What Is Gelatin?

Last Update: September 28, 2022

Although it’s best known for its starring role in gravity-defying Jell-o salads, lately gelatin has been getting attention for its health benefits.

It has been used for weight loss; promoting healthier skin, hair, and nails; strengthening bones and reducing wrinkles. It has also shown promise in decreasing joint pain and wear-and-tear in athletes, and may provide relief to the achy joints associated with osteoarthritis.

Gelatin is made from the tendons, bones, and hides usually of cows, pigs, or (less often) fish. There are two ways to get your collagen: gelatin, or collagen hydrolysate.

Gelatin is pure collagen protein. It’s tasteless, dissolves in hot water, and produces a very rigid gel structure. Gelatin’s firm texture makes it ideal for use in jellies, puddings, mousse and as a thickener for gravies, whipped cream, or egg whites. It can also be used to mimic fat or as an egg replacer.

Hydrolyzed collagen is made by breaking down collagen protein into amino acids through a process called hydrolysis. This creates a powder with the same health benefits as gelatin, but without the extreme gelling capabilities. Not only is this variety of collagen easier to digest, but it also dissolves in either hot or cold liquids. Because it is flavorless and won’t affect texture, hydrolyzed collagen is easy to add to almost anything from juice to soup.

Just as gelatin adds structure to food, its high protein content helps provide structure in our bodies. Both gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen are chock full of protein—one tablespoon provides a whopping 9 grams (about 17 percent of your daily requirement).

The amino acids that make up the protein in gelatin are important building blocks for the body. They may help preserve lean muscle mass and their collagen-promoting ability may help keep you looking and feeling younger.

Collagen is a fibrous protein that makes up 30 percent of the protein in our bodies. It acts like scaffolding: providing structure, keeping skin resilient and joints and bones strong. As we age, our bodies’ collagen formation slows down, which means our joints, tendons and skin don’t work or feel like they used to.

Collagen and gelatin are safe for consumption at up to 10 grams per day. Start slow: Too much, too fast can result in bloating, loss of appetite, and stomach pain.

To ease your way into the world of gelatin, try cooking with it. This lemongrass panna cotta uses gelatin to stabilize the cream, and this beauty smoothie uses collagen to keep your skin smooth and healthy.

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

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Kathryn Bloxsom

Kathryn Bloxsom is a Registered Dietitian and food blogger who will travel to the ends of the earth to find a tasty meal. Believing that healthy should taste good, she is an advocate for real food and and believes that the foods we eat can change us and the world. Check out her blog at

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