Marmalade is a fruit preserve made from the juice and peel of citrus fruits boiled with sugar and water. The best-known version is made from bitter orange, but it is also made from lemons, limes, grapefruits, mandarins, sweet oranges, bergamots, and other citrus fruits, or a combination.

Homemade English marmalade
TypeFruit preserve
Place of originPortugal
Main ingredientsJuice and peel of citrus fruits, sugar, water

The preferred citrus fruit for marmalade production nowadays is the Spanish Seville or bitter 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 word "marmalade" is borrowed from the Portuguese marmelada, from marmelo 'quince'.

Marmalade is generally distinguished from jam by its fruit peel. However, it also may be distinguished from jam by the choice of fruit, though historically, it has often been used for non-citrus preserves.[1]


The Romans learned from the Greeks that quinces slowly cooked with honey would "set" when cool. The 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.[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] It was a favorite treat of Anne Boleyn and her ladies in waiting.

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]


Marmalade first appeared in the English language in 1480, borrowed from French marmelade which, in turn, came from the Galician-Portuguese 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.

Greek μελίμηλον melimēlon 'sweet apple', from μέλη 'honey' + μῆλον mēlon 'apple, round fruit', became Portuguese marmelo 'quince'.[10][11]

In Portuguese, marmelada is a preserve made from quinces, quince cheese.

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

In much of Europe and Latin America, cognates for the English term "marmalade" 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.

Canadian regulations

Under the Food and Drug Regulations (C.R.C., c. 870), marmalade is a standardized food and defined as a food of jelly-like consistency that consists of at least 65% water-soluble solids. The regulations permit the use of pH adjusting agents to prevent the marmalade from drying out, antifoaming agents to prevent blemishes on surface coatings and enable efficient filling of containers, and acid ingredient to compensate for the natural acidity of the citrus fruit used. If pectin or pectinous preparation is added, the marmalade must contain at least 27% of peel, pulp, or juice of citrus fruit. Class II preservatives may also be used.[15]

The Canadian Food and Drug Regulations (C.R.C., c. 870) specify that pineapple or fig marmalade must be of jelly-like consistency, achieved by boiling the pulp of juice of the fruit with water, and a sweetening ingredient. Pineapple or fig marmalade should contain at least 45% of the named fruit.[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

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 is known for his liking of marmalade, particularly in sandwiches, and kept it in his briefcase wherever he went.[22] Paddington Bear is now used on the label of the smaller peel ("shred") and clearer/milder Robertson's "Golden Shred" marmalade, in place of the previous icon, "Golliwog", which is considered racially offensive. The 2014 movie Paddington led to a slight increase in marmalade sales in the UK.[23]


  1. Maguelonne-Samat, (Anthea Bell, tr.) A History of Food 2nd ed. 2009, p. 507
  2. 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. 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. "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. Melimelon, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek–English Lexicon, on Perseus Digital Library
  12. "Marmalade". World Wide Words. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
  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
  15. "Marmalade". Consolidated Federal Laws of Canada, Food and Drug Regulations, Government of Canada. 3 June 2019. Retrieved 16 July 2019.
  16. Branch, Legislative Services. "EUR-lex".
  17. "Features - Scottish Food, Traditions and Customs - Dundee Marmalade". The GBK Cookbook. The British Food Trust. Archived from the original on 29 January 2008. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  18. "Features - Scottish Food, Traditions and Customs - Dundee Marmalade". Archived from the original on 16 February 2017. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  19. "James Keiller & Son Dundee Marmalade, Orange". 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: Michael Bond, Peggy Fortnum: 9780007269464: Books. ASIN 0007269463.
  23. Davies, Caroline (24 February 2017). "Marmalade in decline as Paddington struggles to lift sales". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 February 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.

See also

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