Gelatin is a thickening agent derived from the boiled bones, tendons and skins of animals. It is a flavourless and colourless ingredient that gives body to moulded dishes, desserts and salads. Gelatin is commonly granulated although it can also be bought in sheets or as leaf gelatin. An alternative substance is agar-agar, or seaweed
, while the root of the Kuzu is also used to produce gelatin. Guar gum
, Biobin, Cellulose (Amid), Carob fruit and carrageenan
are other substances possessing the same gelatin-like properties.
Gelatin, aside from salads and desserts, is used as an ingredient in powdered milk, taffy, meringue, fondant and marshmallow
. Gelatin has the ability to form transparent gels that are soluble in hot water, digestible, and bind food particles together. It is a valuable commodity not only in food processing but in pharmaceuticals, paper production, and photography.
The amino acids present in gelatin promotes the growth of hair and nails, although the human body produces more than sufficient amounts of the same amino acids. Gelatin has been found to keep joints more flexible and reduce athletes' joint pain as well as ease the pain of arthritis.
There are no reported cases of health concerns about gelatin, except for some people who are allergic to the animals from which gelatin has been derived. There were some concerns about gelatin production because of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or mad cow disease since 1986. In 1997, the FDA found that implicating gelatin in the spread of BSE has not been substantiated, but the concern remains.