Gelatin Powder: A Meat-Based Gelling Agent

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The use of gelatin goes all the way back to ancient Egypt, though it’s usage there seems to have been as an adhesive rather than a food. The same goes for ancient Rome, where Pliny wrote about using collagen-based fish glues. Gelatin’s first culinary applications were in 15th Century England. Made from boiled cattle hooves, gelatin dishes in this era featured meats and vegetables encased in aspic. Other medieval dishes that featured gelatin included fish jellies made with jellied eel stock.

A method to extract gelatin from animal bones was invented by a Frenchman named Denis Papin in the late 17th century.

Aspic would show up on European tables towards the close of the 18th century. The word’s origin may have had something do with the poisonous snake known as an asp, but that is uncertain. The aspics in 18th-century cuisine were savory jellies that encased savory ingredients much like the medieval versions.

In the middle part of the 19th century, an industrialist named Peter Cooper obtained the first patent for making a gelatin dessert. He never used the patent and instead sold it to a cough syrup maker named Pearle B. Wait in 1895. Wait made gelatin into a commercial food product with the addition of fruit syrup. Around this time, another gelatin maker named Charles Knox came up with a way to granulate gelatin. The first powdered gelatin was the result of his efforts. Before his work, gelatin came in large sheets that had to be soaked for long periods.

Pearl Wait’s wife named their product Jell-O. They trademarked the name but did not patent it since other gelatin products were already on the market, including Knox gelatin. The Waits were unable to successfully market the product and would eventually sell the rights to Frank Woodward, an entrepreneur. For a time, Woodward also failed at marketing Jell-O. Just before selling the rights, a last-minute ad campaign resulted in the dessert catching on.

In the 1920s, Woodward’s company was renamed to the Jell-O Company and merged with Postum Cereal, Inc.. The result of the merger was the General Foods Corporation. General Foods would later merge with Kraft, which continues to make Jell-O today. At around the time of the Jell-O Company’s merger with Postum, Knox Gelatin was undergoing a change of its own. Headed by the widow of Charles Knox, the company began making the first gel caps for medicine. Both companies would thrive during the great depression as gelatin-based dishes allowed expensive ingredients to be stretched further.

The middle of the 20th century would see the invention of the Jell-O shot, as well as a resurgence in savory Jell-O dishes in the 1960s.

Gelatin powder flavor profile

Gelatin powder is tasteless, which is what makes it a great base for prepared desserts. Its lack of flavor also accounts for its versatility when used in both sweet and savory dishes.

Health benefits of gelatin powder

Unsweetened gelatin powder is not rich in many nutrients; however, it does contain these:

  • Protein: Consisting mostly of collagen from boiled animal bones and cartilage, gelatin powder is a good source of protein.
  • Minerals: Gelatin powder contains a significant amount of copper in addition to a small amount of selenium.

While gelatin powder is not loaded with nutrients, it does have certain characteristics that make it useful for treating or preventing these health conditions:

  • Digestive issues: The collagen in gelatin powder can help to prevent or treat damage to intestinal lining.
  • Joint pain: Collagen can help to prevent joint pain by countering inflammation.
  • Depression: Gelatin powder contains an amino acid called glycine that may act in a similar manner to some medications for anxiety and depression.

Common uses

Along with being used to make jelly desserts and savory aspics, gelatin is used to a range of candies. It shows up in marshmallows and gummy bears. It can also be added as a thickener for sauces.