The gummy gelling agent gelatin has some serious negatives that should be considered before developing a gummy. Yet gelling agent pectin has a reputation for being difficult to work with, as the temperature, pH and solids must all be within tight parameters for the pectin to set. Marketing considerations aside, this master’s class in gummy making will make your next batch a delight!

April 2, 2024

6 Min Read

At a Glance

  • Gelatin and pectin are the most widely used gelling agents.
  • Gelatin is the most utilized gelling agent in supplement gummies.
  • Pectin is an alternative used for its vegan/vegetarian characteristics.

Gelatin and pectin are the most widely used gelling agents, so the following information focuses on the characteristics and parameters of gummies made with those. 

The gelling agent gelatin

Gelatin is the most utilized gelling agent in supplement gummies because of its ease of use, easy supply and consistency. It allows for more flexibility in: 

• Depositing pH, temperature and solids ranges. 

• Standing time before candy mass is deposited into molds. 

• Thermal reversibility for reworking the base material. 

• Compatibility with most active ingredients. 

Many consumers love the “bouncy” texture of gelatin that quickly melts at body temperature. That eating experience is unique to gelatin and makes a gummy a gummy. (Pectin and other gelling agents are called “jellies” in the legacy confectionery industry.) 

However, gelatin has some serious negatives that should be considered before developing a gummy: 

• Sourced from animals. 

• Pork is neither kosher nor halal, and beef isn’t acceptable in Hindu populations. 

• Distinctive flavor not considered pleasant. 

• Melt point limits areas of the world with colder environments. 

Gelatin is a heterogeneous mixture of relatively high molecular mass proteins, and there are two main types — pork and beef. Pork gelatin is generally derived from acid hydrolyzed tissue and is known as “Type A.” Type B, or alkaline-hydrolyzed, is commonly prepared from beef. 

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A key difference for supplement gummy makers is that the isoelectric points (pI) of pork and beef gelatins differ significantly. Type A has a pI of 7-9.5. This is far outside of the range of the candy mass pH, so no variable is created. However, the pI of Type B is 4.7-5.3. This too is usually outside the range for a candy mass that is fruit flavored with acid added. But some active ingredients — especially minerals — can drive the pH into this realm of 4.7-5.3. This results in the proteins being at their lowest water solubility, and the preference to precipitate. In the case of gelatin, this can mean slimy strings and loss of homogenous gummy material. 

Bloom strength is another controlled variable in gelatin, which for confectionery ranges from 125-300 bloom. As the bloom strength goes up, the less gelatin is needed to provide the gel structure. Lower bloom provides a softer piece with a lower melt point. Many supplements use 300 bloom so less gelatin can be used. However, this can also lead to a piece that has a texture of chewing on cartilage! The standard is considered 250-275 blooms. 

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Gelatin is used at 6-9% of the recipe, thus taking up a significant portion of the piece body. Increasing the gelatin amount by using a lower bloom may allow for lowering the sugar amount in the piece. But watch out! Fibers and gelatin don’t play well together, and the mechanism behind that is not fully understood yet. So low-sugar gelatin gummies need additional gelling support, usually by way of starch. 

Hydration of gelatin is done by slowly adding it into 140 degrees Fahrenheit water at a ratio of 2:1 water to gelatin while stirring. It is then heated to 180 degrees to melt it. Once melted, the temperature can be returned to 140 degrees while being used so that the heat does not break down the protein. Do not let gelatin solution sit for more than two hours because it will become a petri dish for micro growth. 

The protein strands in gelatin will denature if boiled. If cooking at atmospheric conditions, the mother syrup should be cooked first, then the hydrated gelatin added to it and mixed well. If cooked in a closed, continuous cooking system, pressure must be kept on the slurry so that the gelatin does not boil. After cooking, color, flavor, acid and actives can be added. The temperature at deposit is approximately. 180°F to avoid tailing. The solids should be 78-80 degrees Brix. 

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The gelling agent pectin 

Pectin, the other gelling agent most often used in gummies, is known for clean flavor release and tender bite. Not only vegan, pectin is also an upcycled ingredient coming from the citrus and apple industries. Citrus pectin provides a stronger gel than apple, but supply is susceptible to damaging weather issues such as freezes. In addition, pectin must be processed from the orange peel within 24 hours. 

Pectin is a soluble fiber, and specifically a heteropolysaccharide. HM, or high methoxyl, pectin is standard for gummies. It has a reputation for being difficult to work with, as the temperature, pH and solids must all be within tight parameters for the pectin to set. Even then, once the acid is added, there is a short window of opportunity to deposit the mass, or it will pre-gel. Pre-gelling means the piece will not fully set up, and as a result the gummies will have an inconsistent, beady texture. 

To hydrate, pectin is first mixed 5:1 with sugar. This is to prevent “fisheyes” — pectin’s natural tendency to bind itself into little balls and refuse to go into solution. It is believed (although not scientifically proven, as density is involved) that the fisheyes bob around the top of the kettle solely to irritate the line operator who forgot to mix it with sugar. The pectin blend is then added to hot water while under high shear. Boiling for two2 minutes will completely hydrate the pectin. But large production facilities stop at mixing into the hot water, as the cooking step can also be used to hydrate. 

Once hydrated, the pectin is added to the mother syrup before cooking. Once through the cooker, the flavor, color and active are added and mixed. Finally, the acid is added, and the mass is sent to depositing. Using one or more buffer salts can delay the set time and provide more flexibility and time for the candy mass to be deposited. Having the material set up in a pipe because the line went down means a long and laborious cleaning. Thus, it is important to have some delay built into the setting-up time. 

Pectin candy sets up best if deposited with a pH between 3.2-3.6; solids around 80-82 degrees Brix, and temperature between 180-190 degrees Fahrenheit. 

After depositing, gummies need time not only to cool, but for the gelling agent to properly set. Even if the shape holds, water activity will likely remain high for at least 24 hours. Depending on the actives, setup time may be delayed for 48-72 hours. However, if set time is over that, it is likely the pectin is not gelling. Instead, the piece is now simply dehydrating, and will have a texture like a fruit leather. 

Whether deposited in starch or using starchless molds, the pieces require a coating. Commercially available wax and oil coatings are readily available. If pectin pieces are not made correctly, however, and are sticky, then sugar sanding will be necessary. In this process, the pieces go through a curtain of dry steam to melt the outermost layer, and then are coated in sugar crystals that imbed into the candy. This creates a rough surface that helps prevent sticking in the package. 

Making gummies requires strict control over developing the formula, measuring ingredients, managing their variability correctly and adding them at the right point during manufacturing. It also means maintaining multi-process parameters at the same time. However, if prepared correctly, the pieces will have a tender, delightful texture, beautiful flavor and color, and will deliver the active in an exceptionally pleasant piece. 

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