Cara Cara Chile Marmalada

After my last orange marmalade candy-in-a-jar experience, I did quite a bit of research before starting this one. I had some beautiful organic oranges from my local whole foods market and I knew which recipe I wanted to use as a base: an orange chile marmalade from the Ball book. That recipe, however, specifies nine (9!!) cups of sugar, which I knew was never going to work for me. So, I looked at traditional marmalade recipes in Gourmet Preserves, The Glass Pantry, even Fannie Farmer, but nothing was exactly what I wanted. I scoped out the Double Meyer Lemonade recipe in Hitchhiking to Heaven’s eBook and checked into her latest marmalade post for some good tips and discussion on technique. When I was finally ready to start the marmalade, imagine my surprise when I sliced open my beautiful oranges and they were a deep, gorgeous pink! Some Googling told me that they much be Cara Cara oranges; a sweet, juicy navel varietal discovered in 1976 in Venezuela.

When it comes to marmalade, I want to taste the bitterness: I don’t want to taste only sugar. This creates a problem, in that sugar + juice = the jelly that suspends the pieces of citrus rind and makes the preserve spreadable. In addition, the more you reduce the sugar, the more difficulty you have in achieving the gel stage (because pectin needs sugar to activate). So, I am always playing a balancing game between creating a preserve that is not too sweet for me to enjoy, but has enough sugar to gel and, especially in a marmalade, enough jelly to surround the preserved fruit. I started out with about a 1 to 1/2 ratio of fruit to sugar; over a lonnnnng cooking time (and a fun conversation on the LK Facebook page), I added sugar three more times, and ended up with a little more than 2/3rds the amount of sugar (70%), by weight, as fruit, in order to reach the gel stage. Ad the end result? Quite brilliant, actually. Yes, it is sweet, but it is so spicy that the sweetness has a lovely counterpoint in the heat of the chiles. As you might be able to see from the pictures, there is a lot more suspended fruit than you find in a typical marmalade, so there is plenty of the bitterness that I crave, and the texture of the rind and set of the jelly turned out exactly as I wanted: spreadable, not overly firm, with the citrus just barely al dente. I am loving the heat of this one, which is definitely not for the faint of heart: overall, I’m happy that we’ve got seven jars cooling on the counter.


Cara Cara Chile Marmalada


  • 2 and 1/4 lbs Cara Cara (or navel) oranges (about 4 medium)
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) lemon juice (or juice & zest from 2 medium lemons)
  • 9 small dried red chiles (1/8 oz), stemmed and roughly chopped
  • filtered water (see Options)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup tequila (optional)
  • 1 and 3/4 lbs (3 and 3/4 cups) sugar (organic evaporated cane juice)


  1. Day 1. Scrub oranges well. Slice about 1/8-inch off of stem and blossom ends (discard). Slice oranges in quarters, remove the middle, pithy seam, then slice each quarter in half (or in thirds, if very large) lengthwise. Slice each section cross-wise into thin strips, transferring fruit to a large measuring cup as you go (I measured a total of 6 and 1/2 cups orange slices) and trying to capture all of the juice.
  2. Transfer orange slices, juice and lemon juice (+ zest if using) to a wide stockpot or preserving pan. Add an equal volume of filtered water (6 and 1/2 cups orange slices + 1/2 cup lemon juice = 7 cups added water). Add chiles and salt, cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add tequila (if using), cover, and allow to cool at room temperature. Store the covered stockpot in the refrigerator overnight (or transfer to a bowl and cover).
  3. Day 2. Bring fruit mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat (heat slowly if bringing an enameled cast iron pot from refrigerator). Simmer 10 minutes. Cover, allow to come to room temperature, then store refrigerated overnight.
  4. Day 3. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
  5. Bring fruit mixture to a boil over high heat. Add sugar, stirring until it dissolves. Allow to boil vigorously, stirring minimally, until the marmalade reaches the set point: 220 degrees F on an accurate thermometer (or 8 degrees above the temperature of boiling water); this may take anywhere from 30 – 60 minutes (mine took about 60 minutes, although I added 2 extra cups of water and the tequila in the later stage of cooking). Remove from heat and allow marmalade to cool slightly for 2 – 3 minutes. Skim foam, push down fruit pieces, and ladle hot marmalade into hot jars to 1/4-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles, wipe rims, affix lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Yields about 6 and 1/2 cups.


  1. The classic marmalade recipe calls for the addition of water in equal amounts to the volume of fruit + juice: here, that was 7 cups. The classic marmalade recipe also calls for the addition of sugar of equal weight to the fruit: that would have been 3 lbs (6 cups) of sugar, but I started cooking this recipe with only 1 and 1/4 lbs (2 and 1/4 cups) sugar. As the marmalade cooked (and cooked, and cooked) I realized that I needed more sugar to effect a gel, so I added extra sugar (1/2 cup) three separate times. To compensate for the extra sugar (and because all of my liquid was boiling off in the long cooking time), I added 2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of tequila. So, in total: 9 cups water, 3 and 3/4 cups sugar and 1/2 cup tequila. However, I would start the recipe with 7 cups of water, because I don’t think you will need the extra two cups of water if you start out with the full amount of sugar; it should not have to cook for as long as mine did. As you may be able to tell from the pictures, because I cut the sugar by more than a third, there is a lot of fruit, and less jelly, in my typical marmalade. If you would like more jelly, simply add more sugar, up to a total of 6 cups.
  2. This marmalade is spicy; it is a wonderful spicy, and frankly, I can’t stop eating it (and I’m not really a huge marmalade fan), but if you like things on the mild side of spicy, cut the amount of chiles in half. The chiles I used were a small, red chile (unidentified when I bought them at the farmer’s market last Fall): I put them on par with Arbol chiles, heat-wise. The size is about half that of a jalapeno.
  3. The tequila is totally optional; I added it on a whim. You could replace with white wine, Cointreau or Triple Sec, or simply leave it out.


Canned, in a cool dark spot, for up to 1 year. Refrigerated for up to 1 month.




    • Hi Jane,

      Good suggestion, but I haven’t tried it; I could have added apple pectin, or even some lemon rind, in order to increase the pectin, but I think the problem is 2-fold; there is plenty of pectin in the juice, but pectin needs sugar to activate. While it would have eventually set if I had simply kept on cooking, the problem is that, with limited sugar to help the set, most of the liquid boils away and then you end up with very little jelly. So the sugar is not only helping the set, it is adding volume to the jelly. I did end up adding apple pectin to my last marmalade attempt and the set ended up VERY firm: even though I had to cook this one for a long time, and add more sugar than I would like, I definitely prefer the spreadability of this one.

  1. Kat

    Here’s a marmalade recipe that has become my go-to: the final result has enough bitterness for me, and uses less sugar than I’ve seen. It does take a while to make, but I like the process.
    I love cara cara oranges, and actually added bourbon to my last batch of marmalade. The tequila sounds fantastic in your marmalade!

  2. Yes, the spice on this one kicks ass, I have to say: about as hot as you want a sweet preserve to get! I wish I knew which chiles they are; they are small red ones that I picked up at the farmer’s market last Fall and dried (there is a picture of them fresh in the October Can Jam Reveal post). I’d say they are about Arbol spicy.

  3. Kaela, this turned out freakin’ beautiful. Cara Caras are gorgeous, and I like the dense, jammy look of your marm. Now I wish I could taste it! Also, I appreciate that you laid out all the steps you went through with the sugar. I’ve probably gone down to about 90% sugar to fruit, but haven’t ventured lower than that, so listening in on your experiment is very instructive. Thank you!

    • You know, the Fannie Farmer recipe for orange marmalade calls for 75% sugar, and that’s nearly what I ended up with here. I think that’s a good starting point for the sweeter marms, like orange, that can’t take as much sugar, taste-wise, as say a lemon or grapefruit.

  4. I love your researching mind! And the delicious part of it too…Last week I did a blood orange marmalade, and ended up used Shae’s great double Meyer lemon recipe, too. It came out great. Sometimes when I see those standard recipes and their sugar requirements I just freak. Even though I love my super sweet jelly, I always try to reduce sugar. However, it’s true though, the set is always better when I stick to a 1-1 ratio on fruit/juice to sugar.

  5. hot chiles + citrus are an out-of-this-world totally addictive flavor combination! i just finished making 3 of your mustard recipes (the winter lager mustard was my favorite). now i MUST try this one.

  6. Cyndy

    I will be trying this. It sounds wonderful!
    As far as pectin and sugar, I have had great luck using Pomona Pectin and stevia as a sweetener. It should work with this too.

  7. Liz Baker

    I have Cara Caras waiting for just this. Woot.

    Forgive me if I’m being dense, but I’ve read the recipe twice and I”m not seeing the point where the chiles get added to the fruit?

    • Gah! This is what happens when you write a blog post while watching Argentina vs. Portugal. Thanks for catching this, Liz – you add the chiles on the 1st day, before the first simmer of the fruit. I’ve updated the recipe to include that step.

  8. This looks divine! I have never made marmalade because I am not a fan of the uber-sweetness and singular citrus flavor. I love the idea to add chiles! Thanks for sharing.

  9. This marmalade excites me! Not only do I have some beautiful cara cara oranges waiting for me in my fridge for marmalade, but I can imagine this marm being used SO MANY ways. Also, I can imagine this being a perfect thing to give away to friends. I have a few friends not that into sweets, so this spicy-sweet creation would be perfect.

  10. This looks so beautiful. The colour and texture are awesome. I love the addition of chiles…recently tried it too and loved the result. I’m curious about the tequila as I love the addition of booze…Can you taste it?

    • Hi Turnbulls,

      I get a bare hint of tequila; mostly in sort of a saltiness and tang, if you know what I mean. I think, if I wanted the tequila to stand out a bit more, I would take a page from Shae’s Double Meyer Marm recipe and add 1 to 2 tbsp extra at the very end, after cooking and just before jarring.

  11. Liz Baker

    Hey there –

    Thanks for letting me know it wasn’t me, at least this time.

    Figuring there was no time like the present, I dove right in. I’ve got a batch cooling off on the counter as I type. I had to improvise and use the definitely more spicy “super chiles” I grow on my balcony (the guy at the garden store asked me if I knew when they were ready to pick. I stared at him blankly and he said “When the capes pop out, of course.” Groan.) The steam alone beats Vicks for clearing one’s nasal passages.

  12. Hey Kaela,
    So I finally finished up my cara cara marmalada with arbols last night. Just a question of impatience: how long did it take your marmalade to set up? Or did it go into the jars pretty set?

    I cooked mine to 220, even a bit past. I normally would take a few days to worry, but when I checked my 2 oz overfill jar in the fridge today, it’s still incredibly liquid. Should I just patiently wait a few days/week/longer before seeing if it needs recooking?

    • Hi Emily,

      Mine set pretty much right away. I just checked my jar in the fridge and it’s about the same; a soft set, but definitely not syrupy. Did you add more sugar, perhaps? Or maybe it is just a difference in fruit sugar or pectin content between our Cara Caras. I would give it 2 weeks to see if it sets up; magic could be happening in the jars. And as a couple of people have pointed out of late, you might get syrup on top with a nice set just below. If you think it is so liquidy still that it hasn’t a chance of ever setting, then I would re-cook and use the frozen plate test this time, instead of relying on the thermometer to test the gel. Good luck – let me know how it goes!

  13. Joan

    Read this recipe, and thought, “Wow – that looks good.” Thinking about making it with regular oranges since I’ve never seen or heard of this brand of orange. Went to corner fruit/veggie market and LOOK! – there are “Cara Cara oranges!” Of course, into the bag they went, and three days later golden yum in a jar with just a hint of heat. Thanks for this recipe – you’ve got a new devotee.

  14. i, too, was eyeing that orange chile marmalade in the ball book. i tried it with navels and guajillos and was extremely underwhelmed: not only did it not have any heat, i didn’t even pick up on any smoky, chile flavor either – such a disappointment!

    i have a wreath of dried arbols just waiting to be used – do you pull the chiles out at the end or leave them in?

    i just got a shipment of valencias from G & S and have renewed confidence thanks to this post – it is beautiful!

  15. Hi Steph,

    I think the key is the 3-day process, to tell you the truth. One overnight didn’t do much in picking up the chile flavor in the juice, but the 3 days – wow. I roughly chop the chiles and leave ’em in; I love the color and bits of texture and the jam will only develop MORE heat over time (she says, cackling maniacally). But, I think it would work just as well to leave them whole and pluck them out at the end; just make sure to pull off the stems so that the seeds can access the juice. If you don’t want seeds in the final product, might be best to break the chiles up coarsely and put them in a tea ball.

  16. Kaela-
    Just finished the first day of cara cara marm, and on going through the comments I notice that you suggest starting with the same amount of water as fruit, or 7 cups of water. My 2.25 lbs of oranges and lemon juice made only 1 quart of fruit, so 1 quart is what I added for water. Where is the error, and what should I do to correct it?

  17. Hi Jane,

    I don’t think there is any error; classically, marmalade recipes are written in this way, i.e. “measure fruit + juice and add equal volume of water.” I think it done this way to even out differences between thick skin/thin skin, very juicy fruit with drier, fruit, etc. Presumably, over time, volume has been determined to be a better predictor of how much water the marmalade needs than weight. So, you did exactly right; 1 quart of fruit + 1 quart of water. My oranges were particularly thick-skinned, and I didn’t slice them all that thinly either, so that may account for the difference in volume.

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  19. I saw this post and after receiving a lovely produce coupon for a local grocer picked up a couple cara caras to make into marmalade. Will leave out the chilies this go round, but maybe next time. I’ve never made marmalade before so I figure I’d better at least stick with regular flavors my friends will eat when I foist it off on them. And what a perfect excuse to hit up the liquor store for a mini bottle of something yummy to lend a bit of extra flavor.

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  21. Murlock

    Made this last night (started it w/a friend on Sat. afternoon) – we’d made a batch of ‘boozy blood orange marmalade’ from Amy Pennington’s Urban Pantry cookbook – second year trying and we couldn’t get it to set (it makes wonderful syrup though) so not sure how this would work – last night boiled the heck out of the mixture, added @3 tbsp of pectin, and finally success – this recipe gelled – next go-round I’d add add’l water to mine (i didn’t add extra as you recommended in your notes) and it is pretty thick – also netted only 4 1/2 jars – and since it’s so wonderful, don’t think we’ll be gifting these! The sweetness of the fruit & sugar is balanced perfectly by the heat (although my significant other made the mistake of fishing out some of it during stage 1 w/out sugar added and nearly keeled over). We also used some blackstrap rum instead of the tequila (i’m allergic).
    PS: Making the grapefruit/chile marmalade tonight – citruspalooza at our house this year.

    • Marmalade can be tricky; even trickier than other preserves I venture. Although boozy blood orange syrup does sound fantastic! 🙂

      The thing about adding additional water to the marmalade, without adding any additional sugar, is that it just tends to boil away, leaving you with a longer cooking time but not much extra syrup. If you want extra syrup surrounding your pieces of fruit, you need to add both water & sugar: since I like my marms on the less-sweet side, they always come out pretty thick: jam-packed (ha!) with fruit and not a lot of syrup in between. One thing I’ve been doing lately, if I know I’ll need more syrup, is to offset the additional sweetness with extra lemon juice. In some cases, I find that it changes the flavor profile too much, but in others, works quite nicely. Perfect marmalade takes patience, practise, and a little luck: sounds like you’ve got it all going on at your place this season!

  22. I’d say the flavor profile of my small red chiles is closest to an Arbol chile, or a cayenne type, rather than the smokier cascabel/guajillo/ancho variety. I love cascabels, so I think it would work (there is a pumpkin-orange-cascabel marm on the site that is lovely), but if you want to stick close to the original, go with a bright red, skinny chile. You could also sub in fresh chiles, assuming they are small and you don’t use more than say, 3 tbsp minced, as the recipe will still be very acidic.

  23. sofiaatbetacyanin

    Hi Kaela! So great to find your blog on my search for marmalade recipes (my first citrus canning experience). I ended up following this process for a seville + blood orange marmalade and it turned out fantastic! Loved the reduction in sugar, allowing for the the sour/bitter flavours to come through.

    Just curious…is the 3-day process just to bring out the heat of the chilles? or do you recommend it for marmalade recipes in general, and if so, why?

    Your collection of recipes is so interesting….can’t wait to try some of them out!

    • Hi Sofia,

      I tend to use a 3-day (or for softer peeled fruits like Meyer lemons and tangerines, a 2-day) process because it helps to distribute the pectin evenly throughout the preserve and to soften the citrus peel by simmering in water before you add the sugar (which tends to toughen it: think candied citrus peel). These days I tend to soak peels in water on Day 1, then add sugar on Day 2 for another simmer and overnight rest, then finish cooking & canning on Day 3. Sometimes, I skip Day 2’s soak and simply add sugar and cook on that day: works best with soft or thinner peels.

      Hope that helps,

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