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A variety of packaged gelatine desserts

Gelatine desserts are desserts made with sweetened and flavoured gelatine. They can be made by combining plain gelatine with other ingredients or by using a premixed blend of gelatine with additives. Fully prepared gelatine desserts are sold in a variety of forms, ranging from large decorative shapes to individual serving cups.


In many of the Commonwealth nations and in Ireland, gelatine desserts are called jelly.

In the United States and Canada, gelatine desserts are sometimes colloquially called jello or sometimes as gelatine, whereas 'jelly' is a fruit preserve.


Popular brands of premixed gelatine include:

  • Aeroplane Jelly in Australia
  • Hartley's in the United Kingdom
  • Jell-O from Kraft Foods in North America


Wood-engraving of "Orange Jellies" garnished with myrtle leaves, in Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery for Private Families, 1845

Before gelatine became widely available as a commercial product, the most typical gelatine dessert was "calf's foot jelly". As the name indicates, this was made by extracting and purifying gelatine from the foot of a calf. This gelatine was then mixed with fruit juice and sugar.


Packets of Rowntree's gelatine dessert cubes, known as jelly in the United Kingdom, which are now manufactured by Hartley's

To make a gelatine dessert, gelatine is dissolved in hot liquid with the desired flavours and other additives. These latter ingredients usually include sugar, fruit juice, or sugar substitutes; they may be added and varied during preparation, or pre-mixed with the gelatine in a commercial product which merely requires the addition of hot water.

In addition to sweeteners, the prepared commercial blends generally contain flavouring agents and other additives, such as adipic acid, fumaric acid, sodium citrate, and artificial flavourings and food colours. Because the collagen is processed extensively, the final product is not categorized as a meat or animal product by the US federal government.

Prepared commercial blends may be sold as a powder or as a concentrated gelatinous block, divided into small squares. Either type is mixed with sufficient hot water to completely dissolve it, and then mixed with enough cold water to make the volume of liquid specified on the packet.

The solubility of powdered gelatine can be enhanced by sprinkling it into the liquid several minutes before heating, "blooming" the individual granules. The fully dissolved mixture is then refrigerated, slowly forming a colloidal gel as it cools.

Gelatine desserts may be enhanced in many ways, such as using decorative moulds, creating multicoloured layers by adding a new layer of slightly cooled liquid over the previously-solidified one, or suspending non-soluble edible elements such as marshmallows or fruit. Some types of fresh fruit and their unprocessed juices are incompatible with gelatine desserts; see the Chemistry section below.

When fully chilled, the most common ratios of gelatine to liquid (as instructed on commercial packaging) usually result in a custard-like texture which can retain detailed shapes when cold but melts back to a viscous liquid when warm. A recipe calling for the addition of additional gelatine to regular jelly gives a rubbery product that can be cut into shapes with cookie cutters and eaten with fingers (called "Knox Blox" by the Knox company, makers of unflavoured gelatine). Higher gelatine ratios can be used to increase the stability of the gel, culminating in gummy candies which remain rubbery solids at room temperature.

Gelatine shots

A tray of gelatine shots prior to refrigeration

A gelatine shot (usually called a Jell-O shot in North America and vodka jelly or jelly shot in the UK and Australia) is a shooter in which liquor, usually vodka, rum, tequila, or neutral grain spirit replaces some of the water or fruit juice that is used to congeal the gel.

The American satirist and mathematician Tom Lehrer has been rumoured to have been the first to invent the gelatine shot in the 1950s while working for the National Security Agency, where he developed vodka gelatine as a way to circumvent a restriction of alcoholic beverages on base, but the claim that he was first is untrue. The earliest published recipe dates from 1862, found in How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon Vivant's Companion by Jerry Thomas: the recipe calls for gelatine, cognac, rum, and lemon juice.

Gelatine substitutes
Other culinary gelling agents can be used instead of animal-derived gelatine. These plant-derived substances are more similar to pectin and other gelling plant carbohydrates than to gelatine proteins; their physical properties are slightly different, creating different constraints for the preparation and storage conditions. These other gelling agents may also be preferred for certain traditional cuisines or dietary restrictions.

Agar, a product made from red algae, is the traditional gelling agent in many Asian desserts. Agar is a popular gelatine substitute in quick jelly powder mix and prepared dessert gels that can be stored at room temperature. Compared to gelatine, agar preparations require a higher dissolving temperature, but the resulting gels congeal more quickly and remain solid at higher temperatures, 104 °F (40 °C), as opposed to 59 °F (15 °C) for gelatine. Vegans and vegetarians can use agar to replace animal-derived gelatine.

Carrageenan is also derived from seaweed, and lacks agar's occasionally unpleasant smell during cooking. It sets more firmly than agar and is often used in kosher and halaal cooking.

Konjac is a gelling agent used in many Asian foods, including the popular konnyaku fruit jelly candies.


Gelatine consists of partially hydrolyzed collagen, a protein which is highly abundant in animal tissues such as bone and skin. Although many gelatine desserts incorporate fruit, some fresh fruits contain proteolytic enzymes; these enzymes cut the gelatine molecule into peptides (protein fragments) too small to form a firm gel. The use of such fresh fruits in a gelatine recipe results in a dessert that never 'sets'.

Specifically, pineapple contains the protease (protein cutting enzyme) bromelain, kiwi fruit contains actinidin, figs contain ficain, and papaya contains papain. Cooking or canning denatures and deactivates the proteases, so canned pineapple, for example, works fine in a gelatine dessert.


Although eating tainted beef can lead to New Variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (the human variant of mad-cow disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy), there is no known case of BSE having been transmitted through collagen products such as gelatine.

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