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I have a new early morning snack this week - toast and jam, but after putting the (fridge temp) jam on the toast, I put the whole plate of toast and jam in the microwave for 20 seconds to warm the jam. It's delicious, but some of the jams in my fridge are just way too sweet for me this way. That got me thinking - hundreds of years ago, jams were eaten at room temperature. But now they are eaten cold from the fridge as often as not. I wonder if the sugar level has been increased as a result - either by adding more sugars or by reducing the fruit more than before which would also intensify the flavours.

Has anyone compared modern and very old jam recipes to see if this is a real trend? Or the sugar levels in supermarket jam compared to jam recipes in older books?

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The good news is that I collect old cookbooks, so I might be able to answer if there's additional added sugar. (and, I found out in a recent trip to New Orleans that there's a used book store that only sells cookbooks ... But that will not tell us if fruit has been bred sweeter and could be affecting the final product. –  Joe Oct 27 '11 at 17:56
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On the contrary, most of the older recipes that I've seen for jams use more sugar (60g per 100g or higher is common) than is popular in some of the newer products, because sugar has a preservative effect. But most likely pre-refrigeration and pre-iceboxes you simply wouldn't have kept multiple jars open at the same time; you'd use one at a time as quickly as practical, and keep your reserve stock seals unbroken.

Industrially refined pectin has actually reduced the amount of sugar necessary to make a good preserve. A number of companies also now make "all fruit" spreads, but they're controlling the sugar ratio with knowledge from food science, by analyzing how much sugar is in the non-primary fruits like grape and apple juice.

60 grams of fruit per 100g or more are available but by traditional standards are quite a luxury, even though I would agree that such products often taste better; they owe their existence to better food science, however, and a little to refrigeration.

A lot of widely-distributed brands still use sugar ratios that are pretty high, including Welch's and Smucker's, but you may find higher fruit ratios in boutique brands.

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Cane sugar or corn syrup is a relatively modern invention. Prior to these people did not have such sweetness available (other than fruit or honey), or used beets, carrots etc. for increased sweet flavours

Many cultures simply boiled fruit in an earthenware pot until it reduced to a sufficient thickness, and then put on the matching earthenware lid and seal it with wax, pitch, or animal fat. In a cool climates this lasts through the winter. This method was used with wild fruit during WWII in Europe due to no sugar being available

Roman and Greek records cite fruit jams made with fruit and fermented honey (melomel = marmalade). They also used pure honey, strong wine, and even vinegar!

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melomel is mead (honey wine) made with fruit and honey, rather than just honey. –  baka Oct 28 '11 at 1:48
    
In going through my cookbooks, I found in a 1970 reprint of the Mrs. Rorer's New Cook book (originally from 1898) a discussion of the different sugars when making jelly. She specifically mentions cane sugar (sucrose) in with the saccharoses, along with malt sugar (maltose) and milk sugar (lactose); In the glucosses, dextrose, grape sugar and fruit sugar (levulose); In the amyloses, starch, gum, dextrin, insulin and cellulose. In the text (the above was a table), "Under the head of –  Joe Oct 28 '11 at 2:20
    
@Joe ...what?... –  TFD Oct 28 '11 at 8:48
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@Joe: Interesting list, but, if it includes "insulin" (discovered in 1921 and originally called "isletin"), then the list most definitely did not originate in an 1898 cookbook. Even if it was added to the list in 1970, something's seriously wrong, as insulin would not appear naturally in any kind of vegetable matter and has never been used as a food additive. Not to mention that it's absolutely not an amylose, saccharide, sugar, or carbohydrate of any sort. –  Dave Sherohman Oct 28 '11 at 11:41
    
Likely Insulin is a typo on the plant polysaccharide Inulin: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inulin Inulin is about 10% as sweet as sucrose. –  Wayfaring Stranger Apr 9 at 0:38
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