Panna Cotta or Jell-O?

It’s time to tackle the issue of Jell-O and panna cotta. I have to because people are asking me what makes one different from the other. Without even consulting Wiki allow me to describe each and the way I prepare them should be informative enough.

Let me deal with Jell-O since it is the more popular one. When we say Jell-O, fruit gels come to mind-or puddings or pies maybe, and that's Jell-O actually- a brand name for the powder dessert mix for fruit gels, puddings and no-bake cream pies. I’m pretty sure all of you have at one time in your life seen it if not tasted any Jell-O product.

Jell-O fruit gel is like my summer go-to dessert ingredient. I can no longer count how many times I’ve used it in my desserts- simple, elaborate I’ve done it. The powder is dissolved and stirred thoroughly in boiling water then cooled to set in molds or dessert cups. It can be dressed up with fruits on top, on the side or in the gel itself. I love mixing whipping cream into it because it gives a mousse- like effect when it sets. The cream separates so you end up with two pretty colors of each flavor. At times I would use it for my layered desserts as well- i.e. sponge cake layered with custard or mousse then topped with whatever Jello-O flavor mixed with fruits which makes it fancy.

Now let’s talk “panna cotta”- translated into English means "cooked cream". It is an Italian dessert made by simmering together cream, milk and sugar. Gelatin is bloomed then added to the mixture and is allowed to cool to set. It can’t be too firm bordering on rigid and neither it can be too soft like yogurt. It is lighter with a flan-like texture but it still has that “wobbly-jiggle” factor. Hence adding the right amount of gelatin to the cream mixture is crucial to achieve the velvety and smooth texture that befits panna cotta.

I’ve been experimenting with my flavors lately; doing layers like ube, mango and coconut or mango and ube or coconut and buco pandan. There are so many flavor combinations to use and my mind is just so full of ideas.

To sum it up, Jell-O fruit gel mix has gelatin and flavors already and is simply dissolved in boiling water, cooled in molds to set and it’s a dessert in that form. With imagination and creativity, it can be elevated to a real crowd pleaser.

Panna cotta on the other hand is more luxurious and richer because of the milk and cream mixture (although I sometimes cheat and uses half and half instead of heavy cream mixed with whole milk)and the delicate manner it is prepared. I consider it another dessert diva just like crème brulee. I use my bundt pans on both more often because it is more convenient than individual cups since I'm always sharing my goodies with a huge crowd.


  1. Can you share your 3 layer coconut, mango, & ube jello or cotta recipe? Thank you!


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