Gelatine is not a naturally occurring protein, but is derived from the fibrous protein collagen, which is the principal constituent of animal skin, bone, sinew and connective tissue. A very complex chemical procedure is undertaken to extract the gelatine from its raw stage and make it usable for consumption and otherwise. A detail follows on how gelatine is extracted from animal hides in 8 different stages to form the final product.
Raw materials intended for medicinal use and food production are generally skin and bone of pig or calf. Some plants use animal tendons, ligaments, bones, cartilage’s and hooves. In the case of animal hides, the prime source of gelatine, leather tanneries wash them in lime solution and chemicals are added to dissolve the hair from the surface. The hides are then sent through various machines which remove traces of meat from underneath the hide and then split the hide horizontally into a number of thin sheets. The top sheets are used in leather production as it has the grain pattern on the surface whilst the bottom layers, known as split hides, are used in gelatine production.
Animal hides are preserved in lime solution [pH 13-14] The hides are chopped into pieces 6-8 inches in size and allowed to soak in caustic soda solution. Approximately 1% strength is used, reducing a little in the warm summer months. The soak in caustic soda lasts about 2-3 weeks which has the effect of breaking down [denaturing] the protein, enabling it to be extracted into hot water.
Following the soak, the hide pieces are pumped into special washing equipment. Acid is added to acidify the hides [pH 1.5-2.0] and then washed to remove impurities and salts for 8 hours.
The washed hide pieces are pumped into large extraction tanks where hot water is added and temperature maintained at about 50c. The hides break down slowly in the slightly acid solution [pH 3.0-3.5] to form gelatine. This is drained off once at certain strengths and then fresh hot water is added at a higher temperature to give another extraction. 3 further extractions are made, producing gelatines of different physical properties, [e.g. setting strength and viscosity].
The gelatine solution drained from the heated hide pieces is then purified. The first stage is filtration and the final stage is through a 2 micron filter to give a solution of high clarity. The gelatine is then de-ionised in order to remove excess salts not removed during washing.
Following purification, the gelatine solution is evaporated in large vacuum evaporators to a strength of about 30%.
Before drying, the Gelatine is sterilised to remove all bacteria. The conditions used are standard in the Food industry – 140c at 4 seconds minimum.
The Gelatine solution is chilled to make it set, and then placed in a drying tunnel for 2-3 hours. It leaves the tunnel dry, and is broken into granules for storage purposes.
Gelatine is commercially available in sheets, shreds, flakes or coarse powder. It is white or yellowish, has a slight but characteristic odour and taste and is stable in dry air but subject to microbial decomposition if moist or in solution. It is insoluble in cold water but swells and softens when immersed gradually absorbing 5 to 10 times its own mass of water. In hot water it dissolves to form a thick colloidal mucilage which forms a jelly on cooling. Gelatine varies widely on quality and is usually graded in jelly strengths.
In its raw form it is used for the treatment of brittle finger nails and other non fungal defects but proof of efficiency of such treatment is lacking. It is also used in the preparation of many pastes, throat pastilles, vaginal pessaries and rectal suppositories. Gelatine is the main ingredient in all hard and flexible capsules. Many older tablet formulations still contain gelatine as a binding agent. The most important value in therapy is as an easily digested adjuvant food-when supplemented, it is very widely used for various forms of malnutrition, gastric hyperacidity and ulcer, convalescence and general diets of the sick.
Edible Gelatine is used throughout the food industry, for example in confectionery, ice-creams, jellies, chocolates, sweets, jams, pastries, desserts, dairy products and the meat industry. It acts as a stabilising and smoothing agent in foods. Gelatine is also used in the manufacture of rubber substitutes, adhesives, cements, lithographic and printing inks, photographic plates and films, matches, sizing papers and textiles.
Islamic Law Regarding Gelatine
If the source of Gelatine is derived from a Halaal source then its usage is permissible, whilst if the source is Haraam or Mashqook [doubtful] then it will be considered Haraam. The hide matrix or gelatine protein is basically a piece of skin, which is hydrollised, washed, melted and extracted, purified, evaporated, sterilised, chilled, dried and granulated for further shelf life and easy use. Alkaline treatment tends to remove amide groups present on certain amino acid residues on the collagen protein chains resulting in a lowering of the isoelectric point and consequently an alteration not a transformation of the chemical and physical properties of the protein occurs. Despite the above method of changing a raw product into gelatine under tremendous chemical pressure still retains much of its chemical equation. The collagen triple helix structure is lost during this procedure but the resultant Gelatine product retains the original coil structure. The aspect of Tabdeel-e-Mahiyyat does not take place.
Muslims should avoid choosing Haraam and doubtful ingredients. If a comparable medication is available in tablet or liquid form it would be advisable to ask for them instead of taking capsules. In the area of food we have such a vast selection of products whereby foregoing a certain brand containing Gelatine should pose no problem. Muslim countries as well as local associations should provide finances to initiate and promote research to develop alternate forms to Gelatine to overcome this problem.