Learn All About Gelatin: Powdered, Sheet and Leaf
The first thing to know is that there is powdered unflavored gelatin and then there is sheet gelatin, sometimes referred to as leaf gelatin. You may have never seen sheet gelatin, and this is because it is mostly used in commercial kitchens. Pros like it because it yields a clearer end product with a very pure (nonexistent) flavor and also because you will never end up with any un-dissolved granules. I don’t use it because there are many different kinds and strengths so when you see a recipe that says “1 gelatin sheet” or “1 sheet of gelatin” it isn’t giving you enough information for success. One the other hand, if “1 tablespoon unflavored powdered gelatin” or “one, .25 ounce package of unflavored powdered gelatin” is called for, you know what to use. I will discuss both types, but we use Knox Unflavored Powdered Gelatine in the Test Kitchen. (Knox uses the “e” on the end, by the way).
General Gelatin Tips
- What is gelatin made from? It is indeed made from animal bones, skin, hides and connective tissues, although hooves are said not to be used, usually pig or cow, and sometimes fish. These sources are used for their collagen. (A favored vegetarian alternative is agar agar).
- If a recipe uses the term “bloom”, as in “first bloom the gelatin in ¼ cup of water”, it simply means soften. That is how you, the home cook, will most often see the term used. If it says, “use gelatin with 190 Bloom strength”, it is talking about how firm the setting power is, and this is usually mentioned in professional recipes.
- Powdered gelatin and sheet gelatin are not easily substituted for one another, since there are many different kinds of sheet gelatin.
- The longer a dish set with gelatin is refrigerated, the stiffer it becomes. This is why a jelled dessert might be smooth and slick and have a pleasant mouthfeel on days one and two but by days three and four it is rubbery.
- Certain fruits contain enzymes that will prevent gelatin from setting firmly. Avoid pineapple, kiwi and papaya, however, heating these first (if they are in the form of juices) will destroy the enzymes making them safe for use with gelatin.
- Never freeze or boil gelatin; it destroys the setting power. Occasionally a dessert is set in the freezer briefly and that’s okay, or if the gelatin is very small part of the ingredients, such as a little added to a sorbet mixture, it is fine.
Powdered Gelatin Info
- Follow what a recipe calls for. If it says “1 envelope” or “1 package” or “1 packet” it is probably referring to the quarter-ounce envelopes of unflavored powdered gelatin, such as Knox brand.
- If the recipe says “2 teaspoons”, then measure it out. Although the average amount of gelatin in a quarter-ounce envelope is 2 ¼ teaspoons, it is not standardized by volume and can vary widely.
- However, if a recipe says “1 ½ envelopes” what do you do? I would assume 2 ¼ teaspoons per envelope and do the math from there. And use proper measuring spoons!
- Always soften, or bloom, gelatin first. Place a small quantity (¼ cup liquid per envelope, for example) of cold liquid in a small saucepan and slowly and evenly sprinkle powdered gelatin over the top. Allow to sit for at least 5 minutes, and then melt slowly and thoroughly over low heat, whisking well. I like to dip my finger in the mixture to be able to “feel” that all the granules are melted.
- As soon as gelatin is bloomed and melted in liquid, incorporate the mixture into the rest of your ingredients. If it is not incorporated while warm, ropes and strands of set gelatin might develop in the finished dish.
- 1 envelope of powdered gelatin will set 2 cups of liquid – not a soft set or an ultra-firm set, but a medium set.
- Sometimes I use less gelatin for a soft set dessert served in glasses or goblets because I want a very smooth, soft mouthfeel.
- If I am going to unmold a dessert, it may very well call for a higher proportion of gelatin.
Sheet Gelatin Info
- Sheet or leaf gelatin comes in different strengths. Labels will have language such as “Silver Strength/160 Bloom” of “Gold Grade 190 Bloom”. One cannot be substituted 1 to 1 for one another.
- If a recipe very specifically calls for “1 sheet silver gelatin”, then use that. And if they specify a brand, use it! This will give you the best results.
- Sometimes sheet gelatin is called for my weights, such as “2 gms sheet gelatin”. In this case all bets are off because 2 gms of a silver strength sheet gelatin will gel differently from 2 gms of gold strength.
Image: Dédé Wilson