Gelatin ……what is it?

This image comes from a blog called The Daily Postcard.  Check it out!

This image comes from a blog called The Daily Postcard. Check it out!

What is gelatin…..that ubiquitous substance that turns colored water and sugar into JELL-O!?!  Mixed with canned fruit, it serves as a staple on cafeteria buffets.  That may be the vision that most of us have, but unflavored gelatin is also used as a stabilizer in cream-based desserts (like mousse), a thickener in salad dressings and even the structure building agent in marshmallows!  (Look for a marshmallow “how-to” on my Learn page soon.)

So  really, where does gelatin come from?  The Pastry Chef’s Companion  defines gelatin as a substance derived from the bones and connective tissues of animals.  Ewwww! Really?  Yes, but don’t worry.  Gelatin is heated, filtered, purified and sterilized to make it nearly flavorless.

In the bakeshop, we use two different forms of gelatin:  powdered gelatin and sheet gelatin.  With either form, there are two crucial steps to working with gelatin:  bloom and dissolve.  First, gelatin must be bloomed in water to hydrate it.

Here are photos of the first step of working with gelatin powder and gelatin sheets: bloom.

Gelatin powder

Gelatin powder

Bloomed gelatin powder

/ Bloomed gelatin powder

For gelatin powder, add four to five times the amount of cold water to the amount of gelatin.  Let sit for about three minutes until the water is fully absorbed.

Gelatin sheets

Gelatin sheets

Bloomed gelatin sheets

Bloomed gelatin sheets

For gelatin sheets, submerge the sheets in cold water (no need to measure) for about three minutes until the sheets are very pliable.

For both types of gelatin, the next step would be to heat the bloomed gelatin to a working temperature of about 110*F.   Once the gelatin is melted (in the microwave, over a double boiler, or in a warm ingredient of your recipe), then it is ready to incorporate into your recipe.  Once mixed with the other ingredients and cooled, then the gelatin will create its web-like formation that gives the mixture the desired thickness or structure.

Of course, there are plenty more details about gelatin and working with this interesting substance.  Please refer to your recipe for specific instructions.

This reminds me of my childhood.

This reminds me of my childhood.

NOTE:  Jello-O contains color, flavor, sugar (or an artificial sweetener) and instant gelatin, a product that has been processed a bit differently, so it only needs boiling water to dissolve and activate its structure building properties.

For more information on gelatin, check out this site:


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