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Gelatine (also spelt Gelatin) is used mainly as a thickening or emulsifying agent for culinary uses. It is a pure protein which contains no fat, carbohydrates or cholesterol and is free of all preservatives. It is best known as the setting agent for jellies, but many dishes that need  to be moulded and/or  turned out, such as bavarois, cold mousses or uncooked cheesecakes make use of its properties.


Origin and History


The exact time of the discovery of gelatine is not known, but considering it is derived after the boiling of animal skin and bone, it is quite likely to have been quite some  time ago. Whenever it was, it is certain that chefs utilised its wonderful setting properties to create gastronomic works of art, which were both pleasing to the eye and tempting on the palate.


In England during the Victorian era (late 1800's to early 1900s) Gelatine was widely used in both savoury and sweet dishes.  Cooks were renowned  for using fancy moulds in all shapes and sizes, from tall and fluted to  long and low and even some  in the shape of fish and other animals.


Commercially produced gelatine appears to have started in Holland around 1685,  shortly followed by England in about 1700. The first commercial production of gelatine in the United States was in Massachusetts in 1808.


How Gelatine is made


Gelatine does not occur "free" in nature. It has to be made or manufactured. However, it is a natural ingredient,  in that it derived from natural ingredients and has no additives. Nowadays, it is made mainly from beef bones and hides and pork skin,  which contain protein collagen,  the essential ingredient required for the production of gelatine.


It is a lengthy process in which extraneous substances, such as minerals, fats and albuminoids  are removed by chemical and physical treatment to give a purified collagen.  It involves several cleansing and purification steps and is finally dried in an air chamber, then processed into the end product (sheets, granules, powder)


Gelatine in Cooking


Whilst you can purchase flavoured gelatine, this section only deals with unflavoured gelatine. Having said that, do experiment with the flavoured ones, in particular lemon flavoured gelatine may go very well with fish dishes and the various fruit flavoured ones, strawberry etc., with dishes made from the corresponding fruit, such as flans.


As the name would suggest, unflavoured gelatine has no strong taste of its own and sets to a transparent, shiny and smooth consistency which doesn't alter or mask the natural flavours of the food with which it is used, unlike Aspic, where a clarified vegetable, fish or meat stock forms the basis and uses gelatine as the setting agent.


Note that Gelatine is NOT a vegetarian product. However, Agar-agar can be used as a substitute although its setting properties are stronger so less of it is required.

Gelatine is available in sheets (leaf), powder or granules and in clear sheets or leaves. Generally speaking, 6 small sheets of gelatine is the equivalent of 3 teaspoons of powdered gelatine ( a 10g sachet). This is enough to soft-set  600ml/20fl.oz. of liquid. 


To dissolve powdered gelatine,  sprinkle it into a small bowl or cup containing 3 tablespoons of hot water, stirring constantly, then place the bowl into a container of boiling water and stir constantly until completely dissolved and transparent. NEVER boil the gelatine mixture.  

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To prepare leaf gelatine, soak it in cold water for 4-5 minutes, allowing it to swell. Remove the swollen leaf gelatine from the water and gently squeeze it out. When using in warm dishes add the squeezed out gelatine directly into the warm liquid and stir until it has completely dissolved. NEVER add gelatine to boiling liquids as this impairs its setting qualities.


When using  in cold dishes place the squeezed gelatine in a saucepan over a very  low heat together with a few tablespoons of the cold mixture into the dissolved gelatine mix very well. Remove from the heat then add the rest of the cold mixture and mix thoroughly. NEVER add the gelatine to the mixture....always add the cold mixture to pan of gelatine. You can  dissolve it in a microwave. Just place the squeezed out gelatine in a little bowl and melt it on high power for about 10 seconds. Then continue to prepare your dishes as if you were dissolving gelatine in cold dishes.



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