Can you make jam -without hot water bath?

I have been successfully canning jams without the water bath method. Here’s my process, my background, and some science behind it.

Yes, you read that right! In over 30 years, I have never water bath canned my jams – and I probably never will.

I understand that that statement could make some of you very uncomfortable. You might be thinking, but what about botulism?

In this article, I will share with you my process, my background, some science, and some resources. Then you can educate yourself and decide what you are most comfortable with.

Disclaimer: Both the FDA and USDA recommend how water processing for jams. Please do your own research and make decisions accordingly.

This post contains affiliate links, which means I make a small commission at no extra cost to youYou can read my full disclosure here.

So why can without a water bath?

That is a very good question!

  • First of all, it’s just a habit. I had been watching both my grandmother and my mom making jams. They used the no water bath can method all along. So in a way that is what I have witnessed and what I grew up with.
  • Then, canning without the water bath method saves time. You see, often I make a few jars of jam in between some other activities.
  • And lastly, I am certain that you will lose vitamins when you’re adding another 10-15 minutes of high-heat water processing.
jam no water bath canning

My jam canning process

This is the method that I always use:

Sterilize the jars

First, I sterilize the mason jars in either a pot of boiling water for 10-15 minutes or do that in an oven set to 200˚-250˚ F for about the same time.

Clean, select, and boil the fruit with sugar and lemon juice or citric acid

In the meantime, I boil my cleaned, picked, and potentially cut fruit for 3-5 minutes with the appropriate amount of sugar and some lemon juice or citric acid. Depending on the time I have and the fruit I am using, I might add some pectin.

Fill the hot jam into the hot jars

Then, I fill the hot jam into the hot jars, leaving about ¼ inch of space at the top of the jar. I tightly put on the lids and the bands.

Put the lid and the band on tight

Next, I put the jars on their head for 5 minutes. After that time, I set them upright again and let them cool down. Before I store them, I make sure all of the jars have good seals. Often, I can hear when that happens. But also, when you press on the lid with your finger, there should not be any give.

Put the jars on their head for about 5 minutes

After 5 minutes put the jars upright again

boiling elderberries for jam

My background

If you’ve been following me, you might know that I grew up in Germany. Everybody cans their jams this way there and I haven’t seen anyone use the water bath method.

How Europeans make jam

For example, I have a friend who likes to buy just a couple of pounds of fruit at the farmer’s market when it’s in season and on sale. While making dinner, she might make the jam, and fill a few jars at a time. She does that several times a season rather than embarking on longer canning sessions.

Canning in the US vs Europe vs Overseas

When I came to the US, I soon realized that everyone was water bath canning their jams, just like the USDA and FDA recommend. But I also thought that this method was somewhat particular to this country. I think most European countries and New Zealand for example use the no water bath canning method.

On a recent trip to Germany, I wanted to find out more. So I went to a local farmer’s market and talked with a commercial jam seller. I asked him if he hot water processes his jams. He looked at me somewhat incredulously, only to tell me that he had never done that in all the decades he had been making jam.

In my research, I went to the website of a popular German baking product website that also has a lot of canning recipes. None of the recipes that I saw included a recommendation for hot water processing. They have an English website but that does not have any canning recipes.

Furthermore, I checked my antique cookbooks, both American and German. While that may not necessarily be authoritative, I thought it might give me some clues. None of them seemed to be particularly concerned with food safety, making me believe that botulism is in fact pretty rare.

elderberry jam and juice

What is the concern with jams and the no water bath canning method?

The main concern when you use the no water bath canning method is botulism. Under certain circumstances, it can grow in your jams and preserves. When it does, it can cause severe illness and potentially death.

However, in my research on this topic, I learned that in 2017 for example, the CDC only reported 182 cases of botulism. This is a stark contrast to the 1.35 million yearly cases of salmonella. So botulism is a pretty rare occurrence and disease.

how to make jam without hot water processing

The science behind canning jams and preserves

So what I am doing in order to prevent the growth of any bacteria, mold, or botulism while I am using the no water bath canning method?

  • Well, as I mentioned above, I sterilize my jars in either hot water or my oven.
  • I also like to add quite a bit of sugar as that acts as a preservative. With the addition of lemon juice or citric acid, I am lowering the pH of the jam, especially in low-acid fruits such as blueberries.
  • I fill the jars almost to the top and make sure to create a good seal. This is something I check when opening a jar (if the lid comes off too easily, it wasn’t properly sealed).
  • Lastly, I understand science in that protein needs to be available for botulism to grow. Fruits don’t typically contain any protein at all. Therefore, I would not use the no water bath canning method for canning meat or beans or foods with protein in it.
  • Now, if in doubt you could check the pH of your jam with either pH strips or a pH meter. Simply put some of the jam in question on a spoon or in a small bowl and test it there according to the directions.

So, I am thinking that the hot water processing recommendation is just another safety measure to basically rule out any chance of botulism.

homemade jam

More resources

Below, I am linking several resources that I find interesting. Again, I encourage you to research and educate yourself and use your best judgment.

A Washington Post article on this topic: https://www.washingtonpost.com/food/2021/08/26/jam-canning-safety-water-bath/

How Sugar preserves: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-do-salt-and-sugar-pre/

Study on low pH to prevent botulism: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/39257/

German strawberry recipe: https://www.oetker.de/rezepte/r/erdbeer-konfituere

German video on jam making: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y01ysaT7Yjo

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I would love to hear all your -kind- comments and questions so that we can all learn from one another!

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Can you make jam - without a hot water bath?

35 thoughts on “How I Have Been Successfully Canning Without The Waterbath Method”

  1. I have never used the water method for jams and jellies and have never, ever had any issues – provided of course the jars have been sterilized (I use the dishwasher, followed by at least 30 mins in a 200-250F oven). I also boil my lids, sealer rings, funnel and ladle.
    I *do* however use the water bath canning method for anything that includes garlic and onions (e.g. my salsa) as well as for tomatoes and peaches/pears/spiced crabapples.
    I keep my preserves for up to 2 years, although they rarely last that long!

  2. I have been canning my homemade salsa for over 25 years. The recipe I was given to me from a 70 year old lady that has done it this way all of her life. I cook my salsa and add vinegar, some salt and sugar and place in sterilized jars from a 200 degree oven and lids from boiling water. I have never had a problem.

      1. Excellent article confirming the steps for making jams and jellies that I learned from my mother and grandmother. We have canned this way for generations with no issues.

    1. That would depend on the pH of your salsa, i.e. how much vinegar you have in it. If in doubt, I would process it in a water bath or pressure canner. Hope this helps ~ Anja

  3. I also follow how my German mother did it. No water bath for jams, beets and the sugar and vinegar peppers ( my favourite canned peppers) Everything should just be hot and sterile. Although I haven’t canned in awhile, thanks for confirming I’m still doing it right. 😉

    1. Lily, so when you say canned beets, I presume those are pickled? I have been hunting for a recipe for non pickled beets that don’t need a pressure cooker. And what exactly are sugar and vinegar peppers? I tried to Google them to finda recipe, recipe but can’t find one. Thanks!

  4. Caroline Ormsbee

    I, too have never used a water bath for my high acid canning items. Pickles, berry jams, relish, chow chow…all can be done with no water bath. I invert the jars for about 15 minutes. I canned for many years but it’s been a few years since I last canned. In looking up info for refresher I saw the water bath and didn’t remember using it so I was glad to find your article about not needing it. I thought maybe I was remembering wrong but nope…I’m golden!! Thank you!!

    1. You will need the sugar so that the pectin can form a gel. Otherwise, your jams will not set. You can either use less sugar and add stevia to increase the sweetness or use a no-sugar pectin ~ Anja

    2. Hello. I am a southern girl from Mississippi. I too do not use a “water bath”. Never have nor my mother nor her mother. So I never understood the need for the water bath process. We have always canned fruits and vegetables by your process. The only difference is that we would heat the lid with rubber in a pot of boiling water just before placing on jar. Never lost any food and never went bad. Thanks for the article

      1. I’m from Texas and that’s the same way I do it…just like my mother and her mother and her mother…lol

  5. Very interesting reading, thank you! It answers a lot of my questions.
    I’m relatively new to jam making, although I watched my Granny do it many times growing up. We never had any issues with illness or spoiling. I’m in Australia, and have always done it the way you do (sterilise jars first (I boil first, then dry in oven), add filling while everything is hot, turn upside down, check lid indented/firm for vacuum). I had always thought this meant air was excluded. Plus the preserving effects of the sugar (or vinegar in the case of savoury) helps. I have been intrigued by the recommendations to use the water bath after filling in some online recipes. My impression is that it seems to be an American thing. I thought it might make the jars explode, putting them under water and boiling again but perhaps not! Thanks again for the insight and information.

    1. Hi Fran, in my personal opinion (please do your own research) both the American FDA and USDA are VERY conservative agencies that recommend practices that are essentially fool-proof. I will publish another post and video soon about this topic and how to know if you actually might have botulism in your jams so stay tuned for that ~ Anja

      1. Yes, you can, just make sure to leave little headspace and heat up the lids and rubber rings in hot water before putting them on ~ Anja

  6. This was my first year canning anything. I used the water bath method for all my jam, but then heard about this method later on! This is so fascinating and I found your post so insightful. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I didn’t know you that you could make canned jam without a water bath. I love this post. Your posts are so thoughtful and detailed. You really do make me feel like I take on any of your recipes with such ease. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I have been canning 50-ish years. My grandmother and mother used the no-water bath method for jams/jellies too. They also used wax to seal jars but that is waaay to messy for me. In reality the government agencies haven’t actually tested “anything” since around the ’50s or ’60s. They just keep repeating themselves, covering their on rears! They say steam canners are not safe. Why? Because they haven’t taken time to test them because the government doesn’t give them money for new research. When making small batch jams/jellies it is a serious time saver to kick the waterbath canner back to the closet and perfectly safe as long as like you said “steralize properly”.

  8. We used to make jams years ago by sterilizing the jars and utensils, just like you do. Now however I do recommend water bath canning, as a safety precaution for further preservation. You have a good question about the possible reduction in vitamins with the further exposure to heat. It’s all food for thought. Thanks for a great post!

  9. I have an apple tree with sour apples at my new house. I was thinking of canning some apple jam. Do you think this method would be ok for that? Should I add lemon juice? Do you use this method with American ball jars?

  10. I have always wondered why some recipes call for water bath canning jams and some don’t. Thank you for clearing this up using science and some resources to support your method. I will definitely use this as a personal canning resource.

      1. It depends on whether you want some added sweetness or not in your jams. If you’re looking for sugar alternatives, you could use grape juice or apple juice. You can make jams without any added sweeteners but I recommend adding a bit of citric acid.

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