Gelatin – What Is It, What’s It In, What’s The Alternative?

You’ve seen gelatin listed as an ingredient in many products. Have you ever wondered what it is or where it comes from?

If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, gelatin is a huge no-no. I was told many years ago that it is derived from the boiling of animal hooves and other assorted animal left-overs.


Yuck! I have since found out that hooves are not used (that’s a relief isn’t it!!) as hooves are mostly keratin, a completely different substance. Keratin does not have any of the properties that gelatin needs, and in fact it has no culinary uses whatsoever.

OK, so where does gelatin come from then? Gelatin comes from collagen. And where does collagen come from, if it isn’t hooves? Most of the collagen in commercially made gelatin is from connective tissue. That means skin, tendons, gristle. In fact, collagen is found all through most animal bodies, between muscles and muscle cells. But, all things considered, the skin is the best source for commercially viable quantities of collagen, and the gelatin you buy in packets is mostly pig skin – with maybe some assorted bits of gristle thrown in – a great after-dinner conversation topic!

If this all sounds too gross for you to read on, remember, it’s ‘only’ bits and pieces of animals.

If you are a meat-eater then what difference does it make really which bits of the animal you are using? Make the most of the animal and utilize all that you can… reduce waste! Have you ever considered exactly what ‘meat’ goes into hot dogs?? But we won’t go there today… let’s learn about gelatin today right?

Gelatin is pervasive. Check the ingredients in that packet of marshmallows, the cream cheese you thought was full of ‘natural ingredients’. Well… I suppose you could call gelatin ‘natural’ as it comes from animals and they naturally occur all over the place… but why is it in cream cheese… or yogurt… or margarine? How about the gelatin in commercially baked cakes and desserts… most industrially made ice creams. In fact, if you see the word “stabilisers” on a package, it probably contains gelatin. If this bothers you or confuses you (because of ethical and/or religious reasons) the best thing to do is to contact the supplier or manufacturer of the product and ask then if it has gelatin in.

It doesn’t end there of course; gelatin is found in many non-edible products, including glue, bone china, photographic chemicals, as a surface sizing it smoothes glossy printing papers or playing cards and maintains the wrinkles in crepe paper.

But wait there’s more! Gelatin is used by synchronised swimmers to hold their hair in place during their routines as it will not dissolve in the cold water of the pool (who knew?); a new, major application for gelatin is in the paintball industry. The classic-style “war games” are played out using projectiles constructed of gelatin. In the production of matches, gelatin binds together the chemicals that form the match head; gelatin is the binder between the paper and the abrasive particles in sandpaper; Gelatin is also used in micro-encapsulation. It’s used in NCR (‘no carbon required’) papers. A dye is micro-encapsulated in gelatin that forms a fine coating on a sheet of paper. With pressure exerted by hand writing or typing onto the top of the sheet, the micro capsules break onto the next sheet, forming a perfect copy of the first. And, to top it all off, gelatin is used in a lot of medications, including but not limited to gelcaps, throat lozenges, and many vitamins.

Approximately 60 per cent is used in food preparation, 20 per cent in pharmaceutical manufacture (the coatings of tablets being a major use), 15 per cent in photographic use and the remainder for other non-food use.

Special kinds of gelatin are made only from certain animals or from fish in order to comply with Jewish kosher or Muslim halal laws. Vegetarians and vegans may substitute similar gelling agents such as agar, nature gum, carrageenan, pectin, or konnyaku sometimes referred to as “vegetable gelatines” although there is no chemical relationship; they are carbohydrates, not proteins. The name “gelatin” is colloquially applied to all types of gels and jellies; but properly used, it currently refers solely to the animal protein product. There is no vegetable source for gelatin.

For decades, gelatin has been touted as a good source of protein. It has also been said to strengthen nails and hair. However, there is little scientific evidence to support such an assertion. In fact, the human body itself produces abundant amounts of the proteins found in gelatin. Furthermore, dry nails are usually due to a lack of moisture, not protein.

Due to Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as “mad cow disease”, and its link to new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), there has been much concern about using gelatin derived from possibly infected animal parts. One study released in 2004, however, demonstrated that the gelatin production process destroys most of the BSE prions that may be present in the raw material. However, more detailed recent studies regarding the safety of gelatin in respect to mad cow disease have prompted the US Food and Drug Administration to re-issue a warning and stricter guidelines for The Sourcing and Processing of Gelatin to Reduce the Potential Risk Posed by Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy from 1997. Thanks to for some of these references.

Wow… so there you have it… it’s invasive, it’s in almost everything and whether this is a good or not-so-good thing all depends on your viewpoint. Vegans… no! Vegetarians… no! Kosher… maybe! Anyone else… who cares!

Source by Maureen Cram


Leave a Reply