Ask Ms. Scientist: Jell-O and pepperoni

Where does pepperoni come from?

-Bonnie

Beef comes from a cow, pork comes from a pig, but what animal makes a pepperoni? Pepperoni is a combination of beef and pork (sometimes just beef) that is cured. Curing is a process of drying meats and taking the moisture out using salt, sugar and nitrates. The salt creates a chemical environment where water is drawn out by osmotic pressure, which is just water moving out of the meat membrane. Sugar is added to balance out the flavor of the salt. Nitrates are added to preserve the meat and prevent spoiling. Nitrates prevent the growth of bacteria. The reaction of nitrates with the meat causes the distinct reddish hue most pepperoni has. Nitrates are made out of oxygen and nitrogen. When the nitrogen interacts with the oxygen proteins in the meat the color change is initiated. Brighter red pepperoni means more nitrogen preservative was used during production.

What is Jell-O made from?

-Clyde B.

Jell-O is made from gelatin, water, sugar (lots of it!) and food coloring. The one ingredient that is most mysterious to most people is probably gelatin, which is made from collagen. Collagen is a type of animal protein that is long, fibrous and tightly packed together. It’s typically found in the bones and skin of animals. Companies making gelatin generally boil the bones and skin in water to extract and loosen the collagen fibers. The loosened collagen is then cooled in water, allowing it to tighten up again. However, because there is water in the collagen during the cooling, it doesn’t completely stiffen up, giving the gelatin the “wiggly” or “wobbly” consistency.

For vegetarians and vegans, never fear! You can still get your jelly fix. There is vegan jelly out there called agar-agar, which is instead made from algae, seaweed or other plants. Similarly to regular gelatin, the plant material is also boiled to extract the agar. Although agar-agar is only recently becoming popular in the US as a food option, many Asian countries have been making and eating agar-agar or agar-like jelly for a long time.

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