We don’t think of food as being recycled, but that’s the story of one of America’s iconic food products. Gelatin is a protein produced from boiled bones and other animal products left over from other higher-value meat servings.
While we might think of gelatin as something from a previous century, it was used in desserts as early as the 15th century. Since it had to be purified to use, it was expensive and only available to the upper classes.
In 1845, Peter Cooper, the inventor of the steam-powered locomotive engine, obtained a patent for a powdered form of gelatin. This made the gelatin available to a broad economic class.
It was a carpenter by trade, Pearle Wait, and his wife who developed Jell-O. They placed sugar and flavoring with the powdered gelatin into easy-to-use packets. The original flavors were strawberry, raspberry, orange and lemon. They sold the rights to Jell-O two years later.
Originally, sales of Jell-O were limited. Advertisements in women’s magazines only boosted sales by a small amount. It was the development and free distribution of Jell-O cookbooks that finally made Jell-O a popular product in most American kitchens. This was the first use of this marketing approach.
Later, Jell-O moved from desserts to salads. One-third of the salad recipes in books featured Jell-O. As women entered the workforce, Jell-O became an easy-to-fix element of family meals.
Over the years, Jell-O has become a source of innovation in kitchens. It has also been a way for children to try out different molds. Jell-O has been featured in comedy routines, TV shows, and lately in social media.
A product which came about eight centuries ago is still evolving. There are few beginnings that can make that claim.
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“Shut up. You had me at Jell-O.” – (A spoof of the quote from Jerry Maguire)