What vegetarians should know about Jell-O

For the most part, we all know it and love it — whether a cup of Jell-O is one of your go-to snacks for packing lunches or you feel a holiday meal isn't complete without a Jell-O salad, almost everyone's tried this strange, jiggly food at some point. Jell-O is one of those products you can find almost anywhere, even if you don't know much about what it actually is; but if you're a vegetarian or vegan, you should definitely know what goes into Jell-O, because it'll probably change your mind about whether you want to keep a box on your shelf for the next time you need a last-minute dessert.

The first clue is in the name Jell-O itself. As you might already know, Jell-O is primarily made from gelatin, water, food coloring, and sugar or an artificial sweetener, according to How Stuff Works. Most of those ingredients aren't a problem for vegetarians, but (perhaps surprisingly to you) gelatin is. Gelatin is a processed form of collagen, which is a protein found in many animals — including people — that strengthens connective tissue and allows it to stretch. Usually, the collagen used to make gelatin comes from cow or pig bones, connective tissue, or skin. Today, the gelatin used to make Jell-O is normally made from pig skin.

Why Jell-O isn't vegetarian or vegan

You obviously wouldn't guess that pig skin is one of the ingredients in Jell-O just by looking at it, which is why it's not immediately obvious that Jell-O isn't vegetarian or vegan friendly. However, as How Stuff Works notes, collagen has to be modified in order to turn it into gelatin. Usually, manufacturers do this by grinding up the animal parts and treating them with acid or another strong base in order to break down and dissolve the collagen. There are plenty of steps in the process, including repeatedly washing and filtering the materials, before the collagen takes on the consistency of jelly. Finally, the product is dried and ground into a very fine powder to make Jell-O.

Fortunately, if you're a vegetarian or vegan Jell-O lover, you don't have to completely give up this wobbly food. If you're feeling ambitious, you can find recipes for making your own vegan version of the dessert from scratch on blogs like Loving it Vegan. If you want the ease of a cup or box of powdered Jell-O, minus the non-vegetarian gelatin, Vegan Food Lover states that brands Simply Delish, Bakol, and Zellee all have products with the same wiggly texture of Jell-O, just without the animal product. So if you're thinking of becoming vegetarian or already follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, Jell-O is one more food you'll probably want to cross off your list.