What is gelatin?
Gelatin is made of collagen that is sourced from a variety of animal by-products. In Australia, these animal by-products come from boiling the skin, joints and tendons from pig, horse hooves and bones from animals (usually cattle). Gelatin has several uses. It can be used as a thickener, gelling agent, and stabiliser in cooking. Gelatin can be found in a lot of products and industries, from lollies to jelly and cosmetic products to photography.
Because it is made from animal products, gelatin is not suitable for vegans and vegetarians. Instead they use vegan gelatin substitutes.
Is vegan gelatin healthy?
Vegan gelatin alternatives are perfectly healthy as substitutes are often plant based, making them as natural as meat based gelatin, although both kinds require some processing. Regular gelatin contains collagen and this is an essential nutrient for the human body with health benefits, meaning many health professionals recommend it’s intake. However, it's important to note that the human body naturally produces collagen, and that foods gelatin is added to aren’t always healthy themselves, negating the health benefits of the collagen in it.
Vegetarian and vegan gelatin substitutes have many of the same health benefits as regular gelatin and there are few known health risks associated with it. The choice between the two simply comes down to lifestyle.
Brands that use vegan gelatin
Some Australian brands use vegan gelatin powder in products such as marshmallows, gummy bears, lollies and jelly (which can be used to make jello shots) already, below is a list of products with vegetarian-friendly gelatin in the ingredients:
- Aeroplane Glitter Jelly – Berry Blue, Lime and Strawberry flavours
- Macro vegan jelly
- Dandies All Natural Vanilla Marshmallows
- Eco Vital Gummy Bears
- Licorice twists - Coles Brand (original and strawberry) and Darrell Lea (black, raspberry and grape)
- Hubba Bubba bubblegum
- Sour straps - Homebrand and X-treme brands
- Sour Patch Kids
- Wonka Long-lasting Gobstoppers
Best vegan gelatin substitutes
1. Agar Agar
What is it? Agar Agar is a type of red seaweed from Japan.
How similar is it to gelatin? Agar Agar is sold in powder form and is one of the most popular vegan gelatin swaps as it can be substituted for gelatin at a simple ratio of 1:1. It is a firmer setting agent and is flavourless.
Where can I buy it? Agar Agar can be bought from health food stores online or instore. Harris Farm stocks Agar Agar for $17.99 for 75g.
What is it? Carrageenan, also known as Carrageen or Irish Moss, is a type of dried seaweed.
How similar is it to gelatin? Unlike regular gelatin or Agar Agar, Carrageenan is a soft setting gelling agent. This results in more ‘melt in your mouth’ textured recipes. It is flavourless and can be bought in powder form, or dried seaweed form. If using dried seaweed form, it will need to be soaked for 12 hours and then boiled in the liquid you’re setting at a ratio of 1 cup of liquid to 28 grams of carrageenan.
Where can I buy it? Carrageenan can be bought online from health food stores in Australia. New Directions stocks it in bulk, 100g is $22.
3. Vegan jel
What is it? Vegan jel is a flavourless, processed vegetarian gelling powder that contains a variety of vegetarian gelatin substitutes (such as carrageenan) mixed with glucose syrup, gums and stabilisers.
How similar is it to gelatin? Vegan jel is labelled as an alternative not a substitute, so it’s best to check the packet instructions depending on what you’re cooking. It is best used in ‘set’ dessert recipes, and amounts will need to be adjusted for cheesecakes. It is less effective in recipes containing citrus, and it will set extra firm in high fat recipes.
Where can I buy it? Vegan Jel-it-in can be bought in Woolworths for $4 per 64g.
4. Xanthan Gum
What is it? Xanthan gum is made through the process of fermenting glucose, sucrose or lactose from corn or soya beans.
How similar is it to gelatin? While it can be used as a thickening agent, it is easily affected by the temperature and pH of ingredients in a recipe and this will affect its ability to set. Therefore it is best to only use it as an alternative to regular gelatin in recipes where specified. Xanthan gum turns into a gel as soon as it comes into contact with liquid, so should not be mixed by hand, but rather in a blender at a ratio of ⅛ teaspoon to 1 cup of liquid. It’s main benefit is that unlike other vegan gelatin substitutes it does not need to be heated to form a gel-like consistency.
What is it? Arrowroot is made from the roots of a tropical herb and its form is a starchy powder.
How similar is it to gelatin? Arrowroot, like gelatin, is good for thickening and with acidic liquids but it can’t be used with dairy or cooked at high temperatures. It won’t ‘set’ like gelatin, but it will thicken.
Where can I buy it? Arrowroot powder is easily found in Australian supermarkets and is the most affordable vegan gelatin swap. It will sometimes be labelled as arrowroot and tapioca powder as they are often considered interchangeable. Woolworths and Coles stock it for $1.70 per 175g. You can also buy just arrowroot powder online from health food stores.