Over the course of his life, Peter Cooper built a very diverse resume. A former presidential candidate and designer of the first steam locomotive, Cooper also held the first patent for the manufacture of gelatin.
What, exactly, is gelatin? You may find the answer less than appetizing. Gelatin is a processed protein called collagen. This protein can be found in many animals, including humans.
Collagen is what makes skin, ligaments and tendons stretchy and flexible. It is also found in other parts of the body such as bones and fingernails.
The gelatin we eat in Jell-O typically comes from collagen extracted from the ground bones, hooves and connective tissues of animals such as pigs or cows. For this reason, vegans, who eat no animal products, do not eat Jell-O, or any product containing gelatin.
You may be surprised to discover how many foods include gelatin on their ingredient list. These foods include jellies, soups, marshmallows and even gummy bears!
Though it may not sound entirely appetizing, eating gelatin actually has health benefits. Gelatin capsules and powders are sometimes used by people with joint pain. It is also good for improving the condition of skin, hair, fingernails and bones.
So how do bones and hooves turn into Jell-O? With a little bit of mad science!
Grinding up the bones and hooves weakens the collagen protein bonds. When you dump gelatin powder into boiling water, the weakened bonds are broken.
As the mixture cools in the fridge, some of the bonds do not reconnect. The gaps fill with water, giving Jell-O that signature not-quite-solid wobble and wiggle.