Unflavored gelatin is an odorless, tasteless and colorless thickening agent made from the collagen protein found in animal (veal, beef, pig) bones, cartilage and skin. When dissolved in hot water and then cooled, it forms a jelly.
Gelatin is a common ingredient in both homemade recipes and commercial products because it's useful for so many purposes. It's a thickener for soups, gravies and jellies, a binder for dairy products and candies, a clarifier for beer, wine and vinegar and a whipping agent for mousses, marshmallows and whipped cream.
Sometimes gelatin is employed in reduced-fat foods to improve mouth feel and volume without adding calories. Its most popular use is in foods that are formed into shapes for appearance or presentation, such as icings, chiffons, and of course, the ever-popular gelatin dessert (commonly referred to as the trademarked name, Jell-O).
Before the introduction of commercial gelatin in the late 19th century, jelled dishes were not very popular. Home cooks had to make their own jelling agents by laboriously boiling calves' feet or knuckles.
Varieties and Buying Tips
Unflavored gelatin is available in granulated or leaf forms. Granulated is sold in boxes of 1/4-ounce envelopes at most supermarkets. It may also be sold in bulk at natural food stores.
Leaf gelatin, sold in packages of paper-thin sheets, is usually only available at bakery supply stores or specialty shops.
Powdered, sweetened gelatin dessert mixes are also available in a wide range of flavors including lemon, strawberry, peach, black cherry, orange and cranberry. Regular and sugar-free (low-calorie) varieties are sold at supermarkets in 3- or 6-ounce boxes.
Unused gelatin will last indefinitely if wrapped airtight and stored in a cool, dry place.
- One tablespoon of gelatin is generally enough to gel two cups of liquid.
- Soak gelatin in cold liquid for 3 to 5 minutes before dissolving it. This swells the granules so they'll dissolve smoothly when heated.
- Don't let a gelatin mixture boil—this destroys its ability to set.
- To prevent fruits and other added ingredients from sinking to the bottom, stir them in after the mixture has partially set.
- Certain fruits containing the enzyme bromelain will not allow gelatin to set properly. These include raw figs, kiwi fruit, fresh pineapple, guava,