Jell-O was once the American national dessert. Here’s how it fell from grace.
It’s not often that one sees a dessert that looks like it stepped out of a 1950s cartoon – with a bright purple Jell-O mold on a countertop, covered by a layer of whipped cream and decorated by the letters ‘L.L.C.’
The name of the American dessert is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not Jell-O, but ‘Jell’).
The name was coined in 1906 by a local restaurant, which was called the Jell-O Ice Cream Co. It was owned by a former circus performer known as ‘Jack’ (John Jacob Astor’s great-grandson).
It’s no wonder the term stuck in people’s mouths. But in reality, Jell-O is more of a dessert than a food.
In its best day – the kind of Jell-O you get at the supermarket freezer section – it’s a goopy mass containing gelatin (gelatine, basically), a sweetened and frozen pudding (called’sauce’) and sometimes even vanilla ice cream.
Some have suggested that the food is only a cover for the gelatin, to hide the white, gooey exterior of the pudding.
That’s not quite right
While Jell-O is often thought of as a dessert, it’s actually quite solid.
“I’d say it’s more like pudding than anything else,” said Dr. Thomas Phelan, a professor of food science at Rutgers University, who was the chief scientist on the Food Science team that created the Jell-O’s ‘original’ recipe.
The difference is that the pudding in the Jell-O formula is very soft and fluid like Jell-O. The gelatin is used to hold it together.
So, despite its name, Jell-O is a dessert, not a pudding.
But at the end of the day, this gelatinous pudding is basically just a bunch of gelatin in a can, according to Phelan. (See how Americans ate Jell-O for an interesting history lesson on the dessert.)
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