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This recipe is easy, but it’s tasty and makes a fantastic pre/post/mid workout snack. Or, really, just an anytime snack! You can think of it like a healthier, homemade version of orange Jello. No artificial colorants or preservatives here! I had the idea after I saw a coach at the gym eating some very solid-looking Jello. He told me he makes the big box of traditional Jello, then adds a couple envelopes of plain gelatin and eats it for a mid-workout carb boost with the added benefit of a little protein. I started thinking about it and I realized I could make my own orange gelatin squares with less sugar and more protein, so I started experimenting. I hope you enjoy these protein gelatin squares!
Just to give you an idea of the difference between the usual suspect-type orange Jello and my version, a serving of the commercial stuff has 80 calories with 19 grams of sugar and 2 grams of protein. My version, when made with the protein powder I use, has 40 calories with 5.3 grams of sugar and 4.3 grams of protein. The aforementioned coach is a male Olympic lifter and eats over 5,000 calories a day, so those extra calories are probably important to him! This recipe is for the rest of us who need less than half that much. Just so you know, I cut my pan into smaller pieces, but consider it “8 servings” for the sake of figuring nutritional information.
Unless you have a protein powder that you really enjoy drinking with a particular type of juice, I really don’t recommend using a flavored protein powder. If you want the delicious orange creamsicle taste, choose a pure whey isolate protein powder. I use and enjoy the Now Foods unflavored whey isolate, but there are other options out there. It dissolves quickly, and it has a very faint diary taste that makes these gelatin squares creamy (one taste-tester described them as having a similar texture to butter mochi, if you’re familiar with it). I had an Orange Julius once and these seem kind of like how I remember it being. But, anyway, back to the protein powder! I’ve never tried pea protein, so I don’t know how it would taste in this recipe. I’ve used egg protein before, and I don’t think it would work well. It (in my experience) doesn’t dissolve as well and has a distinctly meringue-y flavor. The whey will be a little foamy, and this foam will rise to the top as the gelatin sets. It does also gel, though, so don’t worry!
You also have several choices when selecting your plain gelatin. Most grocery stores sell unflavored Knox gelatin, and it works fine. If you use gelatin a lot and want to know you’re using high quality ingredients, consider looking at a specialty store or online for a product like Great Lakes gelatin that comes from grass fed cattle. I like to provide vegetarian alternatives whenever possible in my recipes, but gelatin is not vegetarian and there are no non-animal gelatin sources. A helpful commenter informed me that agar-agar is used as a vegetarian gelatin substitute, so you could always give it a try. I’ve never tried it with this recipe, though, and it doesn’t have the same nutritional profile as gelatin. Also, I’ve read that it’s really important to consume agar-agar with sufficient amounts of water because it can swell and cause internal blockages. Eek! So I’d only recommend trying this recipe with agar if you’re already familiar with it and have used it before.
Alright – that’s enough exposition! Let me share the recipe with y’all. If the steps seem a little wacky, know that they come from experimentation and a couple of failed batches. I have seen many methods for making your own Jello, but this is what seems to work best for making squares with added gelatin and protein powder.
- 2 cups of pulp-free orange juice
- 2 tablespoons of gelatin (this is equivalent to 2 envelopes of Knox gelatin)
- 1 scoop unflavored whey protein
- Pour 1 cup of orange juice in a medium bowl and the other cup in a small saucepan.
- Sprinkle the gelatin over the orange juice in the bowl and whisk briefly to combine.
- Allow the bowl of juice to sit on the counter while you bring the saucepan orange juice to a simmer/near simmer.
- Slowly pour the hot juice into the bowl, whisking constantly.
- Whisk for 2 minutes, add whey, then whisk for three additional minutes.
- Transfer the mixture to an 8x8 baking dish, Jello molds, or whatever container you'd like to use.
- Cover the gelatin with a lid or plastic wrap and place in the fridge.
- Once the gelatin is set, about 3-4 hours, you can cut it and either enjoy eating it or transfer it to an airtight container. Store the gelatin squares in the fridge until you're ready to enjoy them.
I think they’re pretty tasty, and all my gym friends who tasted them agreed (thanks, guys!). I love that they only take about five minutes of active preparation and are a no weird ingredients added way to quickly refuel before, during, or after a workout. Or, let’s be honest, just about any time I get a snacking urge! Which is pretty often around here now that I’m doing Olympic lifting three times a week in addition to my usual gym routine.
Have you ever made your own “Jello” from scratch? What’s your favorite gelatin flavor?
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