Have you ever wondered why Jell-O is so jiggly-wiggly?

Well, as it turns out, it's because Jell-O is neither a solid nor a liquid, but something sort-of in between called a colloidal suspension.

Jell-O is made from a substance called gelatin. Gelatin is formed when the protein molecules found in collagen, a fibrous material that helps hold together the skin, bones and tendons of animals, are broken down.

Did you know? Gelatin can be found in many unexpected foods, such as cream cheese, gravies, sausage and marshmallows.

So, how does gelatin become Jell-O? When making Jell-O, you mix gelatin powder with boiling water. When the protein chains in Jell-O meet the hot water, they break down and become suspended in the water. The protein chains are still solid, so it is not a liquid (i.e. true solution), but a solid suspended in a liquid. As the mixture cools, the proteins re-connect into long chains or strands and form a random crisscrossing tangle, which traps the water. So when it is cool, Jell-O is not a solid, but a liquid suspended in a solid.

Did you know? There is a Jell-O museum in Le Roy, N.Y.

Have you ever noticed that the Jell-O box advises against adding certain fruit to your Jell-O dessert? Strawberries, oranges and apples are fine, but you are warned against using pineapple, kiwi, mango, ginger root, papaya, figs or guava. Remember the long crisscrossing strands of protein that trap water to form the colloidal suspension that is Jell-O? Well, the latter group of fruit contain proteases, which are enzymes that cut up these long protein strands so that they can no longer trap the water. When the water is no longer trapped in little pockets, your Jell-O turns to soup!

Did you know? The original formula for Jell-O was sold in 1899 for $450.

I'm sure you've been told not to play with your food, but recently Jell-O was used for just that reason. This past New Year, the monkeys at the Bronx Zoo were given blueberries in blue Jell-O. Trying to get the treats out of the wiggly, jiggly mass, apparently stimulated the monkeys' foraging instincts. Neat-O. To see the monkeys in action, check out the link below.

Learn More!

What exactly is Jell-O made from?

Answerbag: Is Jell-O a liquid or solid?

Sciencebuddies: Which fruits can ruin your gelain dessert?

The Huffington Post: Squirrel monkeys get Jell-O at Bronx Zoo

The Jell-O Gallery

Article first published on April 11, 2010.

Photo Credit:nazreth; stock.xchng

Mary Kubesh

I received both my undergraduate degree in Zoology and my graduate degree in Developmental Genetics at the University of Toronto.  My research involved figuring out the signal that tells cells when to move and I did all my research on fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster).  Did you know that about 61% of known human disease genes have a recognizable match in the genetic code of fruit flies?  The purpose of my research was to determine why some cancer tumour cells move around (metastasize) and others do not. I am currently working as a Project Officer at Actua, helping to provide young Canadians with positive, hands-on learning experiences in science, technology and engineering.


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