Gelatin is a protein substance derived from collagen, a natural protein present in the tendons, ligaments, and tissues of mammals. It is produced by boiling the connective tissues, bones and skins of animals, usually cows and pigs. Gelatin's ability to form strong, transparent gels and flexible films that are easily digested, soluble in hot water, and capable of forming a positive binding action have made it a valuable commodity in food processing, pharmaceuticals, photography, and paper production.

As a foodstuff, gelatin is the basis for jellied desserts; used in the preservation of fruit and meat, and to make powdered milk, merinque, taffy, marshmallow, and fondant. It is also used to clarify beer and wine. Gelatin's industrial applications include medicine capsules, photographic plate coatings, and dying and tanning supplies.


Until the mid-nineteenth century, making gelatin was a laborious task. Calves' feet were loaded into a large kettle that was then placed over a fire. The feet were boiled for several hours after which the liquid was strained and the bones were discarded. After setting for 24 hours, a layer of fat would rise to the top. This was skimmed off and discarded. Sweeteners and or flavorings were added to the liquid and it was poured into molds and allowed again to set.

By the 1840s, however, some producers were grinding the set gelatin into a fine powder or cutting it into sheets. One of them was Charles B. Knox, a salesman from Johnston, New York, who hit on the idea of making gelatin more convenient after watching his wife Rose make it in their kitchen. Knox packaged dried sheets of gelatin and then hired salesmen to travel door-to-door to show women how to add liquid to the sheets and use it to make aspics, molds, and desserts. In 1896, Rose Knox published Dainty Desserts, a book of recipes using Knox gelatin.

The first patent for a gelatin dessert was issued in 1845 to industrialist and inventor Peter Cooper. Cooper had already made a name for himself as the inventor of the Tom Thumb steam engine. He had also made a fortune in the manufacture of glue, a process similar to that for making gelatin.

In 1897, Pearl B. Wait, a carpenter and cough medicine manufacturer, developed a fruit-flavored gelatin. His wife, May Davis Wait, named his product Jell-O. The new product was not immediately popular and Wait sold the rights to the process to Orator Francis Woodward, owner of the Genesee Food Company, for $450. Sales continued to limp along until 1902 when an aggressive advertising campaign in Ladies Home Journal magazine generated enormous interest. Sales jumped to $250,000.

The use of gelatin in food preparation increased six-fold in the 40-year period from 1936-1976. Today, 400 million packages of Jello-O are produced each year. Over a million packages are purchased or eaten each day.

In the field of photography, gelatin was introduced in the late 1870s as a substitute for wet collodion. It was used to coat dry photographic plates, marking the beginning of modern photographic methods. Gelatin's

Gelatin is a protein substance that is extracted from collagen, a natural protein present in skin, bones, and animal tissue. As a protein, it contains many amino acids that lend itself to a diverse amount of applications.
Gelatin is a protein substance that is extracted from collagen, a natural protein present in skin, bones, and animal tissue. As a protein, it contains many amino acids that lend itself to a diverse amount of applications.
use in the manufacture of medicinal capsules occurred in the twentieth century.

Raw Materials

Animal bones, skins, and tissue are obtained from slaughterhouses. Gelatin processing plants are usually located nearby so that these animal byproducts can be quickly processed.

Acids and alkalines such as caustic lime or sodium carbonate are used to extract minerals and bacteria from the animal parts. They are either produced in the food processing plant or purchased from outside vendors.

Sweeteners, flavorings, and colorings are added in the preparation of food gelatin. These can be in liquid or powdered forms and are purchased from outside vendors.

The Manufacturing

Inspection and cutting

Degreasing and roasting

Acid and akaline treatment


Evaporating and grinding

Flavoring and coloring


The packaging process is automated, with preset amounts of gelatin poured into overhead funnels through which the gelatin flows down into bags made of either polypropylene or multi-ply paper. The bags are then vacuumed sealed.

Quality Control

Gelatin manufacturers must adhere to stringent national and international food processing requirements. These regulations include but are not limited to cleanliness of the plant, equipment and employees; and allowable percentages of additives, flavorings, and colorings.

Automated and computerized technologies allow the processors to preset and monitor ingredient amounts, time and temperature, acidity and alkalinity, and flow levels. Valves are installed along pipelines to allow for continuous sampling of the product.

Gelatin is processed to varying "bloom" values that measure the gel strength or firmness. The desired strength corresponds to the manner in which the gelatin will be used. The bloom value is technically measured and monitored throughout the production process.

The Future

Since 1986 when the presence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease, was reported in Great Britain, there has been much concern about the processing of beef bones for the production of gelatin. In 1989, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the importation of cattle from the Department of Agriculture's list of of BSE-designated countries. However, a 1994 FDA ruling allowed the continued importation of bones and tissues for the production of pharmaceutical grade gelatin.

By 1997, however, the FDA held hearings to reconsider its decision. After interviewing gelatin processors, the agency found that while gelatin has not been implicated in the spread of BSE, officials are not convinced that the manufacturing processing is extracting all possible agents that are responsible for the disease. It was generally agreed that beef sources carry more of a risk than those from pork, that bones carry a higher risk than skins, and that alkaline processing is more effective than the acid-extraction method. These findings will certainly affect the gelatin-processing industry in the next century.

Where to Learn More


Harvey Lang, Jenifer, ed. Larousse Gastronomique. New York: Crown Publishers, 1988, reprinted 1998.


Marwick, Charles. "BSE sets agenda for imported gelatin." Journal of American Medical Association (June 4, 1997): 1,659.


Leiner Davis Gelatin. (June 29, 1999).

Kraft Foods. (June 29, 1999).

Sterling Gelatin. (June 29, 1999).

Mary McNulty

Also read article about Gelatin from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

P. Thomas
I personally worked hand in hand with the Geletin process for over 16 years. Had Hands on experience in Pork as well as bone manufacturing of Photographic,Food Grade as well as Pharmacuetical Geletin.I helped set up as an operator, the "Projected yield" as it turned out projected the pounds we could process out of a days production.I also worked in the rendering end of the process.i could see just from the extracted waste water i was to treat and render the Grease remains from process. I could "see" or project from the processing water remains what the Clairity and viscosity of the Geletin would be BEFORE it was dried and ran in final process. Through arguements and shared results descussions went one-way many times,resulting in producing low Property processed Geletin.
Then in 2001,The plant i worked for,Had produced pharmacuetical Geletin From Ossien bone containing the Much feared Made-Cow Bone From France,England and Germany. These arguements Helped add to my job displacement,along with other personal job related issues as with stress,leading to tardiness,and shift work hours effecting my performance,which eventually led to my dismissial,or as they claim,Had me fired for.
My worries then,as well as today is this. The Plants bi-product they made from this process is "Animal feed". The medical discovery from
"Mad Cow" was "Creutzfeldt-Jakob Decease" Inheritantly was caused from animals eating Infected reprocessed "Animal Feed" which is the Bi-product we made at this plant and sold to other processors which in turn sold it as animal feeds to Canadian farmers as supplimental food for there cattle.
I came to learn that this plant i worked at had received from England those animal bones from these cattle that were to be condemned and done away with. We initiated into the process sometimes around 10,000-15,000 lbs. of this "Condemned' bone into each daily process till there said silo was emptied.This went into processed Pharmacuetical Geletin Lot,then sold to there customer, capsulgel at the time. Remembering our "Processed bi-product"Rendered into animal meal and then sold as "Animal feed". This addition was not "Logged" in there boil,or put on there books. The situation in Canada in 2003,of another "Mad Cow Scare", I firmly believe came from these additions and processes. My only Fear would be,the Pharmacueticals,would they be introducing into the Medical field now, more serious problems or reasons beyond there knowledge or control? Leaves a question in my mind to this day?
This site has given me a lot of information and I appreciate it. I'm a vegatarian, and have been wondering about the gelatin dilema as far as meat products. Now I know that candies such as star bursts and gummy words are a no-no and I can be a complete 'veggie'. Thank you.
Your article helped me to understand the gelatin manufacturing process. Thank you for the thorough information on gelatin production process.
I would greatly appreciate a support from the food company… if a company is using gelatin for their food product they could indicate on the product label that this product is not for vegetarians.
Thank you.
I cannot believe this stuff is in foods we eat every day like yogurt, candy, and such other foods!

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