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What is gelatin?
Gelatin is a translucent, flavourless, colourless gel, gathered from the collagen found in animal parts. In its pure form, it’s made up mostly of proteins and amino acids that can help provide muscle strength and structure for our tissues. It’s found everywhere in the bodies of people and animals and doesn’t occur in plants.
Gelatin comes in two forms: gel and gelatin powder. It dissolves easily in hot water and turns into a gel when cooled and is easily affected by ambient temperature.
What are the nutrients found in gelatin?
Pure gelatin has a mixture of amino acids essential for healthy skin and tissue. It contains:
- Glycine: a powerful antioxidant
- Proline: helps your body heal from injuries and cushions your joints
- Valine: promotes healthy muscle growth
Studies have shown that gelatin can help improve hair and skin, may help with weight loss, and even reduce liver damage. Since some amino acids in gelatin can’t be produced by the human body, integrating a little of it into your diet isn’t a bad idea.
Keep in mind that we rarely use gelatin in its raw form, so if you’re being a little health conscious, always check the label on the gelatin products that you buy. It’s not a reliable source of vitamins and minerals, but it can have reasonable health benefits based on its unique composition.
Where do we use gelatin?
Gelatin has a variety of uses, but there are three areas where we encounter it the most:
- Drugs: vitamin capsules, gel-based medication, and other substances
- Food: gummy bears, marshmallows, anything from Allen’s Lollies
- Cosmetics: texture for products like conditioners and moisturisers
Since it’s easy to adjust the composition and texture of gelatin, it’s a popular binding agent in products like medication. It’s sensitivity to heat also means it’s one of the perfect ingredients to use in processed food, and can easily mix with various sweeteners in either of its forms.
What is gelatin made of?
The only place to get the collagen required for gelatin is in the by-products of animals. Most of the gelatin we use today is boiled and extracted from the bones of pigs and bovines. You might have heard a rumour that manufacturers use horse’s hooves to make gelatin – that’s just an urban legend! Horse’s hooves are made of keratin, a substance that makes up the nails and hair of humans and animals. They’re completely different from each other: you couldn’t make gelatin from keratin even if you tried.
Is gelatin organic and/or vegetarian?
Since we extract gelatin from animals, it definitely isn’t vegan. But there is a similar substance called agar agar (derived from seaweed) that works as a substitute. There are some minor differences like texture and flavour, but it’s a vegan-friendly option that you can look into in a pinch.
Not all kosher gelatin is vegan gelatin either – since manufacturing processes can use different markings and symbols that can confuse the average buyer. If you’re specifically looking for kosher gelatin, it’s best to do your own research on which products contain it.
While the source of gelatin may not come from the most glamorous of sources, it’s still an important ingredient in so many products that we take for granted. A little gelatin never hurt anyone – and in fact, it can be very beneficial to our health in the right amounts!
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