Gelatin is made from protein found in the tissues, ligaments and tendons of cows and pigs. The animal tissues are boiled down to create a strong, flexible gel. It dissolves in hot water and binds other substances together as it sets. Gelatin can be purchased in the supermarket and used in home baking and cooking. It is used for creating jellied desserts, meringue, marshmallow and for preserving fruits. Although there is one main type of gelatin used in baking, others do exist for use in different commodities.
Unflavored gelatin is a thickening agent. It has no taste, color or odor. Unflavored gelatin is used to stabilize whipped cream, pie fillings, custards, cheesecakes and trifles. The granulated form of gelatin is most widely available from grocery stores and used in home baking. It is also available in sheet form, called leaf gelatin, from specialty baking stores. Vegetarians do not usually eat foods containing gelatin because it is derived from animals, in which case other forms of gelatin are used.
Isinglass is extracted from the dried swim bladders of fish, including the Beluga sturgeon. A cheaper version has also been developed from cod. It is not often used in the present day, but in the past was incorporated into confectionery, such as blancmange and fruit jellies. Again, people with specific dietary requirements, such as vegetarians, may be unable to consume this form of gelatin.
Carrageenan gelatin is made from red algae, called Irish moss, that grows off the coast of Ireland. This gelatin is commonly used as a stabilizer and thickener in processed foods, milk products and ice cream. It is not as widely available as ordinary unflavored gelatin, but it is suitable for vegetarians.
Agar agar sets more strongly and solidly than general purpose gelatin, so it is therefore less often used as a substitute. However, it is used as a vegetarian gelatin in jellies and confectionery. It is derived from agarophyte red algae and is popular in Asia for use in baking.
Pectin, also known as jam sugar, is extracted from citrus fruits. It is traditionally used as a gelling agent in jellies and preserves and a stabilizer in pie fillings and sweets. It is available in a solution or powdered form. Pectin is not as widely available as ordinary, unflavored gelatin.
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