Ditch the artificial colors and flavorings by making your own Jell-O like healthy gelatin dessert using fresh fruits and fruit juices.
Here in Spain, gelatin desserts aren’t as popular as they are in the US. We don’t have the Jell-O brand, and most people aren’t used to making desserts from mixes (or at all, actually). Other than knowing how to make coca, a typical plain almond cake often served in small pieces after a meal with coffee, many women seem to have never made a dessert at all.
A while back, I had tried making a Jell-O like gelatin dessert from fruit for my son, but he saw it as something completely foreign and strange and didn’t want to give it a real try. So, for some time, I didn’t bother and only occasionally made it for my husband and I.
The other day, though, we went to eat at the in-law’s house, and after dinner my step-mother handed out a gelatin dessert from the fridge section of the supermarket to the kids, and, to my dismay, my son happily gobbled down the entire container of bright red artificial whatever-it-was. Ugh.
My son looks up to my niece. She’s a few years older than he is, and can do no wrong, unless they’re fighting, of course, which also happens often. Anything that she does, he wants to do to; that includes eating the same foods. When it comes to something like pop/soda, it makes me want to cringe. On the other hand, her love of apples got him to eating them occasionally again.
In this case, it got him to try a Jell-O like gelatin dessert again. And, even though I was a bit repulsed by it, that was OK with me.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t exactly happy about him eating the tub of bright red whatever, but I was happy that he was giving something new a try and was enjoying the strange new texture. It allowed me to go home and whip up a batch of homemade healthy gelatin and get him to give it another try.
The great thing about making a gelatin dessert at home is that you can control the ingredients AND you have a whole new world of flavors available to you sans the artificial colors and ingredients! (Unless you’re the type of person that wants those too; in which case, feel free to add them in.) 😉
What ingredients do you need?
To make a healthy gelatin dessert at home, you can either use fruit juice or make a juice or puree yourself from fresh fruit.
By now I have made all sorts of different flavors of gelatin. I’ve juiced citrus fruits and made the dessert with the juices, I’ve pureed berries, and slightly watered them down and strained them before making gelatin with those thicker purees.
It’s fun trying out all sorts of different fruits to see how they’ll turn out. By now, my favorite two are probably watermelon made from pureeing a watermelon, and pineapple made with store bought pineapple juice.
Why would you use a store bought fruit juice rather than puree the fruit?
Certain fresh fruit purees, like pineapple, won’t allow the gelatin to set.
Fresh Fruits to Avoid (They won’t set!)
There are some fruits that have proteolytic enzymes that, when used fresh, will keep the gelatin from gelling. The proteases in the following fruits break down the protein bonds of the gelatin, keeping it from setting. You may recognize some of these fruits as being natural meat tenderizers for the very same reason. Heck, pineapple is so good at breaking down proteins, that my mouth often feels a little sore after eating it!
I found out the hard way, a long time ago, when I tried to make myself pineapple gelatin from the fruit I had at home. Using the raw pineapple juice didn’t work, and I ended up with a gelatin fortified pineapple juice for my smoothie. 😉
Don’t fear, though! You can still make a tasty pineapple gelatin using a store bought fruit juice.
Why do store bought fruit juices work?
If you puree or juice either fresh or frozen fruit, the proteases in those fruits are still intact and ready to break down the bonds in the gelatin, keeping it from setting.
On the other hand, almost all store bought fruit juices are pasteurized, and the pasteurization process kills off the enzymes that are keeping the gelatin from gelling. While that’s great for making a gelatin dessert, keep that in mind the next time you buy a store bought fruit juice thinking it’s going to be the same as one you’d make at home from fresh fruit!
While organic, pure fruit juices are definitely better than other store bought options, I really only ever occasionally buy them for these sorts of desserts. In fact, when I buy juice for making desserts, rather than drink what is leftover, I pour it into popsicle molds and make yet another dessert with it. I think of fruit juices as being more of an occasional treat rather than an every day beverage.
To get the healthiest fruit juice available, look for one that isn’t sweetened, be it with sugar or artificial flavorings, and one that isn’t from concentrate. I try to buy my juices organic, if possible, because I use them sparingly and the difference in cost really doesn’t add up to much at the end of the month.
How to make a healthy gelatin dessert (Like Jell-O)
The ratio that I’m providing with the recipe normally makes a gelatin with a consistency similar to that of Jell-O. If you want a thicker gelatin that you can cut into squares (like finger Jell-O), you’ll need to increase the amount of unflavored gelatin. The consistency may also vary somewhat between different juices/purees.
How to Make a Healthy Gelatin Dessert (Like Jell-O)
Making gelatin from a fruit puree
- When using a fruit puree to make gelatin, begin by softening the gelatin in a little bit of water. (If you are using a thin puree like watermelon, you can soften the gelatin in a little bit of the cold puree instead.) I usually use around 2 Tbsp. water for every Tbsp. of gelatin.
- Make your fruit puree by placing the small fruits, or small pieces of larger fruits, into a blender container and blending until smooth. Fruits with lots of water like watermelon will make a thin, juice-like puree that is perfect for making a smooth gelatin. Other fruits, like berries, will make a thicker puree that you can slightly water down (with either water, coconut water, or juice) if you prefer a smoother gelatin. You can also strain out any seeds for fruits like strawberries or raspberries that have small seeds. You should try end up with around 2 cups of puree mixture (whether watered down or not.)
- Pour around 1 cup of puree into a saucepan and heat it on low to medium heat. It doesn't need to boil, but should be hot enough to dissolve the softened gelatin.
- Add the softened gelatin to the saucepan with the fruit puree and stir until the gelatin is dissolved.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat, and pour in the rest of the fruit puree, stirring it until the puree is well incorporated into the gelatin mixture. You can also add in some honey or maple syrup to sweeten the mixture if you feel it needs it.
- Pour the mixture into serving dishes and place in the fridge until the gelatin is fully set.
Making gelatin from juice
- Soften the gelatin in around 1/4 cup of the juice.
- Heat around 1 cup of the juice over medium heat in a saucepan. It doesn't need to come to a boil, but should be warm enough to dissolve the gelatin well.
- Add the softened gelatin to the saucepan with the juice, and mix together well until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
- Remove from the heat source and add in the remaining juice, stirring until well incorporated. You can also add honey or maple syrup to sweeten it more.
- Pour the mixture into serving dishes, and put into the refrigerator until the gelatin sets.
If you love gelatin, why not make some healthy gelatin popsicles?