What Is Jell-O Actually Made of?

Whether you’re a boomer and think fondly of wiggly salads from your childhood, or you’re a ’90s kid fantasizing about the whimsical shapes of Jigglers, Jell-O is a mainstay in most homes because it’s easy to make and really fun to eat. But what is Jell-O? Let’s slurp down some knowledge. 

What is Jell-O made of?

The secret ingredient is…gelatin! Gelatin is a food additive that is derived from animal collagen. The skin, bones, and connective tissues of cows, pigs, chickens, and other domesticated animals all have collagen in them. You can buy gelatin at the grocery store; it comes powdered or in thin, brittle sheets that have a pale yellow color.

Gelatin has been used in foods since the 1400s, but the path that led to Jell-O can be traced to 19th century England when gelatin was used to create elaborate jelly molds and aspics, primarily for the rich. An ornate dessert filled with fruit was the height of sophistication. Eventually, powdered gelatin was created, which helped democratize jellies.

Along with gelatin, Jell-O contains sugar (or an artificial sweetener if it is sugar-free), coloring, and artificial flavorings. 

Who made Jell-O?

In 1897, a fellow named Pearle Bixby Wait used powdered gelatin to create the iconic dessert. He added flavorings to the gelatin—orange, strawberry, raspberry, and lemon were first—and packaged the mixes in individual boxes. The brand took off in 1904 after Jell-O specific cookbooks were distributed for free by the company. 

By the 1930s, Jell-O got into the pudding game with flavors like chocolate, vanilla, and tapioca. That quick-set mentality really appealed to the modern housewife of the 1950s, and Jell-O saw an incredible spike in popularity. 

Today, Jell-O is owned by Kraft Foods and they’ve truly milked this simple dessert for all its worth, extending their product line far beyond its humble beginnings. And still, that tiny box of powder is the big seller; approximately 450 million are sold each year.

Is Jell-O vegan and gluten free?

Since gelatin is an animal product, traditional Jell-O is not vegan friendly. However, Jell-O brand instant pudding is vegan, as long as you substitute the milk with a vegan alternative

Good news, however, for you gluten free folks: Jell-O qualifies!

Does Jell-O go bad?

An unopened box of powdered Jell-O can pretty much last forever, despite the “best by” date on the box. Those little Jell-O cups have a decent shelf life as well—three to four months on the shelf or 12-18 months in the fridge.

An opened package of powdered Jell-O will even be safe to use about three to four months after the best by date. But if you have a bowl of prepared Jell-O in the fridge, you’re going to want to finish it in about a week.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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