J is for Jell-O

I hail from the Midwest where Jell-O runs in our blood.  In fact, growing up in my family, Jell-O was considered an appropriate substitute for a side salad.   How anyone could ever believe that sugary, artificially flavored gelatin tossed with a few chunks of bananas and grapes was the equivalent to leafy greens is beyond me, but I never argued, nor questioned this anomaly.  I went with it.  In fact, what more could a kid really ask for? 


I still love Jell-O.  I love the texture, the flavors (lime being the most superior by far), I love it in individual snack-packs, I love mixing the powder with boiling water and watching it dissolve, I love it with whipped cream, I love that its spokesperson is Bill Cosby…My freshman year of college I actually went to a “Bill Cosby Sweater Party,” (an absolute stroke of genius by whomever came up with the idea!) where everyone wore crazy patterned sweaters we’d found at secondhand shops.  There I learned that I also love Jell-O with alcohol.


 I just love Jell-O.  


Recently, Jell-O has made a welcomed comeback in my life.  Not only did I recently have to write a paper all about gelatin, but an amazing friend here at school gave me a cookbook called, “The Magic of Jell-O,” and let me tell you, it is magical. 


Not only does it include Jell-O molds that would knock June Cleaver’s socks off, but other crazy concoctions that clearly came from the twisted and wonderful mind of some crazy person out there.   Have you ever considered flavoring your popcorn with marshmallow and Jell-O powder to make your very own, homemade popcorn balls?!  Nor had I! The book includes 100 recipes using Jell-O.  One Hundred.  All with Jell-O (including Jell-O pudding products).      


Under the influence of my new cookbook, I began my paper assignment for class with the line, “Gelatin is fun.”   I really couldn’t help myself, because…well, because it is.  Hopefully the chef doesn’t think I’m being snide…. I am ever so earnest. 


Here is a small snippet of the paper for those who are more interested in the wondrous ways of gelatin…


“Gelatin is fun.  It has given birth to everything from elegant mousse to the Jell-O mold of June Cleaver, allowing otherwise unstable, liquid substances to solidify into its gelatinous form.  This scientific and culinary delight is derived from heated collagen.  Although perhaps unexpected, that diplomat cream (pasty cream + whipped cream +gelatin) is stabilized by collagen extracted from the connective tissues in meat and in bones of animals (Thus, not so vegan friendly). 

Most gelatins in the United States and in Europe are derived from pigskin, although some are of the bovine variety.   The skins are soaked in a diluted acid, which extracts the collagen.  Transformed from boney bits of animal to its pristine, ready-to-use form, gelatin is available as a powder and in sheets.   Its powdered form is found more readily in the United States, while Europe prefers its leaf variety.  Leaves of gelatin generally require a longer soaking period. 

When liquid is added to the gelatin, it swells, absorbs the water, and will dissolve smoothly when heated. Gelatin requires rehydration before use.  This liquid absorption process is called “blooming.”   It can then be dissolved and easily incorporated into products to give them that wondrous, jiggling, gelled structure.    As it cools, molecules loose energy and begin forming a netted structure, allowing it to hold its solid form.”


Davidson, Alan.  The Oxford Food Companion. Oxfor University Press, New York:1999.

Herbst, Sharon Tyler. The New Foodlover’s Companion. 3rd Ed. Barron’s Educational Series, New York: 1990.

McGee, Harold.  On Food and Cooking: Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Scribner,New York: 1984.



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2 responses to “J is for Jell-O

  1. Jules

    Marissa, this is fantastic! I, too love Jell-O. Do you remember Jell-O Pudding Pops?! They were the best frozen treat during the summer. Michael and I have a fondness for pineapple Jell-O, which was purchased during our famed grocery store trip almost 10 years ago. Not necessarily a recommended flavor… stick with lime or raspberry, which is also good in the sugar free form for those watching calories.

  2. Kari

    We loved making Jello cake at my house. OMNOM!

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