New industry derived from the leather industry

Himeji City, Land of Kuroda Kanbee (1546-1604), an outstanding samurai strategist in the age of warring provincial lords, boasts Himeji Castle, Japan’s national treasure and first World Heritage Site. In addition to this beautiful White Heron Castle, Himeji is proud of a variety of indigenous industries, among which is the manufacture of gelatin and glue. Since Himeji was the leading leather production region, it was easy to obtain hide waste and cow bones for their raw materials. Today a large amount of gelatin and glue are exported overseas. Here let’s look at the benefits of gelatin and its history in Himeji.

What is gelatin?

Gelatin is used in various fields of our daily life for: food (dessert, cakes, clarifying agents for Japanese sake and other alcoholic beverages, adhesives to ham, etc.); medicines (capsules, poultice, pills, etc.) ; industrial products (pressure sensitive paper, adhesive agents for book binding, etc.); and cosmetics (polypeptide shampoos, creams, lotions, etc.)

Can be consumed for health and beauty care

Gelatin is a highly refined protein derived from collagen that has garnered public attention in recent years. The two are different at the molecular level but we can say they are almost the same when viewed as ingredients in food. That is, gelatin is a very effective food, like collagen, for both health and beauty care.

Familiar cooking ingredient

You must have seen hot cooking liquid turned to a jelly-like substance after cooling, haven’t you? It is because gelatin extracted from the collagen of heated chicken wings gels. Gelatin is a very familiar kitchen ingredient in our daily lives.

Four benefits of gelatin

1. Protein derived from collagen

The leading ingredient of gelatin is protein from collagen. Protein accounts for over 86 percent, followed by water accounting for some 12 percent, and ash. The protein of gelatin comprises 18 kinds of amino acids. It contains all essential amino acids except tryptophan. This is why gelatin is effective for health and beauty care. Yes, it is high in amino acids.

2. Easily reversible between sol and gel

Gelatin is heat-reversible as the cooking liquid of chicken wings becomes jelly-like when cooled. Gelatin is in a sol phase when hot. When dissolved in hot liquid, the network structure of gelatin is broken and molecules move freely inside the liquid. When the liquid is cooled down, the mutual pull of molecules occurs and the elastic network structures reappear.

3. Membrane

When gelatin liquid is dried, the membrane emerges. It is very strong and prevents the oxidation and moisture absorption of its content. The representative product exploiting this property is medical capsules.

4. Foaming property

Gelatin solutions produce bubbles and foam, keeping them in a stable condition. This characteristic is applied to making soft cakes such as marshmallow bavarois.

History of gelatin

Gelatin dates back to ancient Egypt

It is generally believed that the origin of gelatin dates back to glue creation in ancient Egypt. Glue was long used as adhesives for a variety of purposes until chemical adhesives were invented. Caskets, furniture, and fine arts and crafts excavated from the pyramids tell us how glue was used in ancient Egypt. As some murals show people laboring to produce glue, we can easily imagine that glue was important for ancient people.

Edible gelatin produced in the 19th century

European countries began to produce gelatin on an industrial basis in the 1700s. Edible gelatin was developed in the 1800s. In the latter half of the 1800s, it began to be used for photographic emulsion. Its diversified use ranges from food and medical supplies to photography, industrial and other fields.

Gelatin use in Japan

Glue was one of the raw materials for ink production – as it was so recorded in the Chronicles of Japan, the oldest history book completed by imperial command in the eighth century. In the island nation of Japan, kanten or Japanese agar made of seaweed, has long been used as food.
   The gelatin industry marked a full-scale development in the Taisho period (1912 to 1926) for production and consumption. Today Japan consumes some 20,000 tons of gelatin annually compared with the world consumption of 270,000 tons or so.
   It is used in a wide variety of aspects of our daily lives for: food including deserts and cookies; alcoholic beverages like Japanese sake; adhesives for ham; medical use as capsules, poultices, pills, etc.; photographic use as various kinds of films, developing paper, collotype printings, etc.; industrial use as pressure-sensitive paper, glue for bookbinding, etc.; and cosmetic use as polypeptides for shampoos, cream and lotion.

History of gelatin in western Hyogo Prefecture

Growing to be Japan’s leading producer

Glue production started in Himeji and Tatsuno areas in the early Meiji era to make full use of animal hide waste and bones. The western Hyogo region was Japan’s largest production area of leather.
   At the start of the 20th century, Himeji’s Aboshi area became famous as a major area of gelatin production. From the late 1900s to mid 1920s, the production sites extended to nearby Yobe, Shikama and Gochaku areas. Later in about 1957, the gelatin industry hit its peak, with 78 companies participating.

The glue industry of western Hyogo started as a sideline business of farmers but it has grown to be one of the largest suppliers in Japan. At one point, it was adversely affected by the decreased use of matches that needed glue. Undergoing various vicissitudes, however, western Himeji still boasts an overwhelming share of production in glue, gelatin and collagen peptide. Exports to overseas markets are also active.