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What is Collagen?
Collagen refers to a group of natural proteins which are found in the connective tissues and flesh of animals, mostly mammals. Being stiff and fibrous, it works mainly to connect tissues in the body and support organs.
With extended exposure to heat, these connective tissues begin to break down at approximately 140°F and 160°F. Triple helices within the complex molecular structure are destroyed and unwind. The collagen then becomes denatured into separate molecules. The result of these individualized molecules substance is a known as gelatin which is often used in dishes.
The breakdown of the collagen bonds during the production process results in a molecular structure which can rearrange more easily. Due to this, gelatin turns to liquid when exposed to heat and becomes solid when cooled. It also forms a semi-colloid gel when mixed with water.
Gelatin has a high water viscosity and is chemically similar in structure to collagen which is its source. In the realm of molecular gastronomy an irreversible hydrolyzed form of collagen is used as a gelling agent. It is used to stabilize liquids and create dishes with various shapes and textures without considerably affecting the taste of other ingredients used in the dish.