, it’s much more convenient to store it on the pantry shelf and just refrigerate after opening.
If you’re not familiar with water bath canning, I’d suggest reading my beginner’s guide to water bath canning before getting started.
Prepare a water bath canner after about 1 1/2 to 2 hours of cooking the jam, well before it’s set. The canner will take a while to come up to temperature. The water should be just barely simmering in the canner, around 180 degrees F, when the jars are loaded.
Make the jam as you otherwise would, and when set, ladle into prepared canning jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Cap with 2 part canning lids, and load into the water bath canner using a jar lifter.
Bring the canner up to a full rolling boil and process jars for 10 minutes. (Adjust the canning time to 15 minutes if above 6,000 feet in elevation.)
Check seals and store any unsealed jars in the refrigerator for immediate use. Properly canned and sealed jars will maintain peak quality on the pantry shelf for 12-18 months.
Using Tomato Jam
My absolute favorite way to use tomato jam is on epic homemade burgers loaded with all the fixings. Make the perfect homemade brioche hamburger buns, grill them a little bit on the pan with some butter and add tomato jam along with bacon, caramelized onions, and all your favorite toppings.
That said, tomato jam is more versatile than you’d think. Try using it on a:
- Charcuterie plate with crackers, tiny pickles, and lots of nice cheese.
- Dip for chips, especially when poured over cream cheese in the dip bowl.
- Topping for Baked Brie
- Add it to top creamy soups, like manhattan style fish chowder or tomato bisque
- Spread it on grilled cheese sandwiches
- Serve it on warm biscuits, next to a homecooked meal (like fried chicken)
Tomato jam is the perfect condiment for burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, and a summer BLT. It's easy to make if you're patient, and perfect for home canning (or the refrigerator).
- 6 pounds tomatoes, cored and chopped (but not peeled or seeded)
- 4 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup lemon or lime juice
- 1 Tbsp freshly grated ginger (or 1/4 tsp dried ground ginger)
- 2 to 4 tsp red pepper flakes, see notes
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot or dutch oven.
- Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to evenly distribute the spices.
- Turn down the heat and cook over low to medium heat, maintaining a constant simmer until the mixture has reduced and thickened to a jam-like consistency. Be patient, this should take 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Stir occasionally to prevent burning, and more frequently as it thickens.
- If canning, prepare a water bath canner and jars after about 2 hours of cooking.
- When the tomato jam has thickened, ladle the mixture into prepared jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. If not canning, cap lids and store in the refrigerator until needed. If canning, seal with 2 part lids and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. (Adjust canning time to 15 minutes if above 6,000 feet in elevation.)
Properly canned and sealed jars will maintain the quality on the pantry shelf for 12-18 months. Refrigerate after opening. If not canned, this jam will keep in the refrigerator for about a month, or the freezer for up to 6 months.
Recipe Size: This recipe can be halved to make a smaller batch, but do not double. If too much is cooked at one time it will not heat evenly and the natural pectin may not thicken the jam. Large batch sizes often result in burned/scorched jam that doesn't thicken.
Tomatoes: Flavorful heirloom paste tomatoes will give the best yield, and slicing tomatoes will yield slightly less as they will cook down more before thickening. Be sure to leave in the peels and seeds, as they give the jam texture. That's different from most tomato canning recipes that have you peel/seed tomatoes before canning and makes this a much easier tomato canning recipe.
Citrus Juice: You may use either lemon or lime juice in this recipe. Lemon juice will be more neutral, and lime juice will add more interest. Be aware that the taste is only barely noticeable after a long cook time, beyond the acidity, so either will work just fine. Do not reduce the amount of citrus juice if canning.
Spices: Feel free to adjust the spices to suit your tastes. Red pepper flakes add the spice that balances out the sweetness of the jam, but it can be reduced or omitted if that's not your thing. If you don't like spice, I'd suggest substituting in a teaspoon or so of smoked paprika which will give a warm peppery flavor without the heat. Use 2 tsp red pepper flakes for a barely spicy tomato jam, or 4 tsp for more heat.
Sugar: Yes, this is a lot of sugar. It's what helps the tomato jam set, and believe it or not, it works incredibly well as a savory spread even with all that sweet in there. The acidity of the citrus balances it out, and it goes incredibly well with the spices. Like ketchup, but a thousand times better and more interesting. If you want to reduce the sugar the jam will cook down a lot more, and eventually concentrate to about the same sweetness anyway (lower yield, same amount of sugar per jar). Sugar substitutes will not work as they won't cause the jam to thicken in the same way. I'm all about low sugar jams, but this is one of those recipes that just can't work as a low sugar recipe, sorry. Realize that you're only using a small amount as a condiment and that it's not the main course of any meal.
Tomato Canning Recipes
Need a few more ways to preserve tomatoes?