The Romans learned from the Greeks that quinces slowly cooked with honey would "set" when cool (though they did not know about fruit pectin). Greek μελίμηλον melimēlon or "honey fruit"—for most quinces are too astringent to be used without honey, and in Greek μῆλον mēlon or "apple" stands for all globular fruits—was transformed into "marmelo." A Roman cookbook attributed to 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, "a book that is not only a treatise on the etiquette of imperial banquetting in the ninth century, but a catalogue of the foods available and dishes made from them."
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.
The extension of "marmalade" in the English language to refer to citrus fruits was made in the 17th century, when citrus first began to be plentiful enough in England for the usage to become common.
In some continental Europe languages[which?], a word sharing a root with "marmalade" refers to all gelled fruit conserves, and those derived from citrus fruits merit no special word of their own. Due to British influence, however, only citrus products may be sold as "marmalade" in the European Union (with certain exceptions[clarification needed]), which has led to considerable complaints from those countries.
In Portugal, where the modern use of the word originated, "marmelada" refers only to a solid gel-like substance made of quinces. Any other use of the word is considered improper both linguistically and technically.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "marmalade" appeared in English language in 1480, borrowed from French marmelade which, in turn, came from the Portuguese marmelada. According to José Pedro Machado’s Dicionário Etimológico da Língua Portuguesa, the oldest known document where this Portuguese word is to be found is Gil Vicente’s play Comédia de Rubena, written in 1521:
In Portuguese, according to the root of the word, which is marmelo, "quince", marmelada is a preserve made from quinces, quince cheese. Marmelo in turn derives from Latin melimelum, “honey apple”, which in turn comes from the earlier Greek μελίμηλον (melímēlon), from "μέλι" (meli), "honey" + "μήλον" (mēlon), "apple".
There is no truth to a folk etymology that claims the word derives from "Ma'am est malade" (French for "Madam is ill"), referring to Mary, Queen of Scots, because she used it as a medicine for a headache or upset stomach—or that during a bout of seasickness when sailing from France to Scotland, she turned to the sugary substance made of quinces by her French chef to ease her queasiness. (See on-line marmalade recipes). A similar folk etymology is based on Marie Antoinette.
In 1524, Henry VIII received a "box of marmalade" from Mr. Hull of Exeter. As it was in a box, this was likely to have been marmelada, a quince paste from Portugal , still made and sold in southern Europe. Its Portuguese origins from marmalado 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".
The Scottish city of Dundee has a long association with marmalade. In 1797, James Keiller and his mother Janet ran a small sweet and preserves shop in the Seagate section of Dundee; they opened a factory to produce "Dundee Marmalade", that is marmalade containing thick chunks of Seville orange rind. Some claim this preparation as a new twist by Keiller on the already well-known fruit preserve of quince marmalade. Others see the Keiller claims as canny commercial promotion, backed up by such references as "My wife has made marmalade of oranges for you" in James Boswell's letter to Dr. Johnson of April 24, 1777.
Classical Meisterfloetist and American cryptology pioneer Lambros D. Callimahos was a great lover of Dundee marmalade. Students in the National Security Agency training course CA-400, an extremely detailed course on the history and usage of cryptology and cryptanalysis developed and taught by Callimahos from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, were inducted into the "Dundee Society" and were presented with Dundee ceramic jars upon completion of the course. The group's name came about when Callimahos, who used an empty Dundee jar as a pencil caddy on his desk, used the name "Dundee" to schedule a luncheon for course graduates at the Ft. Meade Officers' Club in place of either the course name or the agency's name (neither of which could be used for security purposes). When Dundee switched to using glass jars, Callimahos used the ceramic jars only for the initial course completion ceremony, then collected them back again to preserve them for future course graduates and suggested students seek out their own Dundee jars.