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Gelatin facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Sheet (or leaf) gelatin for cooking

Gelatin is a protein substance that comes from collagen. Collagen is a natural protein found in the tendons, ligaments, and tissues of mammals.

It is made by boiling the connective tissues, bones and skins of animals, usually cows and pigs. Once the boiling is done, the collagen will cool and make a jelly. As a food, gelatin is used to make jellied desserts; used in the preservation of fruit and meat, and to make powdered milk. Gelatin can also be used as glue for matches or glue for paper money. You can also find it is used as the syrup in medicine. Also known as medicine emulsions.

Gelatin is classed as a liquid when at room temperature but reverts to a solid if below room temperature.


Early history of food applications

The first use of gelatin in foods is attributed to Medieval Britain (1400s) when cattle hooves were boiled to produce a gel. Further commercial development occurred in 1754 when a British manufacturing patent was issued. Food applications in the USA and France during 1800–1900 appear to have established the versatility of gelatin, including the origin of its popularity in the USA as Jell-O. Over middle-late 1800s, Charles and Rose Knox of New York manufactured and marketed gelatin powder, diversifying the appeal and applications of gelatin.

Culinary uses

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Probably best known as a gelling agent in cooking, different types and grades of gelatin are used in a wide range of food and nonfood products: common examples of foods that contain gelatin are gelatin desserts, trifles, aspic, marshmallows, candy corn, and confections such as Peeps, gummy bears, fruit snacks, and jelly babies. Gelatin may be used as a stabilizer, thickener, or texturizer in foods such as yogurt, cream cheese, and margarine; it is used, as well, in fat-reduced foods to simulate the mouthfeel of fat and to create volume. It also is used in the production of several types of Chinese soup dumplings, specifically Shanghainese soup dumplings, or xiaolongbao, as well as Shengjian mantou, a type of fried and steamed dumpling. The fillings of both are made by combining ground pork with gelatin cubes, and in the process of cooking, the gelatin melts, creating a soupy interior with a characteristic gelatinous stickiness.

Gelatin is used for the clarification of juices, such as apple juice, and of vinegar.

Isinglass, from the swim bladders of fish, is still used as a fining agent for wine and beer. Besides hartshorn jelly, from deer antlers (hence the name "hartshorn"), isinglass was one of the oldest sources of gelatin.

Technical uses

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Capsules made of gelatin
  • Certain professional and theatrical lighting equipment use color gels to change the beam color. Historically, these were made with gelatin, hence the term, color gel.
  • Gelatin typically constitutes the shells of pharmaceutical capsules to make them easier to swallow. Hypromellose is a vegetarian-acceptable alternative to gelatin, but is more expensive to produce.
  • Some animal glues such as hide glue may be unrefined gelatin.
  • It is used to hold silver halide crystals in an emulsion in virtually all photographic films and photographic papers. Despite some efforts, no suitable substitutes with the stability and low cost of gelatin have been found.
  • Used as a carrier, coating, or separating agent for other substances, for example, it makes β-carotene water-soluble, thus imparting a yellow color to any soft drinks containing β-carotene.
  • Gelatin is used as a binder in match heads and sandpaper.
  • Cosmetics may contain a non-gelling variant of gelatin under the name hydrolyzed collagen.
  • Gelatin was first used as an external surface sizing for paper in 1337 and continued as a dominant sizing agent of all European papers through the mid-nineteenth century. In modern times, it is mostly found in watercolor paper, and occasionally in glossy printing papers, artistic papers, and playing cards. It maintains the wrinkles in crêpe paper.

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