What’s gelatin made from?

No, not horses, reader Lee, that’s a myth. Hooves don’t have any collagen in them to speak of. That myth arose from the days when gelatin was made from cow’s feet — waste items from rendering plants (glue factories). The stuff looked awful and smelled worse, or so I understand, which is why cooks in those days had to clarify the gelatin they used, then add plenty of coloring and flavoring.

Once upon a time, cow feet (and/or bones) were boiled down, the gelatin was extracted and poured into molds. Then cooled the gelatin was cut into slices and dried to form sheets, not unlike the gelatin sheets used in professional kitchens today. As a further next step the dried sheets of gelatin were crushed into powder to make a granulated product.

Similar processes are in use today, though nowadays gelatin making (unlike in the 19th century) doesn’t start with bones from the glue factory. Today companies like Knox employ animal skins, which they boil in either acid or alkaline solutions. Much of the time pig skin is used, though cow hides and bones are also common. Boiling cow hides in alkaline produces a stronger, more viscous gelatin (known as Type B gelatin). Pig skins treated with acid yield a weaker gelatin (Type A). The most delicate gelatins of all come from fish skin and bones, which are also rich in collagen.

If you’ve ever wondered why vegetarians don’t eat JELL-O, this is the reason. Which is not to say that there aren’t many other kinds of vegetable-based thickeners available today, they just don’t have quite the same setting properties as the animal-derived stuff.

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20 Responses to What’s gelatin made from?

  1. Linda says:

    I have tried agar agar but have trouble w/setting.

    • joepastry says:

      Yes, nothing’s quite like gelatin. Especially for large masses of filling, as in a Charlotte, vegetable alternatives simply can’t support the weight.

  2. Chana says:

    It’s also not kosher. You can buy kosher gelatin (I have no idea what it’s made of, probably synthetic), but I find that the taste (or the texture, to be more precise) is “off.” So when I see delicious dessert photos and find gelatin in the list of ingredients, well, then I know I’m just there for the ride. (It’s always a nice ride.)

    How is it that most chocolate mousse recipes (that I’ve seen, and made) do not contain gelatin, but other types of mousse always contain gelatin?

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Chana!

      You’re right that vegetarian and/or Kosher gelatins do indeed have a hard time supporting a large structure like a charlotte. When you’re trying to thicken a large volume of a fruit purée to the point where it stands up on its own, a type A or type B is really the only way to go. But to your question, most fruit “mousse” isn’t really “mousse” in the chocolate mousse sense, but rather Bavarian cream. The reason chocolate mousse can (literally) stand so well on its own is because chocolate is solid at room temperature. Combine it with whipped cream and it makes a foam that’s quite rigid. Since fruit purée runs, it needs to be supported with something. That’s pretty much the deal!

      Thanks for the email,

      - Joe

  3. Vicki says:

    There’s another plant based stabiliser I use to make jelly called konnyaku/konjac. However, I’m not sure whether it can be used to make mousses or bavarian creams in place of gelatin. But it’s delicious when used to make fruit jelly (which has a less mushy mouthfeel than your typical Jell-O)!

  4. Emi says:

    Hi Joe,

    I’m curious about Kosher gelatin, what are they made of? I do make my own fondant for my customer and some of them don’t eat pig products and I have to be very careful with the ingredients. Thank you for your very informative blog. I got so much knowledge just by reading it. Have a great day! :-)

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Emi!

      Until very recently most Kosher gelatins were made from fish bones. They were only so-so for most uses because fish collagen doesn’t create a gel that’s especially rigid. However recently a company called Glatech came out with a new product called Kolatin derived from cow skins. They claim it’s completely Kosher…have a look at their website and see ((www.koshergelatin.com/about).

      Best of luck — and thanks for the very kind comments!

      - Joe

  5. Faith says:

    I have been a vegetarian all my life…never had meat…but, grew up eating jello!!! Didn’t know what it tok to make it til now…so…no more jello and now I must give up candy corn and jelly beans and who knows what else!!! Is there any company that makes treats that are NOT full of animal skin or hooves or bones??? Truly Veggie from now on!!!

    • joepastry says:

      Hey Faith!

      Not hooves or bones, but skins, yes. You can find vegan treats around. Just do a google search and you’re sure to find them. Best of luck!

      - Joe

  6. Pingback: Coconut Milk Panna Cotta with Raspberries | Heart Beet Chef

  7. aish kirawant says:

    Gelatin is protein obtained by boiling skin, tendons, ligaments, and/or bones with water.

  8. I Green says:

    My child has sever allergies “Soy ( big one)”, Eggs (chicken and duck), Beef, Lamb, Milk, Cheese, Casein and Whey. I have been looking for an alternative to whipped cream, he does enjoy rice milk and coconut the best. I have been able to alter or modify most recipes though and stuck on this: NO Dairy whipped cream. Non Dairy in not an option because it still contains a daily element.

    So if you can assist or direct to : this would be greatly appreciated please reply to the e-addy provided with a subject of :Whipped Cream For Zacc. Thank you for your time.
    A Grateful Mom.

    • joepastry says:

      Hey there!

      You can make whipped cream from coconut milk or better yet coconut cream, the stuff you find in the cocktail sections of supermarkets. Refrigerate the can, open the top and scoop out the thick stuff on top. That can be whipped like heavy cream. Just add sugar to taste and any flavoring you wish, such as vanilla extract.

      Cheer and my best to Zacc!

      - Joe

    • joepastry says:

      Hey None!

      I confess I’m not sure. It probably varies from one manufacturer to another. I’d assume they were made from beef gelatin unless you can get a confirmation from the manufacturer.

      - Joe

  9. Fauzia says:

    What type of geletin is used in fish oil capsules? I can’t have animal products..

    • joepastry says:

      Hey there!

      I just got another question exactly like this! My response was that I’m not sure. It probably varies from one manufacturer to another but most are probably made from beef gelatin. The manufacturer could certainly tell you.

      Best of luck,

      - JOe

  10. Sun says:

    Hi Joe,
    It’s really nice you’re helping people here. I however notice many have problem with Gelatine.
    I’m a chocolatier, and I’m hates gelatines. It’s old fashion way to stabilised fruits base mousse.
    Here are new version for anyone that got problem with any sorts of gelatines. For Vegan and vegetarian, etc.
    The ratio is for 500gm fruits purée used 75gm cocoa butter.
    ( you can get cocoa butter easily now)
    Follow this rules your fruits mousse will set.
    However how much sugar needed in your recipe depend on the type of fruits you use, this is something you must test yourself.

    Here an examples,
    500gm raspberry purée
    180gm sugar
    90gm egg yolks
    45gm custard powder
    75gm cocoa butter
    500gm cream( whipped)

    Mix sugar,egg yolk and custard powder
    Bring raspberry purée to boil(stop cooking) and pour over egg yolk mix
    Put back raspberry custard and cook until reaches 85 Celsius at least
    Add cocoa butter stop cooking
    When custard temperature is 35 Celsius then fold together with the whipped cream

    Thank you,

    • joepastry says:

      I definitely will try this, Sun. Thank you very much for taking the time to send this to me. I’m sure the readers here will find it very useful!


      - Joe

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