What is Gelatin Made of? 5 Vegan and Vegetarian Substitutes

Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Troy Mortier

Desserts such as panna cotta, mousse, and jellies often rely on gelatin for their unique textures. But what exactly is gelatin made of? We’ll show you exactly what is in gelatin and how to put a number of simple vegetarian or vegan gelatin substitutes to clever use.

The food industry uses gelatin as a thickening agent to produce a creamy to firm consistency. These substances are particularly useful as they add to the thickness of a liquid without changing any of its other valued properties. This is one reason why we commonly find gelling agents in a wide range of desserts, sweets, dairy products, or sauces and soups. But even juices, wines, or medicines can be produced with the help of gelatin.

In this article, we’ll break down exactly what goes into gelatin, what you should know about its production process, and what to look out for when shopping. Plus, Utopia will show you a number of well-known vegan and vegetarian gelatin substitutes for your next plant-based baking session.

What is Gelatin Made Of?

What is in gelatin processed animal remains collagen from cattle cows
Here’s the sad truth of what gelatin is actually made of. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Annie Spratt)

Since we find it in so many of our favorite sweets and desserts, we may be left wondering: What is in gelatin? Conventional gelatine is a by-product of slaughtering in the meat and leather industries. The gelling agent is derived from collagen taken from animal body parts, found in skin, bones, and nails. Producers primarily make use of remains such as pork skins, pork and cattle bones, or split cattle hides when manufacturing the chemical. Processed gelatin can also be sourced from poultry or fish remains.

In manufacturing, producers use gelatin in foods, cosmetics, and medicines. Different types and grades are used for food and nonfood production processes, while edible gelatin is probably the most widely known.

Considering what gelatin is made of, it’s pretty clear that this thickener and anything containing it is completely off the table for vegans and vegetarians. However, steering clear of gelatin – or finding vegetarian gelatin substitutes – can sometimes be easier said than done.

Here are some tips on how to identify gelatin products and what exactly they’re made of.

Common Uses and Products

Gelatin vegan vegetarian alternatives what is in gelatin
Gummy bears are a common gelatinous food product. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - Jonathan J. Castellon)

Some of the most common food products containing gelatin are gelatin desserts (e.g. Jell-O, jelly shots or cubes) and side dishes (e.g. jello salads), trifles, marshmallows, candy corn, and sweets such as gummy bears and fruit snacks. Gelatin may also find use as a stabilizer, thickener, or texturizer in foods such as yogurt, cream cheese, and margarine.

Depending on the precise product in question, you may find the chemical gelatin specified in ingredients lists under any other of the following names:

  • bovine gelatin (type B gelatin)
  • fish gelatin
  • porcine gelatin (type A gelatin) – sourced from swine
  • food-grade gelatin
  • edible gelatin
  • kosher fish gelatin
  • dried fish gelatin
  • bloom fish gelatin
  • HMW fish gelatin
  • gelatine

Although fish gelatin may leave some vegetarians off the hook, the most common forms of processed gelatin are sourced from either cattle (type B) or swine (type A).

The safest way to control what ingredients go into what you eat is to prepare things yourself. So instead of a traditional cream cheese which may contain gelatin, why not give your own DIY vegan spread a try? Or swap out the cranberry (jello) salad for a homemade vegan apple pie at your next Green Thanksgiving?

Gelatin Substitutes: Vegan and Vegetarian Alternatives

What is gelatin made of vegan vegetarian gelatin alternatives
Pectin makes for a great vegan gelatin alternative for making your own homemade marmelade. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay - jarmoluk)

If processed animals remains aren’t your thing, no worries. You don’t necessarily need to do without your favorite desserts when sticking to a plant-based or cruelty-free diet. There are countless vegetarian and vegan gelatin alternatives out there that are bound to do just the trick.

  • Agar-Agar is a plant-based gelling agent and popular vegan gelatin alternative. This jelly-like substance obtained from dried seaweed is rich in minerals and fiber and is available in powder or flake form. This clever gelatin substitute must be heated or soaked in water before use. The end result is usually slightly firmer than regular gelatin.
  • Carrageenan is another gelatine substitute made from red edible seaweeds commonly used as a thickening agent. These gelatinous extracts are known for their gelling, thickening, and stabilizing properties and therefore commonly find use in jellies or in cosmetics. Carrageenan is suspected to cause allergic reactions, so proceed with caution.
  • Guar gum, also called guaran, is an extract from the seeds of the guar plant. This vegan gelatin substitute binds the liquid during preparation and is particularly suitable for use in making ice cream, creamy dishes, or jams.
  • Starch from potatoes or corn is another great gelatin substitute. Simply preheat the starch to use it as a binding agent. You can use vegetable starch in cakes, soups, or sauces, among other tasty treats. In health food stores you can find the vegan gelling agent in organic quality.
  • Pectin is an extract from the cell walls of apple remains or from lemons and is therefore rich in dietary fibers. It has no particular taste of its own and is a great choice for producing jam as the pectin gels particularly well with sugar and lemon juice.

This article was translated from German to English by Evan Binford. You can view the original here: Gelatine-Ersatz: Vegane Alternativen auf pflanzlicher Basis.

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