Questions and answers about the gelatin industry

Gelatin is a pure protein made from animal raw materials that contain collagen. Gelatin is composed of 84-90% protein and 1-2 % mineral salts. The rest is made up of water. Hence, gelatin is zero carb and zero fat. Moreover, gelatin contains neither preservatives nor other additives.

The most common form of gelatin is edible gelatin which excels in two major application areas. As an ingredient in food, it can be found in yogurts, light cream desserts as well as jellies and gives fruit gums their unique consistency. As an excipient in pharma, it is employed to manufacture hard and soft capsules which are ideal vehicles to safely deliver active ingredients.

Collagen peptides are derived from the same raw materials used for gelatin manufacturing employing an extraction process based on enzymes.  This natural product is made up of 97% protein (dry weight basis). The functionality of hydrolyzed collagen does not lie in its texturizing properties through gelling and/or water-binding, but is manifested by the effects it has on the human body, hence being a looked-for ingredient in functional foods and dietary supplements. Indeed, hydrolyzed collagen provides multiple health benefits by acting as building blocks for healthy joints, bones and muscles as well as skin. Moreover, as a pure protein it is used in weight-loss products such as nutrition bars or diet products.

Collagen peptides are manufactured through the enzymatic hydrolysis of collagen. It is not able to gel due to its low molecular weight a result of shorter peptide chains. Instead, it has a wide range of properties that are associated with health and care.

The food industry uses gelatin for a large number of products. Thus, for example, gelatin gives fruit gums their elasticity and the desired chewing consistency, and it stabilizes the cream in cakes. Gelatin makes yogurts and quark desserts creamy and its gelling properties are used to prepare aspics and jellied dishes that are pleasing to the eye. Gelatin also plays an important role in reduced calorie diets: it can bind water and is thus indispensable in the manufacture of light products.

The pharmaceutical industry also avails itself of the extraordinary properties of gelatin: gelatin capsules protect active ingredients and vitamins from air, light as well as moisture and keep unpleasant smells and flavors from becoming perceptible.

Next to edible and pharmaceutical gelatin there is also technical gelatin. It is, for example, used in the photographic industry and in printing houses.

Gelatin is available in stores in various forms. For baking or cooking needs, it is offered as leaf gelatin or in the form of granules. Another variant is red gelatin, which has been dyed a vibrant red for decorative cakes and desserts.

Leaf gelatin has been cut into squares and has a special pattern that results from the manufacturing process. At first glance, this makes leaf gelatin look more like a work of art. It is elastic and flexible and is especially easy to divide into portions. Leaf gelatin is primarily used in households, restaurants, bakeries and butcher’s shops.

Instant gelatin is also soluble in cold water. It was specifically developed for temperature-sensitive products so that the gelatin would not have to be dissolved through heating. It is often used to stabilise foods such as cakes, desserts and other sweet and cold dishes.

Gelatin needs a little time and cold temperatures to bind liquids. Creams, desserts, cream cakes, aspics and all dishes containing gelatin must be placed into the refrigerator for several hours. How long it takes to set a liquid depends on the amount of liquid to be set. Small amounts will already set after one hour, while cream cakes may need several hours.

To set creams for desserts or the fillings of cakes with gelatin, edible gelatin is first soaked and then dissolved in a small amount of liquid. Two to three tablespoons of, for example, cream, milk or fruit juice are enough – it just depends on the recipe. To avoid clumping, first stir about four tablespoons of the cake filling or whipped cream into the dissolved gelatin. Then beat this mixture into the remaining cream using either a whisk or hand mixer.

Rule of thumb for the dosage and swelling of leaf gelatin:

•    For jellies, per ½ liter of liquid: use 6 leaves
•    For cream desserts (with egg yolk): use 4 leaves
•    For molded cream desserts: use 8 leaves

Leaf gelatin swells when it is placed into a bowl of cold water. A packet of leaf gelatin is enough to set half a liter of liquid. The leaf gelatin is left to soak in the cold water for five minutes, which causes it to swell and soften. Some of the water is pressed out of the gelatin by hand and the gelatin is then dissolved in a warm (not hot) liquid, all depending upon the recipe, by which the structure of gelatin changes and it loses its binding properties. Leaf gelatin is easy to work with and very soluble.

Rule of thumb for the dosage and swelling of powdered gelatin:
A standard sachet of powdered gelatin (9 grams) is enough to set 500 milliliters of liquid and is the equivalent of 6 leaves of gelatin.

•    For jellies, per ½ liter of liquid: use 9 grams of powdered gelatin
•    For cream desserts (with egg yolk): use 6 grams of powdered gelatin
•    For molded cream desserts: use 12 grams of powdered gelatin

The ground gelatin can directly be soaked in the liquid in which it will later be dissolved (for example in fruit juice or whipped cream, or, as an alternative, in water). However, enough liquid should be used that it completely covers the gelatin powder. After soaking for five minutes, the pot with the gelatin is simply placed on the stove and heated on a low heat while stirring until the gelatin has completely dissolved. Again, it is very important to avoid overheating. It may be a bit easier to work with ground gelatin but it cannot be measured out as easily as leaf gelatin.

Some recipes do not include a liquid that can be used to dissolve the gelatin. In this case, the soaked gelatin can be dissolved without adding any liquid. A bain-marie should be used to avoid overheating. However, only leaf gelatin can be dissolved without the addition of a liquid.

Today, a growing number of consumers show a keen interest in healthier foods with less fat, less sugar and fewer calories. Gelatin goes along with this trend and contributes towards increasing the nutritional value and food quality:

•    As a pure protein gelatin does not contain any fat, carbohydrates or cholesterol
•    Thanks to its many excellent properties, gelatin can be used to develop “lighter” foods with no loss of flavor or consistency
•    Gelatin is an ingredient (just like flour and sugar) and does not have an E number

Edible gelatin is made from pork, cattle and fish. The raw material used the most is bone, as well as pork skins and cattle split (the middle layer of the skin).

Gelatin is exclusively made from the raw materials of slaughtered animals that have been approved for human consumption. In terms of quality, they are equivalent to the meat products used in the kitchen. Gelatin is a foodstuff and does not need an E number.

The manufacturing process can be broken down into several complex steps, beginning with the extraction of the gelatin from the collagenous raw materials to filtration and ending with sterilization at 140° Celsius. Taken together, the individual manufacturing steps make gelatin a healthy and safe product.

The manufacturing process of pharmaceutical gelatin is the same as that of edible gelatin. Strict rules apply for both processes. Furthermore, the origins and choice of raw materials as well as the manufacturing process are assessed by the same agencies that are responsible for the safety of medicines. These agencies specifically approve each individual type of gelatin from each manufacturer.

Theoretically, there are substitutes for gelatin. That is, for its individual properties – but not for its multi-functionality. Only few products are as diverse as gelatin. The list of its properties is long and so its consumer groups come from many sectors. As a foodstuff, gelatin binds, gels and stabilizes. It can transform liquids into a solid mass and then return them to the liquid state through heating. Gelatin is neutral in taste and is good for joints, skin, hair and nails. In addition, gelatin contains neither fat, carbohydrates nor cholesterol. And in contrast to soy, egg or milk proteins, it has a low allergenic potential.

  1. Not every fruit can be used with gelatin. A few contain enzymes that reduce or completely cancel out the gelling properties of gelatin. However, this is only true when they are processed raw. If either canned goods are used or the fruit is first cooked, then it is no longer a problem to add gelatin to the mix. Examples of fruit that cannot be used raw with gelatin are kiwis, pineapples, papayas and figs.
  2. When only small amounts are being made, the enzymes in saliva can also interfere with the gelling process. Therefore, do not dip a used tablespoon into a cream base or gelatin.
  3. Once prepared, gelatin should not be placed into the freezer or on the balcony in the winter; the mixture may become crumbly.
  4. Gelatin should never be placed in boiling liquids because it will lose its ability to gel.
  5. When preparing cold dishes such as whipped cream or quark desserts, after soaking the leaf or powdered gelatin in water, it is helpful to dissolve the gelatin in a pot on a low heat. To avoid clumping, it is important to ensure that the dissolved gelatin and the cold cream desserts or whipped cream are the same temperature. For that reason, first add several spoonfuls of the cold mixture to the gelatin and then carefully stir the rest into the cold mixture. But take care: always add the cold mixture to the gelatin and not the other way around.
  6. When preparing warm dishes, first soak the gelatin in water and then stir it directly into the warm liquid or cream until it has dissolved.
  7. Gelatin is especially easy to dissolve in the microwave. The leaf or powdered gelatin is first soaked in water and then placed into a small bowl and liquefied. Which power setting of the microwave to use and how long this will take depends on the machine and the amount. Special care must be taken when preparing smaller amounts because these quickly exceed 80 degrees and can then no longer be used. Then follow the same instructions for use as when dissolving gelatin in cold dishes.