Gelatin is a versatile ingredient with a very mild flavor. It is used in many recipes for different reasons, such as a gelling agent in jello or to give certain foods their unique textures. This ingredient is also used in certain health and cosmetic products and it's also found in the coating for pills to make them easier to swallow. This shows us that gelatin is a unique and useful ingredient. But how exactly is it made?
Gelatin is mainly made out of a protein called collagen which is found in many animals and humans. This protein is used to strengthen tissues, making them able to stretch without breaking. The collagen used to make the gelatin we normally eat comes from pig skin, as this part of the body contains the most collagen - about 30% of its mass. but it can also come from the bones and connective tissues. Collagen in itself is normally not eaten, as it doesn't taste very good, but it undergoes a special process to be turned into gelatin.
This process begins by first bathing the pig skin in an acid or base, in order to dissolve the collagen. After about 24 hours the substance is then boiled and filtered multiple times in order to separate the collagen from the rest of the substance. Finally, the gelatin is cut, dried and then turned into a powder or into sheets. These sheets or powder are made of 2% salt and sugar, 8% water and 90% gelatin. For a more in depth look at this process, watch this video:
What exactly causes gelatin to be so unique? A gelatin protein is shaped like a triple helix. It is made up of three amino acids, mainly glycine, proline and hydroxyproline, which are twisted around each other and weakly bonded together. When added to hot water, these bonds break and the chains float around, reforming as the water cools.. While the chains reform, they act almost like a net, trapping the water inside of the pockets between the chains. Furthermore, as they cool, they will keep the shape of their mold.
As can be seen, gelatin is not vegan since we use animal skin to make it. However, there are many vegan-friendly substitutes.The first one is agar, which is derived from seaweed. It is more useful than gelatin because it can be made thicker or more liquid by changing the ratio of agar to water. The other one is carrageenan, which is made from Irish moss: a type of red seaweed. It can also be more useful than gelatin since it works better for making jelly and can when used in foods such as fudge, it can help prevent it from sticking to your teeth.
In conclusion, gelatin is not only a very popular ingredient, but the process that goes into making gelatin is quite interesting. This food is also quite different from others due to how it reacts with water and the fact that when it cools it turns into a gel-like substance. Although people who are vegan cannot enjoy gelatin itself, there are still a variety of alternatives that have their own strengths when compared to gelatin itself.