THE AWFUL (UN)TRUTH - "GELATIN IS MADE FROM HOOVES!"
I don't know when or where this story started, but it's very pervasive. People love to spring this
"little known factoid" on their friends, usually halfway through the Jell-O dessert. "I'll bet you
wouldn't be eating so eagerly if you knew where Jell-O comes from! ... That's right, the
HOOVES!!" I've actually spread this story myself. But it isn't true.
Gelatin is made from collagen. There isn't any collagen in the hooves. Hooves are mostly keratin, a completely different substance. Keratin does not have any of the properties that gelatin needs, and in fact it has no culinary uses whatsoever.
So where does collagen come from, if it isn't hooves? Most of the collagen in commercially made gelatins is from connective tissue. That means skin, tendons,
gristle. The same stuff also makes those membranes you find in your steak, and young bones are
full of it (once upon a time when people made these things at home, bones were the main source). In
fact, collagen is found all through most animal bodies, between muscles and muscle cells, and has an
enormous influence on the way meat cooks. But, all things considered, the skin is the best source for
commercially viable quantities of collagen, and the gelatin you buy in packets is mostly pig skin -
with maybe some assorted bits of gristle thrown in, just to keep those interesting after-dinner
There is a vegetarian substitute for gelatin, if you're interested in keeping meat out of your diet. Like so many of the good things in life, it comes from algae and is called agar-agar. It is more expensive than the regular variety, and reportedly behaves slightly differently, but the taste is the same - tasteless. Neither gelatin or agar-agar have any flavour on their own.
By the way, glue isn't made from hooves, either. Same stuff. The word collagen actually comes
from the Greek root kolla, which means "glue."
”OY VEY! - YOU MEAN JELL-O ISN'T KOSHER?"
Obviously, gelatin made from pig skin is about as kosher as a ham and cheese sandwich during Passover. Gelatin from kosher animals that are improperly slaughtered is also forbidden, and classified as nevelah. But there are a great number of gelatins that are certified piglet-free and appropriately slaughtered. And of course, the algae varieties are all kosher. The mere presence of gelatin does not automatically make a meal treyf. You'll have to do some background checking. Www.star-k.org provides informative articles on this issue, and lists of certified kosher products.
A more interesting question is “is gelatin meat or parve?” On the face of it, it might seem that such animal extracts should be meat, and therefore forbidden to eat with dairy products. But this is not the case. The rulings of the Shulchan Aruch are that as long as the hides used are properly salted to remove the blood, and the other body parts dried and processed to the point of producing gelatin, they are not meat.
Interestingly enough, you can produce kosher gelatin from the dry bones of non-kosher animals. The bones must be completely dry, without any marrow. These dry bones do not fall under any of the regulations concerning meat, and may be safely eaten, according to the Shulchan Aruch.
This also means the old "marshmallows are not kosher" theory is not always true, but again,
background checking is called for. I'm sure most of the marshmallows you find in supermarkets
Discerning readers will note that I have not mentioned Jell-O yet. The answer is that Jell-O is not certified kosher by the Orthodox Union or the OK Kosher Certification company (the most widely recognized authority, and owners of the “K-in-a-circle” symbol). There is a K - no circle - on the packaging, meaning that the manufacturers (Kraft Foods) have determined that Jell-O is manufactured according to the standards of kashrut. Kraft Foods have also repeatedly told concerned Jewish consumers that Jell-O is kosher. Kraft’s take on this issue is that the extensive processing involved in manufacturing Jell-O renders all treyf animals kosher. This, however, is in direct contradiction of everything the various authorities on kashrut tell us, and has not convinced the OK Kosher Certification board. With all due respect to Kraft Foods, Jell-O is not kosher just because they say it is, and I suspect that the reason they can’t get a kosher certification for it is that they use pig skins to make it.
"EEEWW!! I'M NOT EATING THAT STUFF ANYMORE..."
Are you sure about that? It is possible to live a life free of gelatin, but you'd better be prepared to
do a lot of research and be careful in restaurants. And remember, you can't avoid gelatin if you eat meat. Collagen is interlaced throughout the bodies of all mammals, birds and fish, and will turn to gelatin when cooked. So first of all, you'll have to stop eating meat.
Then you'll have to give up all industrially manufactured chocolates and candies. There's gelatin in almost all of them. And God only knows what bits and pieces the gelatin in these things comes from. I'm betting it isn't the purest substance you could be putting in your mouth.
But those aren't the only dangers. Larousse Gastronomique tells us that "gelatine is used for
making jellies, numerous cold or iced desserts, and for the fining of wines and fruit juices." That
means brandy and cognac are out, as are most industrially made ice creams. In fact, if you see the
word "stabilizers" on a package, it probably contains gelatin. And, to top it all off, gelatin is used in
a lot of medications, including but not limited to gelcaps, throat lozenges, and many vitamins.
But when you come right down to it, it's only odd bits of animal bodies. If the idea of eating dead
animals repels you, the idea of rendered tendons, bones and skin might be all the more disgusting.
But if you have no problem eating meat, you might as well eat the other parts. At least you'll have
the satisfaction of reducing waste from the meat-packing industry. Anyway, Bill Cosby says it's
good stuff, and you can't possibly argue with that.
- MCGEE, H. (1984), On Food and Cooking. New York: Fireside Books
- MONTAGNE, P. ET AL (2001), “Gelatine”, Larousse Gastronomique (English Edition).
New York, Clarkson Potter/Publishers
- MUSHELL, A., “Getting into the Thick of Things - Gelatin”, The Star-K Online. Published online at
- LEVY, D., (1999) “When Something Goes Wrong”, The Jewish Homemaker. Published online at
- SWIGER, K., “Special Report: can you always trust so-called “kosher” products?” (Date unknown, published online at