When I was a kid, I heard that gelatin was made out of hooves. Cow hooves, I presumed. And, later in life, The Simpsons' Mr. Burns confirmed this belief. But when I looked up "gelatin" recently in Webster's New World, I didn't like what I saw:
the tasteless, odorless, brittle mixture of proteins extracted by boiling skin,
bones, horns, etc.; also, a similar vegetable substance: gelatin dissolves in
hot water, forming a jellylike substance when cool, and is used in the
preparation of various foods, medicine capsules, photographic film, etc.
So I kept looking. Next stop, the online Columbia Encyclopedia, where I finally found confirmation of this piece of disturbing trivia from my childhood.
gelatin ... foodstuff obtained from connective tissue (found in hoofs,
bones, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage) of vertebrate animals by the action of
boiling water or dilute acid. It is largely composed of denatured collagen, a
protein particularly rich in the amino acids proline and
So now, with one question neatly answered, I find myself grappling another: Why did Columbia write it "hoofs" instead of "hooves"? The answer I found by going back to my first reference, Webster's, which says that both "hoofs" and "hooves" are acceptable as the plural of "hoof," but it prefers "hoofs." (Who knew?)
Of course, all these answers led me to what may be the most important question of all: Who was the first person to say, "Mmmm. Boiling skin, bones, and hooves! I bet that would be delicious with fruit cocktail!"