Culinary Arts

What Is Gelatin? How to Cook With Gelatin

Written by MasterClass

May 15, 2019 • 2 min read

‘Gelatinous’ might not be high on your list of enticing food words, but it’s got a lot going for it, promise.

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What Is Gelatin?

Gelatin is a protein derived from the collagen in animal parts; it acts as a kind of natural adhesive in foods like jams, jellies, and gummy candy like gummy bears. It’s also the gelling agent behind Jell-O’s signature wobble. Flavorless and colorless, gelatin products are found in powder or single-sheet form.

What Is Gelatin Made From?

Gelatin is primarily sourced from the skin, bones, and connective tissue of animals, though there are gelatin alternatives made from plants, like red algae's agar-agar and pectin, which is made from the boiling and dehydrating of fruit peels and skins.

What's the Difference Between Gelatin and Collagen?

Both gelatin and collagen are jelly-like substances that go by a few different names. Because gelatin is technically made from collagen, the differences between them are mostly on a process level.

  • Collagen is the preeminent protein in your entire body. It’s in skin and tendons and all the little bits of connective tissue holding you together and letting you walk around. When it breaks down, that’s when wrinkles develop.
  • Gelatin is what you get when you cook that collagen, or melt it down. It’s the best way to consume the essential amino acids present in collagen.

One step further is collagen hydrolysate, or hydrolyzed collagen, which is processed more than gelatin and reacts slightly differently under certain conditions. Collagen hydrolysate will dissolve in both hot or cold water, and will not technically gel; gelatin powder only dissolves in hot water and will gel.

What Are the Health Benefits of Gelatin?

When you consume gelatin, it essentially does for you what it did for the animal it came from: it gives the body elasticity, strengthening the cartilage and tissues, which helps to ease things like joint pain. Gelatin supplements have also been shown to be good for your gut health, repairing ruptures in the lining that lead to “leaky gut.”

How to Incorporate Gelatin Into Your Diet

There are two ways to incorporate gelatin and collagen into your diet: naturally and not-so naturally. Bone broth, for example, is a natural source of gelatin, as is a slow-cooked roast of meat. Meat cuts with lots of connective tissue and marbling will produce a jus that’s packed with amino acids. (If you want to get really crazy, make an aspic!)

If you had pastry in mind, hydrolyzed gelatin or gelatin powder that you find in the grocery store baking aisle can be used to make candies, puddings, ice creams, or jelly. If you’re using it to thicken soups or stews, try using homemade stock instead of store bought: the natural gelatin makes a major difference in both flavor and texture.