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A variety of pre-packaged gelatin dessert products
A packet of gelatin dessert cubes, known as jelly in the UK

The most common culinary use for gelatin is as a main ingredient in varieties of gelatin desserts. Unprepared gelatin for desserts is often marketed as a flavored powder or concentrated gelatinous solid. Prepared gelatin desserts are marketed in a variety of forms. Popular brands include Jell-O and Knox gelatin from Kraft Foods in North America, Royal in Uruguaymarker, Hartley's (formerly Rowntree's) in the United Kingdommarker and Aeroplane Jelly in Australia.

Regional naming


To make gelatin desserts, typically powdered gelatin is mixed with sugar, and additives such as adipic acid, fumaric acid, sodium citrate, and artificial flavorings and food colors. Very hot water is added to swell and melt the powdered gelatin. The dessert gels slowly as it cools.

Because the collagen is processed extensively, the final product is not categorized as a meat or animal product by the US federal government.


While eating tainted beef can lead to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans , there are no known cases of vCJD transmitted through collagen products such as gelatin.

Gelatin shots

Gelatin shots, often known as jello shots in North America and vodka jelly in the UK and Australia, is a party food where some sort of alcohol, usually rum, vodka, tequila or sometimes even grain alcohol replaces some of the water or fruit juice used to congeal the gel.

The American satirist and mathematician Tom Lehrer has been rumored to have been the first to invent the gelatin shot in the 1950s while working for the National Security Agencymarker, where he developed vodka gelatin as a way to circumvent a restriction of alcoholic beverages on base, but the claim that he was first is untrue. The earliest published recipe dates from 1862, found in How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon Vivant's Companion by Jerry Thomas: the recipe calls for gelatin, cognac, rum, and lemon juice.

The maximum alcohol content is somewhere between 19 and 20 oz. of vodka per 3 oz. package of gelatin powder, or about 30% alcohol by volume.


Some gelatinous desserts can be made with agar instead of gelatin, allowing them to congeal more quickly and at higher temperatures (40°C, as opposed to 15°C for gelatin). Agar is a gelatinous product made from seaweed, which is itself composed mainly of algae. Agar is especially common in quick jelly powder mix and Asian jelly desserts; additionally, vegans and vegetarians sometimes use agar to replace animal-derived gelatin. Agar is more closely related to pectin and other gelling plant carbohydrates than to gelatin.

Another vegetarian alternative to gelatin is carrageenan. This alternative sets more firmly than agar, and is often used in kosher and halaal cooking. Though it, too, is a type of seaweed, it tends not to have an unpleasant smell during cooking as agar sometimes does.


Gelatin consists of partially hydrolyzed collagen, a protein which is highly abundant in some animal tissues such as bone and skin. Although many gelatin desserts incorporate fruit, some fresh fruits contain proteolytic enzymes; these enzymes cut the gelatin molecule into peptides (protein fragments) too small to form a firm gel. The use of such fresh fruits in a gelatin recipe results in a dessert that never 'sets'.

Specifically, pineapple contains the protease (protein cutting enzyme) bromelain, kiwi fruit contains actinidin, figs contain ficain, and both papaya and pawpaw contain papain. Cooking or canning denatures and inactivates the proteases, so canned pineapple, for example, works fine in a gelatin dessert.

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