Instant Pudding Thickening Chemistry

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Instant pudding thickeningOrdinary “cook” pudding, such as Royal Pudding or Jello Pudding, has been around for decades. It is a starch product that, combined with milk, sets into semi-solid form through heating. However, “instant” pudding utilizes a different thickening mechanism. In fact, two thickening mechanisms. What are the mechanisms for instant pudding thickening?

A Concrete Thickening Model

It’s like making concrete from Portland cement! Really, like that? Think of what the Portland cement contains. It is largely a mixture of silicates. Among these are dicalcium silicate (CaO2)2•(SiO2) and tricalcium silicate (CaO2)3•(SiO₂2). Mixing the cement powder with water yields an inorganic polymer matrix.

We will introduce a model for the thickening process of instant pudding in just a moment. First, though, you may enjoy looking at this very early Jell-o Instant Pudding commercial from the 1950s…

An Instant Pudding Thickening Model

Instant pudding mix has several ingredients. Some are for food and flavor. Some are for anti-caking and other qualities. One ingredient thickens the pudding. It is tetrasodium pyrophosphate (TSPP). TSPP is transparent and colorless. Its chemical formula (Na4P2O7) is simple. But consider its molecular structure (see image).

TSPP contains no silicate. It has no calcium. How is instant pudding thickening similar to concrete thickening? Well, one molecule of TSPP can absorb 10 molecules of water to form a hydrate. The reaction is written,

Na4P2O7 + 10 H2O → Na4P2O7•10(H2O)

Since this hydrate is also a solid, much of the fluidity disappears. As we stir, the pudding stiffens.

instant pudding thickening

In addition, molecules of TSPP react with the calcium in milk. This aids gelation. The two actions form a matrix that holds the food and flavor in a texture we find desirable for pudding.

Which Do YOU Prefer?

The world, some might say, has gone mad. Life is hectic. If we want pudding, we must either buy the stuff already made, or prepare the instant variety. They are convenient. Others insist cooked pudding is healthier and it tastes better. It is worth the sacrifice.

Which option do you choose?

Note: You might also enjoy Vanilla and Vanillin: What’s the Difference?


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9 thoughts on “Instant Pudding Thickening Chemistry

  • Well, I prefer cook and serve pudding myself. And when making lemon meringue pie, my wife not only uses cook and serve pudding she adds one half of an 8 oz. jar or marshmallow cream 3 tablespoons of sugar into 3 beaten egg whites and a teaspoon of vanilla beaten until stiff, baked until lightly browned. I had this yesterday after it cooled down. The pie filling was one can of sweetened condensed milk, 3 egg yolks, half a cup of lemon juice, beaten with a wire whisk until thick then pour into a graham cracker crust. After removing the pie from the oven at 400 degrees cooked until lightly brown, remove and cool on the table 30 minutes and place in refrigerator after it is cone, for about 4 hours. My wife calls this lemon ice box pie with marshmallow meringue topping.

  • The pudding called “Instant Delight” was introduced in my childhood and we loved but I wouldn’t touch it now, too synthetic tasting for me. My brother still loves it 50 years later!

  • Recently I made a tasting of instant puddings. It’s inconceivable that one finds any of them edible. Years ago I read there was a instant pudding called
    Amazo (1949). The food test kitchen of the NYTS wrote how surprised they were when they added a liter of cold milk to the powdery contents and used an eggbeater… “Delicate flavors and smooth texture”. It could not have been a cornstarch pudding……. Which needs heating. The American Maize products company knew something. What?
    I cooked professionally for 35 years.

  • Sam Paul

    Mostly negative comments about the taste of instant pudding, but in the middle of the covid 19 shutdown, it was all they had on the store shelves, so I bought a dozen boxes. I’m now a convert. At a time like this, instant comfort food is a huge comfort. Bonus: it doesn’t develop that yucky “skin” that I remember from the cooked pudding of my childhood.

  • I buy instant pudding only by accident, such as I did yesterday with some Jello banana pudding. I’ve tried many different flavors but all, to my taste are inferior. the artificial taste is hard to take, and the only reason I ate it was so the two cups of milk I used wasn’t wasted. I love lemon meringue pie and oddly enough my favorite pie filling isn’t homemade rather it’s Jello cook and serve filling. It’s bad for me because of my diabetes, but I’ll have to sacrifice until they come out with a sugar free version of the cook and serve lemon.

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