Watch it wiggle. If you've ever eaten in a cafeteria or attended a cookout or family reunion, chances are good that your dessert and salad options included some form of Jell-O. Hundreds of recipes use Jell-O to create everything from your simple institutional-style gelatin squares to ornate designs that incorporate varied flavors, fruit and whipped toppings. Jell-O consists of four basic ingredients:
How can one possibly mold Jell-O into so many different shapes? The gelatin in Jell-O is what allows you to get so creative — but what exactly is gelatin, anyway? Gelatin is just a processed version of a structural protein called collagen that is found in many animals, including humans. Collagen makes up almost one-third of all the protein in the human body. Collagen is a fibrous protein that strengthens the body's connective tissues and allows them to be elastic â€“ that is, to stretch without breaking. As you get older, your body makes less collagen, and individual collagen fibers become increasingly cross-linked with each other. You might experience this as stiff joints from less flexible tendons, or wrinkles due to loss of skin elasticity.
Gelatin can come from the collagen in cow or pig bones, hides and connective tissues. Today, the gelatin in Jell-O is most likely to come from pigskin.
Collagen doesn't dissolve in water in its natural form, so it must be modified to make gelatin. Manufacturers grind the body parts and treat them with either a strong acid or a strong base to dissolve the collagen. Then the pretreated material is boiled. Controls at every step of the process ensure purity and safety. The materials are washed and filtered repeatedly. During this process, the large collagen protein ends up being partially broken down; the resulting product is a gelatin solution. That solution is chilled into a jelly-like material, cut and dried in a special chamber. At this point, the dried gelatin — about 10 percent water — is ground. If it's going to make Jell-O, it will be ground into a fine powder.
How does this powder become the Jell-O we eat? Head to the next page to find out.