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Gelatine - What is it, What's it in, What's the Alternative? Print E-mail
Maureen Cram   
Tuesday, 06 February 2007

Gelatine - What is it, What's it in, What's the Alternative?You’ve seen gelatine listed as an ingredient in many products.  Have you ever wondered what it is or where it comes from?

If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, gelatine is a huge no-no.  I was told many years ago that it is derived from the boiling of animal hooves and other assorted animal left-overs.

Yuck!  I have since found out that hooves are not used (that’s a relief isn’t it!!) as hooves are mostly keratin, a completely different substance. Keratin does not have any of the properties that gelatine needs, and in fact it has no culinary uses whatsoever.

OK, so where does gelatine come from then?  Gelatine comes from collagen. And where does collagen come from, if it isn't hooves? Most of the collagen in commercially made gelatine is from connective tissue. That means skin, tendons, gristle. In fact, collagen is found all through most animal bodies, between muscles and muscle cells. But, all things considered, the skin is the best source for commercially viable quantities of collagen, and the gelatine you buy in packets is mostly pig skin - with maybe some assorted bits of gristle thrown in – a great after-dinner conversation topic!

If this all sounds too gross for you to read on, remember, it’s ‘only’ bits and pieces of animals.Gelatine is pervasive

If you are a meat-eater then what difference does it make really which bits of the animal you are using?  Make the most of the animal and utilise all that you can... reduce waste!  Have you ever considered exactly what ‘meat’ goes into hot dogs??  But we won’t go there today... let’s learn about gelatine today right?

Gelatine is pervasive.  Check the ingredients in that packet of marshmallows, the cream cheese you thought was full of ‘natural ingredients’.  Well... I suppose you could called gelatine ‘natural’ as it comes from animals and they naturally occur all over the place... but why is it in cream cheese... or yoghurt... or margarine?  How about the gelatine in commercially baked cakes and desserts... most industrially made ice creams. In fact, if you see the word "stabilisers" on a package, it probably contains gelatine.  If this bothers you or confuses you (because of ethical and/or religious reasons) the best thing to do is to contact the supplier or manufacturer of the product and ask then if it has gelatine in.

It doesn’t end there of course; gelatine is found in many non-edible products, including glue, bone china, photographic chemicals, as a surface sizing it smoothes glossy printing papers or playing cards and maintains the wrinkles in crepe paper.

But wait there’s more! Gelatine is used by synchronised swimmers to hold their hair in place during their routines as it will not dissolve in the cold water of the pool (who knew?); a new, major application for gelatine is in the paintball industry. The classic-style "war games" are played out using projectiles constructed of gelatine. In the production of matches, gelatine binds together the chemicals that form the match head; gelatine is the binder between the paper and the abrasive particles in sandpaper; Gelatine is also used in micro-encapsulation.  It’s used in NCR ('no carbon required') papers. A dye is micro-encapsulated in gelatine that forms a fine coating on a sheet of paper. With pressure exerted by hand writing or typing onto the top of the sheet, the micro capsules break onto the next sheet, forming a perfect copy of the first. And, to top it all off, gelatine is used in a lot of medications, including but not limited to gelcaps, throat lozenges, and many vitamins.

Approximately 60 per cent is used in food preparation, 20 per cent in pharmaceutical manufacture (the coatings of tablets being a major use), 15 per cent in photographic use and the remainder for other non-food use.
Dry nails are usually due to a lack of moisture, not protein

Special kinds of gelatine are made only from certain animals or from fish in order to comply with Jewish kosher or Muslim halal laws. Vegetarians and vegans may substitute similar gelling agents such as agar, nature gum, carrageenan, pectin, or konnyaku sometimes referred to as "vegetable gelatines" although there is no chemical relationship; they are carbohydrates, not proteins. The name "gelatine" is colloquially applied to all types of gels and jellies; but properly used, it currently refers solely to the animal protein product. There is no vegetable source for gelatine. For decades, gelatine has been touted as a good source of protein. It has also been said to strengthen nails and hair. However, there is little scientific evidence to support such an assertion.  In fact, the human body itself produces abundant amounts of the proteins found in gelatine. Furthermore, dry nails are usually due to a lack of moisture, not protein.

Due to Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as "mad cow disease", and its link to new varient Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), there has been much concern about using gelatine derived from possibly infected animal parts. One study released in 2004, however, demonstrated that the gelatine production process destroys most of the BSE prions that may be present in the raw material. However, more detailed recent studies regarding the safety of gelatine in respect to mad cow disease have prompted the US Food and Drug Administration to re-issue a warning and stricter guidelines for The Sourcing and Processing of Gelatin to Reduce the Potential Risk Posed by Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy from 1997.  Thanks to for some of these references.

Wow... so there you have it... it’s invasive, it’s in almost everything and whether this is a good or not-so-good thing all depends on your viewpoint.  Vegans... no!  Vegetarians... no! Kosher... maybe! Anyone else... who cares!

Maureen Cram is a qualified EFT therapist. She and her partner, Matthew Green, run their company Stuff Busters from Randburg, Gauteng. They specialise in weight and nutrition issues, sports performance improvement, helping children and animals. As well as one-on-one sessions, remote (via phone) consultations work extremely well. Visit their website, email her on This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or phone her on 083 600 6965.
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