What is Gelatin in food? Sources, Types, Uses and Side Effects

What is Gelatin in food? Sources, Types, Uses and Side Effects


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Gelatin is a common food ingredient found in candies, yogurt, and aspics to name but a few. It’s long been thought to be a pure protein product. But this isn’t entirely true. Gelatin comes from collagen, and it can be extracted from cattle or even fish bones, cartilage, and other animal-based sources.

What is gelatin?

Gelatin is a protein derived from collagen. It’s found in the skin and bones of animals. Gelatin is used as a thickener in foods, as a stabilizer in pharmaceuticals, and to make gelatin desserts.

Gelatin is made by cooking animal bones, skins and connective tissue with water until the collagen dissolves into a glue-like substance. This is filtered through cheesecloth and dried into sheets.

During the drying process, salts are added that dissolve in hot water but are insoluble in cold water. These salts keep the gelatin from dissolving when it’s used in food products that are cooled or frozen but don’t melt completely.

What are the gelatin come from?

There are four main sources of commercial pork skin and bone, as well as bovine hide and bone. Small quantities of gelatin derived from marine sources (e.g. fish) are produced and applied.

It can however be substituted for pig or beef gelatin for religious or ethical reasons, as well as diseases such as BSE (Bovine spongiform encephalopathy) and foot-and-mouth disease.

Porcine gelatin

Pig skins or bones are used to make it. Its cheaper price makes pigskin gelatin the most commonly used gelatin around the world. In Islamic countries, however, its use is restricted due to its non-halal status.

Bovine gelatin

Despite being kosher and halal, it is not vegan friendly, since it is made from bovine hides and bones.

Fish gelatin

Gelatin can be produced from parts of fresh or farmed fish (e.g. skin, bones, scales, fins). There are several varieties of fish in these groups: cold-water fish like alaska cod, pacific cod, green pollock, and salmon, as well as warm-water fish like tilapia, grass carp, squid, and tuna.

Versus porcine and bovine gelatin

In addition to having similar gelling, foaming, emulsifying, and binding properties to bovine and porcine gelatin, fish gelatin has two major advantages:

  1. Almost everyone can use this product, regardless of religion or culture.
  2. Bovines and porcine are not at risk of diseases.

Due to its lower molecular weight, lower gel strength, and lower melting temperature, fish gelatin has a lower market demand than pig and bovine gelatin.

In some specific applications, this is a unique property. When you eat fish gelatin confectionery at a high temperature, its flavor releases more quickly into your mouth, giving you a flavorful experience. It is therefore suitable to use fish gelatin in desserts with a low melting point and a quick flavor release.

Its smell makes it unsuitable for a wide range of applications.

Imino acids

In general, aquatic gelatin has poor gel properties when compared with gelatin from mammals due to its lower imino acid content (proline and hydroxyproline), especially in cold-water fish. Gelatin’s gel properties are enhanced by its high imino acid content.

Chicken gelatin

Collagen-rich chicken skin and bones provide chicken gelatin with high gel strength.

How is gelatin produce?

Gelatin is made from the skin, bones, cartilage, and other connective tissue rich in collagen found in animals (pigs, beef, fish, chicken, etc.). There are no heavy metals or other impurities in edible gelatin.

In order to produce edible gelatin, the raw materials are carefully chosen. The bones or skins must be fresh, strictly quarantined, and untreated with chemicals. It is also not possible to use animal raw materials originating from epidemic areas or with infectious diseases.

Animal parts that are not collagen-rich, such as horns or hooves, cannot be used to make collagen.

In the production of gelatin, one of the major by-products is dicalcium phosphate.   As a calcium and phosphorus supplement in feed, it is easily digested and absorbed by livestock and poultry.

In general, gelatin is manufactured using two processes:

1. Pretreatment

A common method of releasing collagen from raw materials is to treat skin and bones with acid, alkaline, or an enzyme.

When collagen has a low degree of crosslinking (for instance, fish collagen and pig skin collagen), the acid treatment is more suitable. This method has the advantage of requiring a short process time, maybe as little as 24 hours.e as 24 hours. As a result of this process, gelatin has a lower viscosity.

When collagen has a high degree of crosslinking, an alkaline treatment can be applied. Saponification of fat and the removal of soluble impurity proteins are also possible with alkalines. This method can produce high-quality gelatin, however, it takes an extended period of time, usually 8-12 weeks. By using this process, gelatin is obtained with a higher viscosity.

2. Thermal extraction

In this process, collagen is partially hydrolyzed to gelatin using hot water.

To prevent the production of gelatin hydrolysate, which has no gel properties and degrades the quality of gelatin, it is necessary to control the degradation of gelatin.

What is Gelatin made of?

The main ingredients of gelatin are protein, water, and inorganic salts. There is a high concentration of protein, about 80-90%. Other components include moisture (8%-13%) and inorganic salts (less than 1%).

Gelatin protein consists of more than 20 amino acids linked by peptide bonds, with glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline as the main amino acids.

Here is a general breakdown of the composition:

  • The amount of glycine is 1/3.
  • Proline and hydroxyproline make up 1/3 of the amino acids
  • Proline has a percentage of 10%.
  • The rest of the amino acids make up 1/3.
  • There is no cysteine or tryptophan in this food.

What are the types of gelatin?

A variety of factors can be used to classify gelatin types, including the source, the manufacturing process, the appearance, and the purity of the product.


A number of animal sources are available, including bovine, porcine (which could be further divided into organic grass-fed and non-organic), poultry, and marine gelatin. It is most common to see the first two on the market.

Manufacturing processes

Based on the manufacturing process, it can be divided into acid method (type A), alkaline method (type B), and enzymatic method (type C). The gelatin derived from pig skins is commonly referred to as type A, while the gelatin derived from beef hides can be classified as type A or B.

Powder, granular and sheets

It is available as a powder, granular, or sheet form (leaves).

You can use powdered and granulated forms directly in food, mix them with other additives, or use them separately.

It is necessary to soak the sheets or leaves in cold water before using them, and cooks sometimes cut them into small pieces before using them. The softening takes place after soaking for several minutes, then it is squeezed and melted with other warm liquids. For cooks, sheets are easier to handle as there is no weighting required, which is common in hotels and restaurants.

Unflavored or flavored

As opposed to unflavored gelatin, which is pure gelatin, flavored gelatin contains sugar, artificial flavours, colors, and other ingredients.


Depending on its use, it can also be classified as edible, pharmaceutical, photographic, or industrial.

Difference between food grade gelatin and industrial grade gelatin

In both edible and industrial grades, protein is the main component, which thickens and gels. There are three major differences between them based on raw materials.

  • Eating gelatin is made from animal skins and bones, whereas industrial gelatin is made from leather.
  • Compared with the former, the latter is much less expensive because leather is less expensive.
  • Purity: the latter has a lower quality and more impurities. It is strictly forbidden to use an industrial grade in medicine and food.
  • Furniture and printing are the two main uses of industrial-grade leather, which is forbidden for use in food because it comes from leather that is high in heavy metal residues.

Most likely, the chromium content of leather tanning can be used to distinguish industrial-grade leather from consumer-grade leather.

Difference between gelatin and collagen

Gelatin and collagen are both derived from animal tissue. They have similar properties and can be used interchangeably in cooking. Both are used to thicken foods and give them a delicate, silky texture. Gelatin is often used in desserts, puddings and marshmallows, while collagen is used for thickening soups and stocks.

Gelatin is made from the collagen found in animal bones and skin. It has been used as an ingredient in food since at least the 16th century. Gelatin is made by boiling the bones or hides of animals with water to extract the collagen. The collagen then dissolves into gelatin when it is heated to temperatures above 100°F (38°C). Some people may choose not to eat gelatin because they object morally or religiously to eating any type of meat products.

Collagen is also found in animal tissue — mostly in connective tissues such as tendons — but it also occurs naturally in some plants like tomatoes and okra. Collagen consists of several amino acids linked together into long chains that form a fibrous protein matrix that gives strength and structure to living things like plants and animals. Collagen-containing foods include bone broths, raw milk cheeses, egg yolks.

What is collagen?

Collagen is a protein that makes up the majority of the skin, bones, connective tissues and other body parts. It helps keep these organs strong and healthy by providing elasticity and support.

Collagen also helps your body heal wounds. As new skin cells grow in place of old ones, collagen forms a scaffold for them to cling to as they develop their own supportive framework.

Collagen is made up of three amino acids — glycine, proline and hydroxyproline — that form a triple helix structure. The helix twists around itself to form long chains that are then folded into sheets. These sheets fold over themselves again and again until they’re so tightly packed that they begin to resemble fibers or ropes.

How is Collagen made?

Collagen is a protein found in the skin, bones, ligaments and tendons. It is produced by fibroblasts, which are cells that synthesize collagen.

Collagen is made up of three polypeptide chains known as polypeptides 1, 2 and 3. These polypeptides contain glycine, proline and hydroxyproline. When these polypeptides join together they form a triple helix structure, which gives collagen its strength and elasticity. This structure makes it a good tissue scaffold for wound healing.

What is gelatin hydrolysate?

Gelatin hydrolysate is a product that is made from collagen. Collagen is a protein that helps to form connective tissue in the body. It is found in many foods, including gelatin and bone broth.

Gelatin hydrolysate is a dietary supplement that can be used to treat joint pain, muscle pain, and other conditions.

Gelatin hydrolysates are often recommended instead of regular gelatin because they are easier for your body to digest.

Gelatin hydrolysate is also used to treat digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease (CD). It may also be an option for those who have food allergies or sensitivities.


In many applications, gelatin is irreplaceable due to its functional properties such as gelling, emulsifying, aerating, film-forming, and binding.

Based on the method used (CAS number 9000-70-8),  the molecular weight of 15,000 to 250,000 can be found in this compound.


It has a neutral taste and smell and is a colorless, light yellow to yellow translucent powder, granular, or sheet.


It is insoluble in cold water, and absorbs water slowly to swell before blooming. It is soluble in warm water, glycerol, and propylene glycol.


After being dissolved in hot water, gelatin forms a transparent thermoreversible gel.

When cooled, it gels liquids, and when warmed, it melts to form solutions. It is possible to transform between gel and solution forms repeatedly without affecting the quality of the product due to its thermo-reversibility.

It takes about 0.5% concentration to form a gel.

Gummy bears have this property since their melting point is very close to the oral temperature of humans, so they melt softly in the mouth when they melt.

Bloom value

The gel strength of gelatin is a key parameter for evaluating its quality as a gelling agent. There are differences in the gel properties of gelatins from different sources. Gelatin with a higher molecular weight and higher gel strength will have a higher grade.

Gel strength/firmness is measured by bloom value. Bloom levels are different for different applications. The firmness and setting temperature of gelatin with high bloom are generally higher.

When a standard plunger is depressed 4mm into a 6.67% gelatin sample at 10oC (50oF), the bloom value is measured.

In the market, edible gelatin typically has a gel strength of 100-300 Bloom.


Due to its foaming property, gelatin is capable of stabilizing air into multiphase emulsions of oil, water, and air. As a result, milky or fluffy products are created by retaining air and forming foams of various sizes.

In marshmallow production, we can see how this function works.


A typical range is 1.5 to 7.5 mPa.s. This represents the time required for 100 ml 6.67% gelatin solution to pass through a standard pipette at 60°C (140°F).


Suitable for a wide range of pH levels.

What are the application of gelatin?

Foods and pharmaceuticals contain gelatin as an ingredient. The product contains high levels of protein, is free of GMOs, has no fat, and has no carbohydrates.

As a thickener and gelling agent, it helps solidify, solidify, and stabilize food. As a gelling agent, it is widely used in pharmaceuticals for both soft and hard capsules.


Due to its good film-forming and gelling properties, pharmaceutical grade gelatin is an indispensable excipient in the manufacture of hard capsules and soft capsules.

Drugs are typically enclosed in gelatin films, which prevent their degradation, deliver APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients), and mask odors and tastes.

As a result, drugs are easy to store, APIs are kept active, and they are protected from light, moisture, and oxygen. Additionally, gelatin capsules dissolve quickly in gastric acid, ensuring fast drug absorption.

In the case of powdered or granulated APIs, hard gelatin capsules are used as the dosage form. In addition to gelatin, titanium dioxide, colors, and other ingredients, its shell is composed of two parts: the body and the cap.

Omega-3 fish oils are commonly found in soft gelatin capsules. A one-piece shell includes gelatin, plasticizers (e.g. glycerol), colors, and other ingredients.

For vegetarians and vegans, plant-based alternatives such as HPMC (hydroxypropyl methylcellulose) and modified food starch may be suitable.

As a binder, it can be used both for direct compression and wet granulation.

Vitamin coating

During the vitamin coating process, it can be used to embed drops/oils of light-sensitive vitamin A, vitamin E, or carotenoids into a free-flowing powder.


Gelling agents, stabilizers, binders, emulsifiers, film formers, and whipping agents can be made with food grade gelatin. Consumers appreciate the properties of thermoreversibility and melt-in-the-mouth.

The following foods contain gelatin:

  • Gummies
  • Marshmallows
  • Desserts
  • Jelly
  • Yogurts
  • Pudding
  • Salad
  • Ice cream
  • Cake
  • Beer


It is possible to make a simple dessert by mixing sugar, gelatin, fumaric acid, sodium citrate, a flavor and color with dry-blended powdered ingredients.

Gelatin holds the shape of desserts and enhances their melting rate in the mouth. A water jelly’s bright and transparent appearance is due to its gelling properties and its ability to bind water. A variety of jellos are manufactured using this ingredient, including strawberry, lemon and cranberry.


The main purposes of cakes and other baked goods are as follows:

  • Ensure that they maintain their texture and look more appealing
  • Fillings and coatings of cakes need to be stabilized
  • Enhance freeze-thaw stability

Whipped cream and marshmallows

Aerated confectionery such as whipped cream and marshmallows are both aerated. By using gelatin, you can create a fluffy and light texture (increase the volume) and stabilize the whipped texture.

Gummy candies

Gummy candies are mainly gelled with gelatin. Additionally, gummies are usually made with pectin, starch, carrageenan, agar agar, and gellan gum.

Gummy bears are the most well-known gummy candy. As a result of gelatin, these features are achieved:

  • A shiny, crystal-clear appearance
  • A texture that is elastic
  • A good chewy texture
  • Mouthwatering tenderness and strong flavors


Combining gelatin with tannins and other ingredients that cause turbidity in fruit juices, beers, and wines can clarify or fin them.

In the purification process, gelatin and unwanted substances are removed via flocculation or sedimentation.

It is suitable for this field because gelatin with a low bloom value won’t gel at low temperatures.


Ensure that it is firm and slicable.

Ice cream

  • To reduce fat by creating a smooth mouthfeel similar to fat
  • Ensure consistency in texture
  • Prevent ice crystals from forming
  • Melting time is slow
  • Ensure a longer shelf life


When whey is separated from curd, gelatin provides a creamy texture and prevents syneresis, a condition caused by the separation of the two. The yogurt surface appears to be covered with a water-like film.

Among the gums, it can be combined with pectin, CMC, carrageenan, etc.

A combination of gelatin and water can be used to make low-fat and low-dairy products.


As a foaming agent, stabilizing agent, and water-binding agent.

Meat products

When used in meat products, such as hams and sausages, gelatin has the properties of binding, emulsifying, gelling, and stabilizing.


Shampoo, face masks, thickening agents for hair, etc.

Other uses

  • It is widely used in trauma ballistics research as a simulant of human muscle tissue. This study is designed to investigate the mechanical response of the human body when subjected to high-speed impacts (vehicles, blunt objects, bullets, explosions, etc.).
  • X-ray films and photographic paper (silver prints) are both photographic applications.
  • Plating by electrochemistry.
  • Form petals, leaves, and other shapes with a syringe/needle injected into a gelatin gel base.

What are gelatin side effects?

Gelatin is a protein that comes from animal bones, skin and tissue. It’s used to make gelatin capsules, capsules for gummy vitamins, and as a thickener for food products such as ice cream. Gelatin side effects can include:

Allergic reaction. Gelatin is made from animal products, so people with allergies to animals should avoid it. Allergic reactions can occur anywhere from minutes to hours after eating gelatin-containing foods or supplements. They may include hives, swelling of the lips or face, difficulty breathing or swallowing, a feeling of tightness in the throat and nausea.

Nausea and vomiting. If you have an allergy to gelatin, you may experience nausea and vomiting when you eat foods containing gelatin.

Stomach upset and diarrhea. The bacteria in your intestines may not be able to digest some types of gelatin well enough to absorb nutrients from them. This can cause stomach upset or diarrhea after eating foods containing gelatin or taking supplements that contain it as an ingredient.

Where to buy gelatin?

Gelatin is available in most grocery stores, but you can also order it online.

Here are some places to buy gelatin:

Amazon: Amazon offers a wide selection of unflavored gelatin in different brands and sizes. For example, you can get this 1 pound bag of Knox Unflavored Gelatin for just $6.49 (about $2 per ounce).

GNC: GNC has unflavored gelatin in four different sizes, ranging from 1/2 pound all the way up to 25 pounds. Each size comes with its own price tag, so make sure you check out the details before you buy.

iHerb: iHerb is an online store that specializes in natural health products like herbs and supplements. They sell unflavored gelatin by Premier Research Labs for just $8 per pound — about $2 per ounce.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is gelatin vegan friendly?

No, There is no plant-based gelatin in this product, so it is not vegan. Gelatin is made from animal collagen, so vegetarians cannot consume it.

Carrageenan and agar agar can be used as gelatin substitutes. Seaweed-based thickeners and gelling agents are both derived from seaweed.

Is gelatin kosher?

In accordance with Jewish law, bovine and fish gelatin made from kosher animals can be considered kosher.

Is gelatin halal?

According to Islamic Law, bovine and fish gelatin are both halal, while pig gelatin is not.

Is gelatin gluten free?

According to the FDA, it is gluten free and does not contain wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains.

Is gelatin natural?

Yes, gelatin is natural. Gelatin comes from the skin, bones, and tendons of animals. It’s extracted as a byproduct of the meat industry, and then purified and used in many food products. It’s also used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and industrial applications.


In general, the gelatin is a mixture of certain proteins which were separated from different animal organs. Nowadays, the main source of gelatin is pig skin and bones but it can be produced also with fish scales and ox hides. There are three types of gelatin: soluble, tabletted and powdered one. Soluble gelatin is used in jellies and aspic while powdered type is used to make an Irish cream or as an agent to give moisture to the cake . The tableted version on the other side is mostly used in confectionery products like marshmallow, jelly beans or fruit gums.

What kinds of question have you found this ingredient? Let we know in the below comments.

Sophie Feng

Sophie Feng

Sophie Feng is the author of gradechemical.com, she is the co-founder of the grade chemical network. She has been in grade chemical company since 2017, with a working knowledge of food chemical .

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