What are gelatin capsules made of?

Updated April 17, 2017

Gelatin is an ingredient used to make capsules for prescription and over-the-counter medications, as well as vitamins and nutritional supplements. People with allergies or dietary restrictions need to know what they are made of for their health or well-being.


The National Institutes of Health Dietary Supplements page defines a capsule as a gelatin shell containing a dose of medicine, a vitamin, or other dietary supplement. It is usually oval, coloured, and semi-clear. All prescription drugs are identified and reported using a unique, three-segment number, called the National Drug Code (NDC).


Vegetarians and vegans do not eat meat; vegans do not consume any dairy. Observant Jews follow the laws of "kashrut" or "keeping kosher", which requires them to separate meat and dairy.

For these categories of people and others, it is important to know exactly what they are consuming in their medication.


The International Vegetarian Union FAQ says that gelatin is made from the boiled bones, skins, and tendons of animals. An alternative substance is called Agar, which is derived from seaweed. Another is made from the root of the Kuzu plant.


Those wishing to avoid gelatin should avoid both hard and soft capsules in favour of traditional pills. They can look for the ingredient rennet, which is generally considered vegetarian, according to the International Vegetarian Union.

Fun facts says that while kosher gelatin exists, gelatin made from beef skins or bones is not kosher. Likewise, specifies that gelatin or gelatin from pigs is not Halal, and gelatin from beef may not be, so it should be avoided.

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About the Author

Caroline Howard has lived and worked in Washington, D.C., since graduating from SUNY Albany with a bachelor's in psychology. Since 1995 she's written about women's health and contraception on the Birthcontrol and Am_I_Pregnant communities on, and Howard writes about fashion, style and shopping on her blog.