Geltor seeks to disrupt gelatin market with potentially game-changing animal-free alternative

Geltor creates designer proteins using cellular agriculture: ‘Scale is one of the biggest hurdles’

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

As anyone that’s tried a vegan gummy bear lately will tell you, it’s incredibly hard to replicate the unique properties of gelatin, a gelling agent derived from animal skin, bones and connective tissues used in everything from candies to Jello. But what if you could deliver the real thing… without slaughtering any animals?

Geltor – one of a new breed of start-ups using synthetic biology techniques to engineer micro-organisms to produce proteins – reckons it has the answer for formulators who love working with gelatin, but want to cater to vegans, vegetarians, kosher and halal markets, food scientist Amelia Chen told FoodNavigator-USA at FOOD VISION USA​ last month.

A flavorless, colorless, gelling and thickening agent manufactured on a commercial scale from pig or fish skin, cow hide, bones, and other animal sources of collagen; gelatin dissolves in hot water and gels when it cools (a process which is reversible), to create a texture and bite in marshmallows, desserts and gummy bears that is really tough to match with plant-based alternatives, said Chen.

What’s the difference between Haribo gummy bears, Swedish Fish, and Annie’s fruit snacks?

She added: “Gelatin is very elastic, it forms a nice clear gel, and it has a melting point close to body temperature, so you can get that nice texture and mouthfeel…”

This is why the experience of eating Haribo gummy bears, which are made with gelatin, is markedly different from eating Swedish Fish, which are made with modified corn starch, or Annie’s fruit snacks (gummies), which are made with pectin, she explained.

Designer proteins?

Founded by Alexander Lorestani and Nikolay Ouzounov in 2015, Geltor​ is effectively programming microbes to produce collagen (from which gelatin is derived) via a fermentation process, and avoiding animals altogether, said Chen.

The process can also be customized, so Geltor could make gelatin designed for gummi bears with a specific stiffness or beer clarifying agents with a particular property, for example.

“We’re taking the genetic program to make collagen that exists in animal cells, and we are taking that and putting it into a microbe… and the microbes are grown in large fermentation tanks… We give them sugars and salts and oxygen, and they produce the protein. Just the protein is purified from the broth … and the final product is pure gelatin protein, which is identical to the animal derived product.”

While the company has produced the ingredient on a small scale, Geltor is probably five years away from having commercial quantities available for industrial-scale food industry buyers, she predicted, although it had garnered a lot of interest from companies in every market using gelatin, from nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals to personal care.

"There's the scale up to consider and the regulatory aspect, proving it is safe and bio-identical; scale is one of the biggest hurdles... you need a lot of gelatin to make all those gummy bears."

Read our interview with Geltor co-founder Alex Lorestani HERE​.

According to a June 2016 report​​​ from Grand View Research, food & beverage is the biggest market for gelatin in the US, followed by nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, photography, and personal care.

The market is projected to generate revenue growth at a CAGR of 6.7% between 2016 and 2024, says the report, which predicts the strongest volume growth in the Asia-Pacific region.

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