Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Hands off our jam! Makers seek to preserve recipes in face of sugar rules

Ulster's makers seek to preserve recipes in face of sugar rules change

Jam has been a favourite at the breakfast table in Northern Ireland for many generations

It could be a storm in a jam pot – or the end of breakfast as we know it.

Hundreds of people have worked themselves into a froth on Twitter over controversial plans to reduce the minimum sugar level in jam and marmalade.

The controversy became known as Jamgate after Lib Dem MP Tessa Munt slammed the plans by ministers to relax sugar regulations, arguing that it would result in cheaper, runnier spreads that wouldn't keep as well.

Ahead of a Commons debate on the regulations, the MP warned it could be "the end of the British breakfast as we know it", as our traditional jam could end up more like a continental spread.

Jam-maker Suzanne Livingstone of Baked in Belfast said the move appears to be driven by big manufacturers keen to cut the cost of sugar in their commercial jam and marmalade.

But Northern Ireland's small producers will probably carry on making jam and marmalade the way they always have, she added.

At the moment, environmental health regulations require a minimum of 62% sugar content in jam – otherwise it can't be classed as a jam. "This is obviously led by finance rather than customer taste, sugar is hugely expensive by factory standards," Suzanne said.

"This rule change is more relevant to factories where they produce a lot of jam.

"For strawberries or plums that are low in pectin, it's going to be impossible to get a good set without starting to pump in stabiliser which affects the quality of the end product," she said.

"If you reduce the sugar, it's probably going to be completely different or pumped full of chemicals."

Consumers don't like runny jam, according to Margaret Jordan of Jordan's Homemade Jams in Dungannon.

"When I started making jam, I decided not to put in very much sugar for health reasons.

"However, it wasn't long before I got word from Environmental Health that I needed to up the sugar content. I do know that if you cut the sugar content, it won't keep as well."

BACKGROUND

Defra, the government department responsible for food regulations in England, held a consultation earlier this year and manufacturers said they would favour lowering the minimum sugar requirement in jam. Defra says reducing the minimum sugar content in jam from 60% to 50% will help British producers to trade more easily across the world, boosting the economy. The regulations will apply to England only, but Defra says Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to follow suit.

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