Gelatin Hard Capsules: Cutting edge or out of fashion?

March
18, 2021
4 min

The hard capsule has been around for some time now, with the first (known) gelatin capsules invented in the 19th century. Since then, they have been widely used as a popular dosage form for nutraceutical and pharmaceutical ingredients. But the gelatin capsule is now facing some competition, as the last few years have seen increasing demand for a vegetarian alternative.

So, some 20-30 years ago, a new gelling agent was introduced: HPMC (hydroxypropyl methylcellulose), chemical modified cellulose. And it soon became clear that it could also be used as a raw material for hard capsules. Since then, there has been a lot of debate about the differences between gelatin and HPMC, and which raw material is best for capsule production. As HPMC is the newer ingredient and can be used for vegetarian capsules, it could be argued that it has more modern appeal, leaving gelatin looking a little outdated in the eyes of many consumers. But is that really the case? And does HPMC truly have the upper hand on gelatin?

As with most things, there is no easy answer. But what we can say for certain is that while gelatin may not be considered on-trend, there is a reason why it has been used for more than 100 years. As it’s a collagenous protein that occurs naturally in the body, it’s safe to say that it’s a completely healthy ingredient. As such, it’s GMO-free and declared a foodstuff, so there is no need for an E-number. For these reasons, its use is neither limited nor restricted. And that’s also one of the biggest differences between gelatin and HPMC, which is an additive (E464) manufactured during a rigorous process that involves highly reactive and harmful products. And while it’s true that it’s safe for consumption – in moderation – and can be used for vegetarian or vegan products, the manufacturing process has raised some questions about the naturalness of HPMC.

But while this is more a question of consumer preference, the manufacturer’s perspective must also be kept in mind. That’s because in the business of hard capsule production, it’s not just about trends and developments – it’s also about the reliability, quality and efficiency of the raw material in question. And this is where gelatin ticks all the boxes. Thanks to more than a century of use, the production of gelatin hard capsules is a well-established, high-speed process that has been optimised almost to perfection. Manufacturers know a great deal about gelatin and are very well equipped to deal with any technical challenges. As such, production costs are very low, and the output high. Today, most machines designed for the manufacturing of gelatin hard capsules can also process HPMC, but there are still a couple of significant differences, which make it hard for HPMC manufacturers to match the output of gelatin, along with the end product reliability and efficiency. 

And yes – as we have made quite clear – gelatin is a product with tradition, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for change and innovation. As the leading manufacturer of gelatin, we at GELITA are always looking for ways to further develop our products. For example – just to give you a little insight into our capabilities – we’re currently looking at implementing our soft capsule Controlled Release Portfolio for hard capsules. And as always, as an avid reader of our blog, you’ll be among the first to know about any further innovative developments in the pipeline.

In the meantime, if you want to know more about the use of gelatin for hard capsules, or how it differs from HPMC, take a look at our e-books on the subject, or contact us today.

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