GELATIN, or Gelatine, the substance which passes into solution when "collagen," the ground substance of bone, cartilage and white fibrous tissue, is treated with boiling water or dilute acids. It is especially characterized by its property of forming a jelly at ordinary temperature, becoming liquid when heated, and resolidifying to a jelly on cooling. The word is derived from the Fr. gélatine, and Ital. gelatina, from the Lat. gelata, that which is frozen, congealed or stiff. It is, therefore, in origin cognate with "jelly," which came through the Fr. gélee from the same Latin original.
The "collagen," obtained from tendons and connective tissues, also occurs in the cornea and sclerotic coat of the eye, and in fish scales. Cartilage was considered to be composed of a substance chondrigen, which gave chondrin or cartilage-glue on boiling with water. Recent researches make it probable that cartilage contains (1) chondromucoid, (2) chondroitin-sulphuric acid, (3) collagen, (4) an albumoid present in old but not in young cartilage; whilst chondrin is a mixture of gelatin and mucin. "Bone collagen," or "ossein," constitutes, with calcium salts, the ground substance of bones. Gelatin consists of two substances, glutin and chondrin; the former is the main constituent of skin-gelatin, the latter of bone-gelatin.
True gelatigenous tissue occurs in all mature vertebrates, with the single exception, according to E.F.I. Hoppe-Seyler, of the Amphioxus lanceolatus. Gelatigenous tissue was discovered by Hoppe-Seyler in the cephalopods Octopus and Sepiola, but in an extension of his experiments to other invertebrates, as cockchafers and Anodon and Unio, no such tissue could be detected. Neither glutin nor chondrin occurs ready formed in the animal kingdom, but they separate when the tissues are boiled with water. A similar substance, vegetable gelatin, is obtained from certain mosses.
Pure gelatin is an amorphous, brittle, nearly transparent substance, faintly yellow, tasteless and inodorous, neutral in reaction and unaltered by exposure to dry air. Its composition is in round numbers C = 50, H = 7, N = 18, O = 25%; sulphur is also present in an amount varying from 0.25 to 0.7%.
Nothing is known with any certainty as to its chemical constitution, or of the mode in which it is formed from albuminoids. It exhibits in a general way a connexion with that large and important class of animal substances called proteids, being, like them, amorphous, soluble in acids and alkalis, and giving in solution a left-handed rotation of the plane of polarization. Nevertheless, the ordinary well-recognized reactions for proteids are but faintly observed in the case of gelatin, and the only substances which at once and freely precipitate it from solution are mercuric chloride, strong alcohol and tannic acid.
Although gelatin in a dry state is unalterable by exposure to air, its solution exhibits, like all the proteids, a remarkable tendency to putrefaction; but a characteristic feature of this process in the case of gelatin is that the solution assumes a transient acid reaction. The ultimate products of this decomposition are the same as are produced by prolonged boiling with acid. It has been found that oxalic acid, over and above the action common to all dilute acids of preventing the solidification of gelatin solutions, has the further property of preventing in a large measure this tendency to putrefy when the gelatin is treated with hot solutions of this acid, and then freed from adhering acid by means of calcium carbonate. Gelatin so treated has been called metagelatin.
In spite of the marked tendency of gelatin solutions to develop ferment-organisms and undergo putrefaction, the stability of the substance in the dry state is such that it has even been used, and with some success, as a means of preserving perishable foods. The process, invented by Dr Campbell Morfit, consists in impregnating the foods with gelatin, and then drying them till about 10% or less of water is present. Milk gelatinized in this way is superior in several respects to the products of the ordinary condensation process, more especially in the retention of a much larger proportion of albuminoids.
Gelatin has a marked affinity for water, abstracting it from admixture with alcohol, for example. Solid gelatin steeped for some hours in water absorbs a certain amount and swells up, in which condition a gentle heat serves to convert it into a liquid; or this may be readily produced by the addition of a trace of alkali or mineral acid, or by strong acetic acid. In the last case, however, or if we use the mineral acids in a more concentrated form, the solution obtained has lost its power of solidifying, though not that of acting as a glue. This property is utilized in the preparation of liquid glue (see Glue). By prolonged boiling of strong aqueous solutions at a high, or of weak solutions at a lower temperature, the characteristic properties of gelatin are impaired and ultimately destroyed. After this treatment it acts less powerfully as a glue, loses its tendency to solidify, and becomes increasingly soluble in cold water; nevertheless the solutions yield on precipitation with alcohol a substance identical in composition with gelatin.
By prolonged boiling in contact with hydrolytic agents, such as sulphuric acid or caustic alkali, it yields quantities of leucin and glycocoll (so-called "sugar of gelatin," this being the method by which glycocoll was first prepared), but no tyrosin. In this last respect it differs from the great body of proteids, the characteristic solid products of the decomposition of which are leucin and tyrosin.
Gelatin occurs in commerce in varying degrees of purity; the purer form obtained from skins and bones (to which this article is restricted) is named gelatin; a preparation of great purity is "patent isinglass," while isinglass (q.v.) itself is a fish-gelatin; less pure forms constitute glue (q.v.), while a dilute aqueous solution appears in commerce as size (q.v.). The manufacture follows much the same lines as that of glue; but it is essential that the raw materials must be carefully selected, and in view of the consumption of most of the gelatin in the kitchen - for soups, jellies, etc. - great care must be taken to ensure purity and cleanliness.
In the manufacture of bone-gelatin the sorted bones are degreased as in the case of glue manufacture, and then transferred to vats containing a dilute hydrochloric acid, by which means most of the mineral matter is dissolved out, and the bones become flexible. Instead of hydrochloric acid some French makers use phosphoric acid. After being well washed with water to remove all traces of hydrochloric acid, the bones are bleached by leading in sulphur dioxide. They are now transferred to the extractors, and heated by steam, care being taken that the temperature does not exceed 85° C. The digestion is repeated, and the runnings are clarified, concentrated, re-bleached and jellied as with glue. Skin-gelatin is manufactured in the same way as skin-glue. After steeping in lime pits the selected skins are digested three times; the first and second runnings are worked up for gelatin, while the third are filtered for "size."
Vegetable gelatin is manufactured from a seaweed, genus Laminaria; from the tengusa, an American seaweed, and from Irish moss. The Laminaria is first extracted with water, and the residue with sodium carbonate; the filtrate is acidified with hydrochloric acid and the precipitated alginic acid washed and bleached. It is then dissolved in an alkali, the solution concentrated, and cooled down by running over horizontal glass plates. Flexible colourless sheets resembling animal gelatin are thus obtained. In America the weed is simply boiled with water, the solution filtered, and cooled to a thick jelly. Irish moss is treated in the same way. Both tengusa and Irish moss yield a gelatin suitable for most purposes; tengusa gelatin clarifies liquids in the same way as isinglass, and forms a harder and firmer jelly than ordinary gelatin.
Applications of Gelatin. - First and foremost is the use of gelatin as a food-stuff - in jellies, soups, etc. Referring to the articles Glue, Isinglass and Size for the special applications of these forms of gelatin, we here enumerate the more important uses of ordinary gelatin. In photography it is employed in carbon-processes, its use depending on the fact that when treated with potassium bichromate and exposed to light, it is oxidized to insoluble compounds; it plays a part in many other processes. A solution of gelatin containing readily crystallized salts - alum, nitre, etc. - solidifies with the formation of pretty designs; this is the basis of the so-called "crystalline glass" used for purposes of ornamentation. It is also used for coating pills to prevent them adhering together and to make them tasteless. Compounded with various mineral salts, the carbonates and phosphates of calcium, magnesium and aluminium, it yields a valuable ivory substitute. It also plays a part in the manufacture of artificial leather, of India inks, and of artificial silk (the Vanduara Company processes).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)