Are we stew talking about science?

Hygroscopic substance. Capillary action. Amorphous state. And how gelatin makes meat juicy and tender.


gelatin in braised or stewed beef


1-Minute Marvels

Gelatin is the reason braised and stewed meat tastes tender and juicy. This is because it is able to hold many times its weight in water and has a gel-like structure.

gelatin strands like tangled noodles/spaghetti

Like tangled noodles…

Why does gelatin have a gel-like texture? When the collagen in meat is dissolved by heat into gelatin, the triple-helix structure of the former denatures and unravels into three individual protein strands (see what it looks like in the 1-Minute Marvels “The power of braise“).

These three strands do not have a real or crystalline structure (i.e. amorphous). This structure (or lack of), which is similar to a bowl or plate of tangled noodles (or spaghetti), is what gives gelatin its gel-like texture.

close up of the differnt sizes of brush

Like paint brushes…

Gelatin can also carry many times its weight in water. It can do this because of two reasons. The first is that the unravelled individual protein strands have a total surface area which is very large. The second is that this surface area is hygroscopic i.e. it can attract and hold onto water molecules readily.

Gelatin does this through the intermolecular forces between the water molecules and itself.  These forces make it possible for water to “flow in narrow spaces without the assistance of … external forces like gravity“. This phenomenon, which is similar to a paint brush or piece of paper drawing up water, is known as capillary action.

braise beef Depositphotos_39640311_original

Proteins, structure, surface area, hygroscopy, forces, and capillary action, who could have imagined that so much science has gone into that delicious dish of stewed and braised meat? It’s science at one of its most tender, juicy, and yummy!

P.S. If the cook in you is wondering about the difference between braising and stewing, wonder no more! Braising cooks large pieces of meat in liquid that partially covers the meat. Stewing cooks smaller pieces of meat in liquid that fully covers the meat. Happy cooking and eating!


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Hold many times your weight in knowledge by liking me to discover more. All you need is a minute a day to explore the world’s marvels through the phenomenon of food!



photos: in order – depositphotos/MSPhotographicteine26; eskaylimpaulbrighton



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