Gelatin – it’s that magical and mysterious substance that gives Jello-O its wiggle, makes Starbursts deliciously chewy, and puts the colorful bounce inside gummy bears. But behind its sparkling food products, the actual story of gelatin is considerably less pleasant. Gelatin is directly derived from the rendered (boiled) bones and tissues of slaughtered animals including cows, pigs, and chickens, which yield the protein collagen – a clear, flavorless substance that gives gelatin its famous chewy and elastic properties.
It is these properties – as well as its ability to bind and thicken – that make gelatin the ideal choice for myriad household products, from pill capsule coatings and cosmetics to photographic film and some types of glue. But it is most familiarly found inside numerous sweet snacks and candy products – especially “gummy” candies.
Unfortunately for vegetarian and vegan gummy-bear fans, the presence of gelatin makes any candy containing it unsuitable for their consumption. Indeed, about 10% of the world’s candy market is vegetarian, and numerous gelatin-based candies are therefore off-limits.
But a new startup in San Francisco wants to change all that, and make gelatin better for everyone. Founded by Alex Lorestani and Nick Ouzounov, Gelzen is re-inventing gelatin production by taking animals out of the equation, and using fermentation technology to make the special proteins that form animal collagen.
According to Lorestani, Gelzen’s product will actually be better than traditional gelatin because it can be “customized” to contain more or less of a desired property, such as stiffness. And because it will be produced inside a more clean and controlled environment, their gelatin will not be affected by natural disaster or disease events, which significantly affect farming operations and drive up the prices of animal products, including gelatin.
Beyond candy, Gelzen hopes their product can also replace the gelatin found in innumerable other foods, including but not limited to certain kinds of margarine, salad dressings, yogurt and ice cream. And it has the additional advantage of providing a coating for the bioreactors used in cultured meat technology, which currently rely on animal-based collagen. Even better, Gelzen’s creations can further be used to give more texture and structure to cultured meat products.
With its special versatility, stability, and more predictable quality, as well as the fact that conventional gelatin is a by-product of the hugely wasteful factory farming system, Gelzen’s new gelatin represents another bright step forward to animal-free food production.