Is Gelatin Vegan? The Truth Behind This Common Ingredient

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Gelatin is commonly used as a gelling agent in foods such as Jell-O, marshmallows, and yogurt. It is also used in some non-food products, such as cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

In this article, we will explore the question of whether or not gelatin is vegan and provide some vegan alternatives to gelatin that can be consumed on a vegan diet.

Is gelatin vegan?

No, gelatin is not vegan. Gelatin is a protein that is derived from collagen.

Collagen [1]National Library of Medicine: Biochemistry, Collagen Synthesis is the main structural protein in connective tissue. It is primarily found in the skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones of animals.

Therefore, as vegans do not eat meat or any animal byproduct, gelatin is not suitable for them. 

Ingredients of gelatin

Gelatin is mainly composed of water and protein. However, it doesn’t contain all the essential amino acids that make-up protein.

Here is a list of the most abundant amino acids that make up gelatin [2]Semantic Scholar: The amino acid composition of mammalian collagen and gelatin:

  • Alanine: 11.0%
  • Glycine: 27.5%
  • Glutamic acid: 11.4%
  • Hydroxyproline: 14.1%
  • Proline: 16.35%

How is gelatin made?

Gelatin is obtained [3]ResearchGate: Gelatin: A comprehensive report covering its indispensable aspects by incomplete hydrolysis of collagen procured from animal skin, bones, and connective tissues.

In order to make gelatin, collagen must be extracted from animal tissue first. Once the collagen is derived from the animal, it undergoes hydrolysis.

The hydrolysis [4]National Library of Medicine: Hydrolyzed Collagen – Sources and Applications process involves using water and enzymes or acids to break down the protein into smaller peptides. After the hydrolysis process, the collagen is purified and dried.

Once the collagen has been extracted, it is then purified and dried. The resulting substance is gelatin powder.

Products that contain gelatin

Gelatin is colorless and has no flavor of its own. It can be easily added to a wide variety of products without affecting the taste. Industries like food, cosmetics, and medicines use gelatin as a thickening and stabilizing agent.

Here is a list of store-bought products where gelatin is commonly found.

Common foods that contain gelatin

  • Yogurts
  • Puddings
  • Cream cheese
  • Peanut butter
  • Certain coated and seasoned snacks
  • Alcoholic beverages such as beer and wine

Candies that contain gelatin

  • Gummy candies
  • Jelly beans
  • Candy corn
  • Marshmallows

Gelatin in skincare and cosmetics

  • Moisturizers and lotions
  • Collagen and retinol serums
  • Dermal fillers and implants

Gelatin in medicines

  • Ointments
  • Vitamins and supplements 

Vegan alternatives to gelatin

Gelatin is made from animal products, which makes it off-limits for vegans. Here are vegan gelatin alternatives that fit your dietary restrictions.

1. Agar agar

Agar agar is made from red algae. The process begins with grinding the dried algae into powder form, then boiling it in water to extract the agar-agar. It is then dried into flakes, bars, or powdered form and used as a vegan gelatin substitute.

Agar agar has a neutral flavor so that it won’t alter the taste of your dish.

2. Carrageenan

Carrageenan is another common food additive that comes from red seaweed. Carrageenan is mostly used in vegan toothpaste and moisturizers. It’s often used as a thickener or emulsifier in dairy products, but it can also be used to replace gelatin in recipes.

3. Guar Gum

Guar gum is a powder made from the seeds of the guar plant. It’s commonly used as a thickener in soups, sauces, and dressings. It can hold large amounts of hot liquid without changing the taste or color of your meal. However, it is unsuitable for cold dishes because it only absorbs water when heated.

4. Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is a type of sugar that is commonly used as a thickener or stabilizer in food. It has a neutral flavor which does not alter the taste of your dish.

5. Locust Bean Gum

Locust bean gum is a type of fiber that comes from the seeds of the carob tree. It’s commonly used as a thickener in soups, sauces, and dressings. Although it doesn’t have any flavor, you can mix it with other ingredients to create a unique taste.

6. Pectin

Pectin is a type of fiber that is found in fruits and vegetables. It’s commonly used as a thickener or stabilizer in jams, jellies, and other fruit-based dishes. Unlike agar-agar, pectin has a taste of its own. It comes with a slightly sweet and sour flavor.

7. Vegan Jel

Vegan Jel is a commercial product that is made from plant-based ingredients. It can be used as a direct replacement for gelatin in any recipe. You can find Vegan Jel at most health food stores. 

List of gelatin-free vegan products

With the increasing number of people following a vegan lifestyle, more and more companies are now offering vegan products. So, vegan food manufacturers are also creating gelatin-free products.

Here is a list of some popular brands that provide gelatin-free products. While some of these brands are intentionally vegan, others are accidentally vegan.

  1. Annie’s
  2. Dandies
  3. Jelly Belly Gummies
  4. Trader Joe’s
  5. Yum Earth Organic Gummy Fruits
  6. 365 Gummy Bears and Stars

Note: Many people mistake kosher as a vegan. But kosher gelatin is made from fish, so it is not vegan. If you see a product that is marked as kosher, check the ingredients list to see if it contains gelatin. If it does, then it is not vegan.

The Bottom Line

Gelatin is an animal by-product, and the meat industry mistreats and slaughters animals to produce gelatin. Thus, common gelatin is not even remotely vegan. However, many vegan alternatives can be used in place of gelatin. With a little creativity, you can still enjoy all your favorite dishes without using gelatin.

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