By far the most popular use for gelatin products is as gelatin dessert, in the UK and Australia gelatin desserts are referred to as jelly, and in the US (where "jelly" is a clear preserve stiffened by pectin and spread on bread) by its trademarked name, Jell-O. Gelatin for desserts is marketed as a flavored powder and sometimes in the form of loosely attached cubes, resembling a wobbly chocolate bar. Popular brands include Jell-O from Kraft Foods in North America and Rowntree's Jelly in the United Kingdom.
Some gelatinous desserts can be made with agar instead of gelatin, allowing them to congeal more quickly and at higher temperatures. Agar, a vegetable product, is used especially in quick jelly powder mix and Asian jelly deserts, but also for vegetarian alternatives. Agar is more closely related to pectin and other gelling plant carbohydrates.
Extraction of collagen
Animal rendering is a key step in the manufacture of gelatin desserts. Hide trimmings are boiled in 70-foot vats to remove collagen, which is then soaked and filtered. Horns or hooves are not used, as is traditionally thought. The extract is then dried to form a powder, and is mixed with sugar, adipic acid, fumaric acid, disodium acid, sodium citrate, and artificial flavorings and food colors.
Criticism of Kraft
In 1992 the gelatin industry, in particular Kraft's Atlantic Gelatin plant in Woburn, Massachusetts, which supplies the vast majority of Jell-O, came under scrutiny for a history of noxious smells, toxic waste releases into Boston Harbor, and a policy of corporate secrecy. Heading off a rash of local complaints, industry lobbyists invited Massachusetts state representatives Paul Casey and Carol Donovan into the plant. However, the representatives were barred from going past the conference room. Repeated requests for a plant tour by journalists were refused. In 1993 the plant was hit with a $250,000 fine for violating the Clean Air Act of 1970. In a February 4, 1996 article, the Associated Press reported that a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection official was one of only a few outsiders who had seen the inside of the Woburn plant.
Since collagen is derived from animals, especially cattle, there were concerns about the theoretical spread of mad cow disease to humans. Eating tainted beef has lead to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) in humans. There are no known cases of variant CJD transmitted through collagen products such as gelatin.