Yes they’re both proteins. Yes they both contain the same amino acids. And yes, they’re both derived from the bits of animals and fish we normally discard - connective tissue like skin, joints and tendons. But when it comes to health benefits, nutritional properties and culinary uses, gelatin and hydrolyzed collagen powder are actually quite different.
So do you really need both in your life? Or is one better for you than the other? Time to find out.
Is collagen powder the same as gelatin?
They’re not. But people often confuse gelatin and collagen powder (also known as collagen peptides), because both start life in exactly the same way.
Both gelatin and collagen powder are derived from collagen, the tough structural protein found in concentrated amounts in the connective tissues of mammals and the skin of fish. But the difference comes in how that collagen is treated.
Gelatin is basically cooked collagen. It’s made when you heat collagen slowly for a long period of time. Think simmering down bones for hours on end to make a rich, jelly-like stock, for instance. When you heat the collagen in this way, its proteins start to unravel in a process called ‘denaturing’. Collagen that’s denatured turns to liquid gelatin when hot, but jellifies as it cools.
But if instead of cooking the collagen you process it more intensively, you can create a different product altogether. Collagen peptides powder is made from collagen that has been ‘hydrolysed’ rather than cooked, and it’s a process that helps your body absorb more of the amino acids it contains.
Gelatin vs collagen powder - which is best?
Both forms of collagen are great for your bones, joints and skin, because they both contain the same amino acids (glycine, proline and hydroxyproline). While these amino acids were something we used to eat all the time, they’re now hard to come by in our normal diets (for example, when was the last time you chewed on the cap at the end of your chicken bones?).
That’s a problem when you consider we make our own collagen out of these very same amino acids! That’s right. In order to make enough of your own collagen, you have to eat some as well.
But before you rush to make a vat of bone broth or a jelly, collagen powder might just have the edge over gelatin for one good reason - its lower molecular weight. The collagen molecule is actually very big and sturdy. Cooking does help break it down, but hydrolyzing collagen into peptides is even better.
The hydrolyzing process uses enzymes and high-pressure steam to break down the super collagen molecule into tiny snippets of collagen fibre, called collagen peptides. Because they’re so much smaller, they’re much more bioavailable and bioactive, meaning your body can absorb the key amino acids they contain.
Collagen peptides can be absorbed just a few hours after we eat them, as the shorter chains are taken up by the bloodstream through the intestinal wall.
Collagen vs gelatin - which is easier to use?
That all depends on what you want to do with it! Gelatin’s gel-forming properties make it particularly useful in foods that need structure, such as cheesecakes or marshmallows. It can also give a rich feel to sauces, soups and curries. And those who love the paleo way of eating may be happy to make their own gelatin by simmering down bones into bone broth.
But when it comes to a supplement that’s easy to take every day, you can’t get much more convenient than hydrolyzed collagen. Collagen powder is so easy to use because it dissolves completely into both hot and cold liquids, without going lumpy.
Collagen peptides have no gelling capabilities because of their low molecular weight, which means they can be dissolved in water of any temperature without binding together, emulsifying or foaming. This means you can add it to almost anything, from freezing cold ice lollies to a steaming mug of tea.
Gelatin needs hot water to dissolve, then as soon as it cools it solidifies into jelly which is great if you’re making marshmallows, but not so good if you want to make a palatable smoothie.
Are there any ways in which gelatin is better than collagen powder?
Some people take collagen to help their gut lining and gelatin may just have the edge here. Because gelatin takes longer to digest, it’s thought that it’s better at coating the small intestine.
What’s the best collagen powder to take?
In order to produce our own collagen we need to give the body the right building blocks, amino acids that come directly from our diets. Specifically we need to ensure a good supply of glycine, proline and hydroxyproline, along with some vitamin C to act as a co-factor.
And where are these amino acids found? In the bits of animals and fish we don’t really like to eat that much. Of course we could slowly simmer down the bones and joints into gelatin or bone broth. But even if we did that, the collagen molecule may still be too big and sturdy to be properly absorbed.
Luckily there is an easy, convenient way to get a daily dose of pure collagen that we can absorb. Taking a collagen peptide supplement such as Skinful is not only more bioavailable than gelatin, it’s a type I marine collagen, meaning it has incredibly small molecules that are closely matched to the collagen in our own skin.
Skinful is made from wild, certified, sustainable cod. And because it’s from Bare Biology, you know it’s free from additives or contaminants.