Jelly in secret: Hidden gelatin

Fact #1:
Gelatin is a gelling agent. 🍮

Fact #2:
Gelatin is made from pig. 🐖 Or some other animals’ remains, such as bone marrow, skins or hides. While fish gelatin and bovine gelatin are usually specifically labeled (e.g. as halal or kosher), gelatin from pigs is so common that its source is often not stated.

While everyone knows about fact #1, it is mostly vegans, vegetarians, pescetarians, Muslims and Jews who know about fact #2.

But how come many do not know what gelatin is made of?

And why is the use of gelatin so widespread in the food industry?

Gelatin (or gelatine) may be added to foods you wouldn’t expect to find it in. [Why associate pork with cake, whipping cream, marshmallows or yogurt? 🍰🍡🥣]

Assuming that jello, gummibears, skittles and the like are foods which are known to contain gelatin, I keep thinking it is not worth mentioning it. But who knows? Personally, I learned that marshmallows contain gelatin years after becoming vegetarian, when a friend mentioned it and I finally checked the ingredients on the label. 😰

Ever since, reading the ingredient list has been a very “interesting” pastime activity and it has become a routine when doing grocery shopping. [And an essential skill for surviving the food jungle in Korea.]

Depending on where you grew up, you may or may not know that many yogurts in the US🇺🇸 contain gelatin. This is shocking to me, because in Germany🇩🇪 and other European countries, there is no need for gelatin in yogurt. It is generally quite easy to find plain yogurt which consists of 100% milk fermented with various lacto-bacteria. No sugar. No flavors. No gelling agents. No unnecessary additives. Even when it’s not specifically labeled as Greek yogurt, it is thick and creamy enough to spoon it up. 🥄

In South Korea🇰🇷, however, the situation is different again. Not only is it difficult to find plain yogurt that is unsweetened. (Not referring to Korea’s popular types of ‘drinking yogurt’ such as Yakult here, which are very liquid and very sweet.) But similar to my experience in the US, most store-bought yogurts contain gelatin.

🤯
Mind blowing.
Why? 😱
Why does it need gelatin??? 😵
Big question mark.

So far, I could identify only two brands which neither contain gelatin nor additional sweeteners: Sangha Mokjang‘s Organic Plain Yogurt and Namyang‘s Milk100 Yogurt.

Unfortunately, not every supermarket or convenience store carries these yogurts. On top of that, yogurts are somewhat expensive💲 in Korea – many dairy products are in general. [Instead, how about making yogurt yourself?*]

Ice cream bar which contains gelatin

Beside yogurt, many other foods contain gelatin in Korea. Certain food products (desserts in particular) require a gelling agent for texture. There are various gelling agents – also of plant origin, they each exhibit certain characteristics and in some areas, gelatin happens to be the preferred choice.

Generally, the following types of food often contain gelatin in Korea:

  • 🥣 yogurt 요구르트
  • 🍮 pudding 푸딩
  • 🍰 mousse cakes 무스케이크
  • 🍇 some types of fruit jello 젤리. (The brand Petitzel 쁘띠첼 uses gellan gum, carageenan and agar-agar in many of their products.)
  • 🍕 some cheeses, e.g. on cheap pizza

There may be exceptions, so feel free to check the food label or ask someone for confirmation. In a café or at a bakery, you could do so by asking something like this in Korean:

“Does this contain gelatin, by any chance?” 혹시 젤라틴 들어갔나요? Hoksi jelatin deureogadnayo?

After all, things are not always what they seem to be. Gelatin and other ingredients derived from animals may be invisible, and the foods familiar from your home country may be different at another place. [The famous Oreo cookies, for instance, are not vegan in Korea but contain dairy.]

In general, it is highly recommended to learn Korean (at least the basics) or another corresponding language to avoid misunderstandings in the new environment. 🗣 If you want to avoid eating certain things – be that motivated by allergies, ethics or religion, then it is advisable to check new products first.

*****

*) Making your own yogurt in Korea is simple and only requires a few things: Fresh milk, a yogurt starter culture and a source of constant warmth, such as a radiator or the traditional Korean floor heating (ondol 온돌). Apart from that, this project needs a little bit of preparatory time 🕖, planning ahead📝 and keenness to experiment. 🤓 [It will not work if you have a sudden craving for yogurt or lack patience.]

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