What is Gelatin?
Gelatin is a protein made from the bones, skin and connective tissue of animals. It has no smell, color and virtually zero taste. In food, it is used as a thickening agent while in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals as a stabilizer. Gelatin is found in a lot of commonly used and consumed products. Some of which may come as a surprise and some might even turn your stomach a little. For example, gelatin can be found in products such as but not limited to gummy bears, chocolate, Jell-o, ice cream, yogurt, cheese, coffee creamer, gravy, salad dressing, jam, pill capsules, toothpaste, cake icing, marshmallows, pudding, peanut butter and more. The list goes on and on.
Is Gelatin Vegan?
The short answer is no. Gelatin is made from the collagen in animal’s bones and skin. Even though it is not directly animal meat, like a bloody almost-still-kicking cheeseburger, it is still an animal by product. Therefore, it is not vegan nor can it be considered vegetarian either. Have I caught your attention yet? If so, read on to learn more about the gelatin industry and some just as delicious vegan-friendly alternatives to gelatin.
The Gelatin Industry
The gelatin industry is global and it is absolutely gigantic. In 2020, the gelatin market made 3.2 billion U.S dollars and is expected to reach 6.7 billion U.S dollars annually. Those numbers include the entire world as a whole. Gelatin is very versatile and pretty stinking cheap. This makes gelatin a very popular choice for manufacturers all over the globe. Gelatin is in such high demand because of its multi-functional uses from cosmetics to food and even to pharmaceuticals.
How Gelatin is Made?
Gelatin is a combination of two key components glycine and proline. The two are both amino acids. The process of making gelatin takes several hours. It is created by boiling animal parts like cartilage, tendons, skin and bones. After that process is completed, the gelatin is then extracted from the boiled down animal parts. Generally speaking there are two types of gelatin. One or we’ll call it type A is made of calf bones, pork bones and pigskin. The second type (type B) is constructed from cattle hides. With that being said any and all animals with a sufficient amount of connective tissue can be used. Other animals include fish, horses and chickens. Believe it or not gelatin can even be made from some types of seaweed.
Are Animals Slaughtered Specifically For Gelatin?
Gelatin is a protein made from collagen that is found in animal body parts. The most abundant protein in an animal's body is collagen which makes up about thirty percent of the animal's total protein. Animals that have their lives taken in a slaughterhouse are used for meat therefore there is no waste to make gelatin. The scraps of these animal carcasses are used as feed for other animals. One could argue that there is no real reason or need for that matter to slaughter animals specifically for the production of gelatin.
Gelatin may have started as a by-product of the meat industry but now is more like a co-product of meat and dairy farming much like the animal leather industry. Large corporations such as Darling Ingredients Inc., GELITA AG and Nitta Gelatin Inc. rely on mass murder of animals to supply collagen for gelatin production. Lack of collagen supply would be detrimental to businesses in the gelatin industry and could support exponential financial decline. Buying gelatin seems harmless but it is ensuring the perpetuating death and suffering of animals as a result.
The world is changing for the better and now there is a rapidly growing selection of cruelty-free gelatin products. Some alternatives include pectin, carrageenan, agar-agar and many more. Each of these are useful depending on how thick or thin of a consistency is needed.
Pectin is derived from fruit and comes in liquid form. It also has a slightly sweet and sour flavor. It is commonly used in marmalades, jellies and jams to help products set and keep their shape. Pectin is also a great source of fiber and could promote regular digestion.
Carrageenan comes in either liquid or powder form. It is derived from red seaweed. It is used as a stabilizer and thickening agent. Carrageenan also has a slightly salty taste. Though it is not quite as powerful, it can be used instead of agar-agar.
Agar-Agar is produced from some species of red algae. The algae is dried and ground down into a powder. Then the powder is boiled and the agar-agar is extracted. Agar-agar has no flavor, eighty to ninety percent fiber and does not contain any calories. Also, it is a great source of iodine which can help support thyroid function.
Gelatin is an animal by-product found in more foods than imaginable. You could be eating gelatin without even knowing it since normally it is not listed as the first or even fifth ingredient. Being mindful of the animals living with us on Earth is top priority. You can do so by switching gelatin containing foods to vegan and vegetarian alternatives. You can still enjoy your favorite dishes and do your part at saving the planet and its inhabitants.