From gummy bears to marshmallows to many other kinds of desserts, we see and taste gelatin weekly. Since gelatin does not occur naturally, it is a byproduct of other natural ingredients. Gelatin ingredients range from the expected to the strange, setting up the conversation topic for your next round of Jell-O treats.
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Collagen is the main ingredient of gelatin. Collagen is a protein found in animal tissues, ligaments, tendons, bones and skin. When you add water to powdery collagen-rich gelatin, the protein loosens, resulting in a wiggly, semi-solid, gel-like substance.
Mistakenly referred to as vegetarian gelatin, agar-agar (or agal-agal) belongs to the seaweed family. Manufacturers of agar-agar based gelatin boil seaweed. The dried substance that remains, called the mucilage, becomes gelatin. The mucilage contains glose, a carbohydrate considered as a highly powerful gelatinizing agent. Agar-agar comes from the waters of Japan, and the seas of Ceylon and Macassar. You can find agar-agar gelatin usually sold in strips of two.
Kuzu, or kudzu, comes from the root of a Japanese plant called arrowroot. Some regions refer to kuzu as the “mile-a-minute vine” for its rapid growth tendencies. Harvested from the Japanese mountains, kuzu-based gelatin demands a higher price. The Japanese hold kuzu in high regard due to its ability to ease digestion.
Long chains of polysaccharides, or sugars, make up xanthan gum. Xanthan-based gelatin contains the highest amount of sugar, a definite no-no for diabetics. However, experts from the University of Sheffield Center for Nutrition consider xanthan gum as an effective laxative.
Another string of polysaccharides, guar gum is also an ingredient used to make gelatin. Guar comes from beans harvested from the plant cyamopsis tetragonolobus found in India. Upon harvest, seeds from the legume yield the endosperms which are turned into guar gum.