Different hydrogel materials have been prepared to investigate the effects of culture substrate on the behaviour of pluripotent cells. In particular, genipin-crosslinked gelatin–silk fibroin hydrogels of different compositions have been prepared, physically characterized and used as substrates for the culture of pluripotent cells. Pluripotent cells cultured on hydrogels remained viable and proliferated. Gelatin and silk fibroin promoted the proliferation of cells in the short and long term, respectively. Moreover, cells cultured on genipin-crosslinked gelatin–silk fibroin blended hydrogels were induced to an epithelial ectodermal differentiation fate, instead of the neural ectodermal fate obtained by culturing on tissue culture plates. This work confirms that specific culture substrates can be used to modulate the behaviour of pluripotent cells and that our genipin-crosslinked gelatin–silk fibroin blended hydrogels can induce pluripotent cells differentiation to an epithelial ectodermal fate. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.