This seemingly innocuous ingredient, known for its inexpensiveness, has quietly permeated various products, from sweet treats to household items and even cosmetics in recent years. However, before you rush to stock up on gelatin powders, granules, or gelatin sheets, there’s a captivating story behind this ingredient that deserves to be uncovered.
So…what is gelatin made from? A byproduct of industrial meat processing, gelatin is made from various animal parts, including bones, hooves, skin, tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue. Essentially: slaughterhouse scraps. Gross? Yeah, we know. That’s why you’ll often find gelatin plants located near slaughterhouses.
You can make gelatin from almost any mammals (including humans, although luckily we’ve escaped that fate). The most common animals used for gelatin include pigs, cows, and even horses.
Gelatin is derived from collagen, which is high in protein, giving it a “health halo,” although most consumers don’t realize that ingesting collagen isn’t even remotely as effective as building it yourself. This is done through by eating a diet rich in vitamin C, zinc, and copper, or supplementing to fill the gaps.
From an industrial standpoint, gelatin has been an essential building block of many processed foods for its unique gelling and binding properties. It’s what creates the chewy texture in conventional marshmallows, gummy candies, Jell-o desserts, and more.
To put a fine point on it, no, gelatin is not vegetarian or vegan. It always comes directly from animal sources, whether it’s cows, pigs, horses, or fish. There are vegetarian gelatin alternatives, like Agar Agar, which you can read about below.
Unlike meat, gelatin can be easy to miss because it doesn’t present as pieces of flesh, but it has the equivalent weight when it comes to loss of life. Those colorful candies and desserts hold deathly secrets.
Brace yourself — the process for how gelatin is made is not pretty. You know how we said that gelatin comes from animal hide, tissues, and bones? Well, those animal parts are boiled, dried, treated with a strong acid or base, filtered, and collagen is extracted.
Gelatin can then be sold directly to manufacturing companies, or directly to consumer in the form of gelatin powder and gelatin sheets.
Get your magnifying glasses out and let’s examine some labels!
The frustrating thing about gelatin is that it often shows up where you least expect it, and since it’s not one of the top allergens, manufacturers can hide it within the list of ingredients without calling attention to the fact. Common places you may find gelatin include…
Explore World of Vegan’s Vegan Bath, Body, and Beauty Guides to discover vegan and cruelty-free options.
Several of these may come as a shock to you. We didn’t realize matchsticks had gelatin until we researched for this article, and just learned about photographic film a few years ago. Here are even more things you may not realize aren’t vegan.
When in doubt, always email or call the manufacturers of these products to get definitive answers. Especially in products that aren’t directly consumed, gelatin may not appear anywhere on the label, even if it’s used in processing.
If you’re looking for a vegan-friendly gelatin to use in your cooking, baking, candy making, or anything else, have a whole guide to vegan gelatin alternatives. This guide also covers vegan friendly gummy candies, vitamins, marshmallows, jello, and beyond.
When it comes to creating delightful vegan treats and dishes, gelatin has traditionally posed a challenge. Fortunately, the world of plant-based alternatives is expanding rapidly, and there are now a plethora of vegan gelatin substitutes to explore.
Derived from seaweed, agar-agar is perhaps the most well-known and widely used vegan gelatin alternative. It has been a staple in Asian cuisine for centuries and is renowned for its gelling properties. Agar-agar is a versatile ingredient that can be used to create a wide range of textures, from firm to delicate, making it perfect for both sweet and savory recipes.
Carrageenan, extracted from certain species of red seaweed, is another popular vegan gelatin substitute. It’s often used in dairy-free milks and plant-based desserts like puddings and ice creams to achieve a creamy texture. Carrageenan comes in two forms: kappa and iota, each with slightly different gelling properties, providing flexibility in culinary applications.
Pectin is a natural plant-based gelling agent found in fruits, particularly in their peels and cores. It’s commonly used in jams, jellies, and fruit-based desserts. Pectin comes in various forms, such as high methoxyl (HM) and low methoxyl (LM), each suitable for different culinary purposes. It’s an excellent choice for those looking to add a touch of natural sweetness and fruit flavor to their dishes.
Derived from the konjac plant’s root, konjac powder is a lesser-known vegan gelatin alternative. It’s valued for its thickening and gelling properties, making it ideal for creating jelly-like textures in vegan desserts and savory dishes alike. Konjac is also famous for its low-calorie and low-carb profile, making it a favorite among health-conscious cooks.
For those who prefer to keep things simple, flaxseed and chia seed gels can be created at home with ease. By mixing these seeds with water, you can create a thick, gel-like consistency. This DIY approach is perfect for adding body and binding to recipes like baked goods and smoothies.
In recent years, several companies have developed commercial vegan gelatin products that mimic traditional animal-based gelatin. These products are typically made from plant-based ingredients such as tapioca starch or carrageenan and are available in various forms, including sheets, powder, and granules.
As the demand for vegan alternatives continues to grow, innovative solutions to replace traditional gelatin keep emerging. Whether you’re a seasoned vegan chef or just starting your plant-based journey, these vegan gelatin alternatives offer a world of culinary possibilities, ensuring that you can enjoy all your favorite recipes without compromising your ethical beliefs. Experiment, have fun, and embrace the delicious world of vegan gelatin alternatives!