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Q & A: What jello is made out of

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Q:
What is the composition of jello
- Anonymous
A:
The main ingredients in Jello are:

1) Water -- this is the biggest component.
2) Sugar -- it's sweet! Some gelatin desserts
are sugar-free and have substitutes like
aspartame in them.
3) Proteins -- these are what makes the jello
hold together. Long stringy molecules get tied
up in loose knots which also hold the water molecules
in and keep them from flowing freely. It's not so
stiff that it can't jiggle though.
4) Flavorings -- natural or artificial.
5) Colorings -- That bright green or red color!
6) Maybe a preservative or two to keep it from going bad when stored for a long time in the cupboard. Also perhaps something to make it flow easily, even when the humidity is high. Sugar gets stuck in lumps if stored in a high humidity environment.

Tom

(republished on 07/13/06)

Follow-Up #1: Jello Proteins

Q:
What type of proteins?
- Kyla (age 12)
Lake Park, IA, USA
A:
The protein that makes up gelatin (Jello) is called "collagen."  Collagen is a structural protein found all throughout the bodies of animals.  It’s job is to hold important body parts (like skin) in the places where they’re supposed to stay - you may have heard of people using collagen supplements, injections, etc. to make their skin look less wrinkled.  When you mix gelatin powder with hot water, a chemical reaction called "hydrolysis" occurs within the collagen molecules, causing them to break apart and form a larger structure called a "colloid" (please read our answer on the structure of Jello to learn more about colloids).

The collagen in gelatin usually comes from the skin and bones of pigs and cattle after they are butchered for meat.  You may have heard that gelatin is made from the hooves of horses or cows, but this is not true.  The protein that makes up hooves is called "keratin" (the same protein that makes up your fingernails).  Although keratin and collagen are both important to maintain the body’s normal structure, you can not make gelatin from keratin. 

As an interesting sidenote, the collagen molecule has a very neat-looking "triple helix" structure - a little like the "double helix" of DNA.  There is a nice picture of a collagen molecule on Wikipedia.

-Tamara

(published on 02/21/07)

Follow-up on this answer.