You may not know it but gelatin is composed mostly of bone - animal bone to be exact. There are other animal parts in the ground powder as well. Suffice it to say, anyone who calls themselves a vegetarian or vegan won’t use it.
You might say that they can just avoid eating gelatin for dessert, but gelatin is used in a variety of other ways and recipes. For one, gelatin is a substance that “sets up” in foods. It forms a gel as it cools down from a high temperature. It is that gel that can be used for fruit compote, marmalades, jellies, cheesecakes, mousses and other desserts. For vegetarians, there are a few non-animal sources that are available.
* Guar Gum – You may have heard of this one as an additive in some foods. It is a thickener that can be used to replace gelatin. You can find it in ice cream and pudding. It comes from the guar plant, native to Pakistan. Guar gum binds with water easily, so that your recipes won’t fall out of solution later leaving you with a mess.
* Agar Agar – It’s so good they had to name it twice. This has the same effect as gelatin. It comes from seaweed and has no flavor in and of itself, but takes on the flavors of the dish it is used in. You can buy it as flakes, bars or powder. If it is a bar, grind it up first before cooking it. When you use it to create a gelatin mold, be careful if you add fruit. Acidity makes it fall apart. To offset that, add more agar agar to the mixture so it sets properly in your recipe.
* Kosher gelatin – Like other kosher foods, it is prepared a certain way according to Jewish tradition. This gelatin contains no animal products.
* Carrageen – Also a product of seaweed, it is found mostly in Europe. The seaweed is dried so you will have to soak it in water to return it to its shape. Then, boil it with the liquid you want to set and remove the carrageen before the gel starts to get stiff.
* Xanthan gum – This comes from a corn extract. It is a thickening agent that is popular in puddings.
These products can be found at whole foods stores and health food stores. Only specialty supermarkets may carry the more common ones. Follow package instructions to get the right consistency for your gelatin substitute.