In details

What is gelatin made of


Have you ever wondered what gelatin is made of?

Always present at the table of desserts of buffets per kilo of the metropolis and easy figure in birthdays of children, the gelatin has animal origin.

The gelatin we know consists of four basic ingredients:

  1. natural gelatin
  2. Water
  3. artificial sugar or sweetener and artificial flavors
  4. food coloring

But what exactly is gelatin? Gelatin is just a processed version of a structural protein called collagen, which is found in many animals, including humans. Collagen is actually almost 1/3 of all protein in the human body.

It is a large, fibrous molecule that makes the skin, bones and tendons strong and somewhat elastic. As you get older, your body produces less collagen and the individual collagen fibers are cross-linked with each other. You may experience this on firmer joints (less flexible tendons) or wrinkles (loss of skin elasticity).

The gelatin you eat comes from the collagen in the bones, hooves and binding tissues of cows or pigs. To make gelatin, manufacturers crush these various parts and give them a pretreatment with a strong acid or strong base to break down cell structures and release proteins, such as collagen. After this pretreatment, the mixture is boiled. During this process, the large collagen molecule eventually breaks down and the resulting product is called gelatin. Gelatin is easily extracted because it forms a layer on the surface of the boiling mixture.
Because it is very versatile, gelatin is a common ingredient; can be used as a "hardening" agentas an ingredient for thicken the food one emulsifier or one stabilizer. You'll find it in a variety of foods, from yogurt to chewing gum. Here is a list of some other foods that contain gelatin:

  • gummy bears
  • milk cream
  • cream cheese
  • american cake paste
  • marshmallows
  • soups, sauces and gravies
  • canned ham and chicken
  • sausage

Gelatin is even used to coat tablets, making them easier to swallow. It is also used in cosmetics, pills and ointments.
When you buy a box of gelatin (or other brand of gelatin) at the grocery store, you get a small packet of gelatin powder, with artificial flavors and colors. At room temperature, the gelatin protein is in the form of a triple spiral.

This is a clearly organized structure, similar to that of DNA. In DNA, two nucleotide strands are twisted together in a spiral shape. In gelatin protein there are three separate amino acid chains (polypeptide chains) which align and braid around each other, and the spiral is joined by weak bonds that form between the amino acids located within the coiled structure.
To form gelatin, you need to add boiling water to the gelatin powder. You stir the mixture for approximately 3 minutes until the gelatin has completely dissolved.

What happens to gelatin when we put boiling water in it?

The energy of the heated water is enough to break the weak bonds that bind the gelatin braids. The helical structure crumbles and you get the polypeptide chains floating in solution.

The next step is to put cold water and dissolved gelatin in the refrigerator to cool for a few hours. When you cool the mixture, the polypeptide chains begin to re-associate and re-form the triple helical structure. However, the cooling process is slow and the braids have been very separate in the mix, so the spirals do not form perfectly.

In some places the spiral has flaws and in others there is only one coiled polypeptide chain. When the gelatin solution cools, water enters these gaps between the chains. The protein chain that results from cooling gives the shape of gelatin and water gives the characteristic balance that makes it popular with children.

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