On Jello.


Americans refer to gelatin—the edible, flavoured kind–as jello, after the brand Jell-o that was popularised in the early 90s by its television ads featuring Bill Cosby. In the UK, gelatin is referred to as jelly. Americans use this word to refer to a spreadable fruit preserve which the English call jam. This word is also used in the US, perhaps with subtle nuances, but the staple food of any kindergardener is still a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This is later referred to as a “PB&J” by starving college students.

This past summer I became quite fond of jello/y when I started adding different layers, mixing in mixed fruits, and a bit of cream. The pleasant wobble of a jello dish was also a surrogate for having a roommate to greet me when I got home. Added bonus: jello doesn’t talk in its sleep.

Today I was having a nice chat with some friends when one of them mentioned the potential for savoury jelly (“like the top of pâté “). Before I could express my doubts, a German friend interrupted by asking what we meant by ‘jelly.’ We found ourselves at a loss for words to describe jello without saying “gelatin” or physically wobbling helplessly in our chairs.

After several failed attempts, e.g.

“… so it’s made of cow hooves…”
“That’s not how to describe it!!”
“But it’s true!”

we eventually were able to identify the object that we meant by ‘jelly,’ and our German friend was able to nod his head in agreement. The misunderstanding had stemmed from the initial suggestion that ‘savoury’ jelly should exist — “with bacon bits,” to top if all off.

Out of curiosity I asked him what the German word for ‘jello’ is, and he responded that there are serveral words and that they’re somewhat flavour dependent. (Ah! A theory that breaks flavour symmetry!) Another German friend of mine corroborated this assessment. I was delighted to find out that the word for green jelly is götterspeise, roughly translating to “God’s food,” or ‘ambrosia’ for those who recall their Greek mythology. Perhaps not coincidentally, there is also a link to another ‘ambrosia’ food from the American South which contains (traditionally green) jello and marshmallows. To tie this back to Germany, here’s a recipe for ‘Ambrosia Bavarian,’ courtesy of Adam (the guy after whom I’ve nicknamed Sainsbury’s 30 pence frozen pizzas). Another good name for jello is wackelpudding, which means “wobbly pudding.” (One might say that I’m something of a wackelstudent for my morning lectures.)

By the way, typically jelly is purchased as dense jelly squares rather than in powder form as in the US. One is meant to dissolve the squares in boiling water and then chill the resulting mixture (adding in fruit bits to taste).


2 Responses to “On Jello.”

  1. 1 Boble

    Good to see the updates:)

    I do not like to use RSS somehow, it is kind of different feeling. Actually I was looking forward to seeing new posts rather than complaining.

  2. 2 Sue

    I was looking for a creative way to combine sugar-free lime jello, gelatin, jelly, whatever, lemon yogurt, and graham cracker crumbs and come up with something resembling a lemon pie (for the record, recipes do exist) – and tripped over your website. Just had to make mention of the fact that jello didn’t turn up or even become popular in the 90’s – I was certainly being fed it in the 1960’s as a kid in Canada. I think Cosby was peddling the pudding variety even back in the 70’s. A quick check on Jello history shows it was patented back in the 1890’s Now, someone pupporting to be a serious graduate student AND gourmet should know this jello trivia.

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