Story and history of gelatin, gelatine

Ancient times

The discovery of gelatin may be an accident: soups obtained from stewed bones and hides wound solidify after cooling. 8000 years ago, cavemen in the southwest of the Dead Sea could already extract gelatin from skins and bones of animals to make their waterproof rope baskets, containers and decorative skulls.

5000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians used gelatin extracted from animal bones to glue wooden furniture.They also boiled animal bones to prepare various broths.

In ancient China, gelatin was extracted from boiled donkey skin as a traditional Chinese medicine. Donkey hide gelatin with hot rice wine or other hot herbal decoction can treat anemia and nourish skin. Aspic is another gelatin food that has been popular since the Song Dynasty. It is made from fat-removed boiled pork skin.

In the Middle Ages, gelatin was popular for centuries as a luxury among the court and aristocracy. Chefs added vinegar, wine, almond, seasonings and natural colorings to the fish broth or bone broth to make a salty jelly.

17 century

In 1679, a French named Papin Denis invented the pressure cooker. The steam trapped in steel pot increased boiling point of water by raising the air pressure. The rapidly softened bones released water-soluble gelatin under high temperature and pressure. It not only shortened extraction time from several hours to half an hour, but also hydrolyzed collagen that was difficult to break down at the normal boiling point. Simplified extraction and higher yields made gelatin a delicacy for everyone, not just the nobility.

19 century

During the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), the blockade of French ports by British Navy meant that there was not plentiful meat in France. The French army and civilians began to use gelatin in large quantities as a meat substitute for protein supplement. Gelatin has become popular among the population as food since then. Its nutrition and manufacture method were studied systematically. Scientists were trying to figure out whether people could survive on gelatin in the famine. French physiologist François Magendie found that if dogs were only fed with gelatin, they would gradually lose weight and eventually died. The major content of gelatin was protein, but it lacked tryptophan and cysteine. Methionine, histidine and tyrosine were also present in very small amounts. In 1818, the world's first gelatin factory was established in Lyon, France.

In 1834, the French pharmacist Mothes produced a single-piece gelatin capsule to obtain a patent. These capsules were made by dipping a small mercury filled leather sack into a gelatin solution. After gelatin cooled to form a film, mercury was drained through a small hole in the bottom and the capsule was stripped from leather sack. After the filler was injected into capsule by a dropper, its hole was sealed with a drop of gelatin solution. These capsules not only masked bitterness and unpleasant odour of drug, but also stopped denaturation due to light, oxygen and moisture.

After Mothes was granted a patent, capsules began to be produced around the world. Others also have started taking a slice of the market by devising different methods to circumvent his patent. In 1846, Jules César Lehuby got a patent for two-piece capsule producing: the metal pins were dipped into a gelatin solution to form caps and bodies respectively, then they were joined together. Although the principle of making two-piece capsules was still used today, technological limitations at that time made two parts difficult to fit together. After decades of continuous improvement, capsules were finally ready for mass production at the end of 19th century.

The history of photography would be completely different without gelatin. In 1878, a photosensitive emulsion containing gelatin and silver halide was used to create dry photographic film. Before that, collodion wet plate photography had been popular for nearly 30 years. The photographer should cover the glass plate with collodion and silver halide, then shot and exposed before it dried. Only 15 minutes was left to photographer to get everything done. They must carry much water, toxic flammable chemicals, fragile glasses and a darkroom for outdoor photography. Gelatin photographic film can be exposed in a few seconds without these cumbersome equipment and it also can be mass-produced. This invention enabled the transfer of photography from a few wealthy professionals to the public. With the birth of famous "Kodak One" camera in 1888, photography was finally popularized.

In 1897, the granulated gelatin, called Jell-O, began to be sold in United States. The strawberry, raspberry, orange, lemon flavoring and sugar were added in granulated gelatin. When its mixture with hot water becomes cold, it gelled to become a crystal pudding. Gelatin began to be a popular food additive worldwide at that time.


Its value is increasing in the medical field due to its compatibility with human body, little rejection and similar osmotic pressure. It is made into sponges or patches to stop bleeding and to promote wound healing. In emergency, gelatin-based substances can replace blood plasma to save the patients, which was used on a large scale after Second World War.


Microencapsulation technology began to be studied after the Second World War. In 1970s, various products made of microcapsules began to enter market because of the technological breakthrough. The filler was wrapped by gelatin to form a small spherical capsule of a few microns, which can effectively prevent filler from denaturing due to air, bacteria, light, etc; It also slowed down the release of filler or the physical means such as light, electricity, and ultrasound were used to control the filler release. Microencapsulation technology was widely used in medicine, food, cosmetics, dyes, and carbonless copy paper and other fields.

Instant gelatin started entering the market in 1970s. It can dissolve in cold water directly and gel into jelly after 2-3 hours. Not needing hot water for dissolution, it was more convenient and quicker than traditional gelatin to prepare cold food: ice cream, jelly and cake glazing.

Hydrolyzed gelatin is another product that manufactured after second world war. It can replace fat and syrup in food to reduce calories. It is suitable to make low-fat margarine, low-fat dipping sauce and low-fat cereal bar, etc.

Today, gelatin is used as gelling agent, whipping agent, stabilizer and emulsifier in food. It can be found in jams, yogurt, cheese, aspic, ice cream and candy. It is also used in pharmaceuticals, printing and skin care products.

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