Secret ingredient: Gelatine

Last updated 05:00 18/12/2012
panna cotta
WIBBLY WOBBLY: Gelatine is needed to help desserts like panna cotta set.

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Vegetarians, look away now: we're going to explain how a product made from pig or beef skin gives puddings the wobble factor. Mind you, there is a vegetarian alternative you might be interested in...


Gelatine is made from the animal protein mainly derived from pig or beef skin. There are two types of gelatine available in New Zealand - gelatine leaves and powdered (or granulated) gelatine. There is no standard conversion between the two as you'll discover below.


Gelatine doesn't have a taste. It does however take on the taste of whatever it's mixed with. Gelatine is a gelling agent - in other words it holds ingredients together. It's used in "gummy" confectionery,  ice cream, marshmallows and yoghurt.


You can pick up powdered gelatine from supermarkets and the leaf form from gourmet food stores.


An alternative for vegetarians is agar-agar, derived from seaweed. It's often used in desserts throughout Asia.


Many desserts use gelatine in them. Summer fruit desserts and mousses are common ones. But remember, gelatine should be used sparingly - most desserts benefit from the lightest of sets - you should barely know gelatine has been used. When a recipe is doubled it does not necessarily mean that the gelatine should be
doubled. Chances are if you do this you'll end up with a rubber ball strong enough to kick around. It is difficult to know exactly how much will be required but start with 1 1/4 times the original amount.


Powdered gelatine needs to be softened first in cold water for around five minutes then dissolved gently by placing the dish in an inch of hot, but not boiling water. Stir until there are no un-dissolved granules clinging to the spoon. Avoid overheating as this will destroy the setting properties. Stir very well to combine with the main mixture.

Leaf gelatine comes in different grades. In New Zealand this tends to be gold and silver, each of which has differing setting power. As a rule of thumb:1 leaf of silver sets 100 mls to a very firm set or 200 mls to a light set ; 1 leaf of gold will set 250 mls to a very light set (fine if you don't need to turn the dish out) and 3 x leaves gold will set 500mls to a light set . (If you want to turn the mould out use 4 or 5 leaves).

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Soak the leaves in cold water for at least four minutes. Once softened, remove from the water and squeeze out the excess liquid. If you are using the gelatine in hot liquid simply add it and stir to dissolve. If you are using it in a cold liquid it will need to be heated gently to melt - this takes around 30 seconds.

Catherine Bell is a member of the New Zealand Guild of Food Writers. She is a cook, food writer, co-founder of Dish Magazine and founder of Garden to Table, a programme for children where they learn to grow, harvest, prepare and share good food.

Is there an ingredient you're confused by? Send us an email - be sure to put Secret Ingredient in the subject line - and we'll investigate it for you.


- Stuff


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