JELL-O: A Meat By-Product?

What do JELL-O, gummy bears, and marshmallows have in common? (Besides good fun for the kids). They are all made from the skins and bones of cows and pigs. In the words of one resident sharing a neighborhood with an odiferous gelatin factory, it “smells like dead things.” http://www.stonehamindependent.com/archives/2008/08/13/1

As valuable by-products of the meat industry, hides and bones can be processed to extract their collagen. But it takes many steps to turn animal parts into the white powder you find in a box of gelatin. First, it must all be cleaned. For hides, that includes removing the hair and degreasing. Then, the skins and/or bones must be ground up and boiled in acid or alkaline solution to release the protein. Since collagen is not soluble in water, this strong chemical environment is used to break it down into a soluble variant known as gelatin. The gelatin is fairly easy to filter out. Afterward, it’s sterilized, dried, and ground into powder.
Since gelatin is soluble, when a consumer adds water and heat, the gelatin goes back into solution where it forms a protein gel that thickens as it cools. By itself the gel is tasteless, odorless, and translucent. So there is usually a little color, flavor, and sugar mixed in. Who would ever guess?

Photography by Sergio Conda

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