Gelatin: Basic Know How of a Fantastic Ingredient

Gelatin is considered to be one of the most versatile food ingredients available today. Even though gelatin is a highly purified protein its use is dominated by the multiple functionalities provided as a food ingredient rather than its nutritional value. Gelatin has a unique profile of technological properties: it acts as a gelling and binding agent as well as a builder and stabilizer for foams and emulsions just to name the most important features used in food industry. Despite its popularity, however, ingredient manufacturers such as GELITA have noticed that the industry’s understanding of the fundamental properties of gelatin has begun to erode during the last few years, and its true potential remains unexploited.

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Gelatin
Gelatin

Gelatin development

Gelatin has a long tradition, however, the innovative potential for modern food production is huge. Gelatin experienced its first real boom on a larger scale as a foodstuff as early as the Napoleonic Wars (1800–1815) when the French used it as a source of protein during the English blockade. Since then it became clear that gelatin was more than a source of protein but in fact a multifaceted ingredient that provides unique textural and sensory properties. Today, the global gelatin market which in 2015 had a volume of approximately 405 kilo tons is projected to reach a value of 450 kilo tons by 2018. This growth is not only driven by its pure technological properties. An increased healthcare awareness, a growing geriatric population and a widening application scope in areas such as specific dietetic food e.g. weight management products, nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals are stimulating increased demands as well.

What is gelatin?

Gelatin is a hydrocolloid which is mainly used as a gelling agent. In water, gelatin swells rapidly, dissolves on warming to a low viscosity solution and forms a clear gel when it cools. The reversibility of the gelling process is by far the most important technological property of gelatin. Using a rather simple hydrolysis process gelatin is derived from native collagen that occurs in large amounts in the skin and bones of animals. Commercial gelatin is a dry, pale yellow highly purified protein powder that is free from fat, cholesterol, purines and additives. It comprises 86–90 percent protein, less than 1 percent mineral salts and 9–13 percent water. Gelatin is appropriate for savory and sweet products and has, dosed in typical quantities, no negative impact on the taste of the corresponding food. Even though it is a protein, gelatin has low allergenic potential, a vital advantage considering the growing number of ingredient intolerances among today’s consumers. And, as gelatin is a foodstuff in its own right, its use is neither limited nor restricted; nor does it have an “E-number,” which makes it highly suitable for clean label products.

…the global gelatin market which in 2015 had a volume of approximately 405 kilo tons is projected to reach a value of 450 kilo tons by 2018. gelatin’s performance in the final product is strongly influenced by the nature and quality of the other ingredients

A multifunctional food ingredient

An important technological characteristic of gelatin is its gelling power which is defined by the bloom value. However, it would be remiss to consider bloom values alone when examining the multiple product possibilities of gelatin. The various gelatin types are characterized by properties such as their setting and melting times, viscosity, color, clarity, foaming and emulsifying ability. Depending on its field of application and the desired end product, the required characteristics of a gelatin type can vary. Chemically, these characteristics are highly dependent on the molecular weight distribution and structure of the single protein chains within a specific gelatin batch. This allows broad variations of the molecular composition of a gelatin grade. As such, it’s extremely versatile and means that a wide variety of gelatin types with different behaviors are available, each of which provides the appropriate profile for specific applications. To satisfy the customer demand for a successful end product, every aspect of the gelatin should be carefully tailored to meet the requirements of the specific formulation. This also means adjusting the gelatin to the requirements of the manufacturing processes to ensure a smooth production and thus further improving the quality and shelf life of the end product.

Gelling power

In systems with a high water content gelatin immobilizes the water phase and thus increases the viscosity by forming a gel. Only through this increase in viscosity, many low fat products are possible: a low fat spread or low fat cheese preparations would remain liquid without the use of gelatin. On the other hand, in dairy products such as yogurts, the gelatin prevents the product matrix from shrinking as this would cause the unsightly and undesired syneresis. Therefore, the gelling properties of gelatin are often associated with an increased water retention and stability of the products. In system with low water content, such as confectionary, the gelling power is responsible for the stable yet elastic texture of the products throughout their shelf life.

Stable foams & emulsions

Gelatin acts as a surface active substance and decreases the surface tension of water. Therefore, gelatin is an excellent whipping and emulsifying agent and highly suitable for applications such as marshmallows, mousses, desserts, cake fillings and toppings. Within the water phase of the foam or emulsion the gelatin forms a gel and thus stabilizes the system. By manipulating the size and the amount of the air bubbles or oil droplets within the system it is possibly to create many different textures from creamy to fluffy. And by using gelatin’s ability to gel, the viscosity of the continuous water phase is increased to a level that prevents a separation of the dispersed phase (e.g. air bubbles). This is a basic requirement for the excellent stabilization of the created foams or emulsions. For practical applications, gelatin’s performance in the final product is strongly influenced by the nature and quality of the other ingredients as well as by the individual production parameters related to specific production lines. To make the most of the multifunctional benefits of gelatin and retain control of the production processes, comprehensive background knowledge of gelatin is essential.

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