Ever since a 17th-century Japanese innkeeper discovered that leftover seaweed soup gelled overnight (or so the legend goes), agar has been used as a gelatin-like fixative in the kitchen. The tasteless, odorless seaweed derivative is a staple throughout Asia, where it is used to thicken sauces, drinks, jellies, custards, and candies. It entered Western cuisine in the 20th century as a plant-based alternative to gelatin. Read on to learn more about agar (also known as agar agar) as well as recipes worth trying.
Agar vs Gelatin
Gelatin is usually made from bovine and porcine collagen, making it unsuitable for vegetarians and vegans. Agar is derived from seaweed and contains no animal products, making it a convenient ingredient for plant-based home cooks.
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Types of agar
Agar comes in two main types: powder and flakes.
Powdered agar is the more potent of the two. One teaspoon of powder turns a cup of liquid into a hard jelly.
Agar flakes are less concentrated than powder and allow more control over the final texture of the recipe. Powder and cereal can be used interchangeably in recipes as long as you adjust the amount for their differences. (See conversion table below.)
Conversion table: agar flakes and powder
|For 1 glass of liquid||SOFT + PRESERVED
(custard, panna cotta)
|DURABLE + SMOOTH
(filling for pies, jellied desserts)
|EXTRA STRENGTH + CUT (vegan cheese, vegetarian pate)|
|agar flakes||2 tsp||1 tbsp||4 tsp|
|agar powder||½ tsp||¾ tsp||1 tsp|
Where to find
Agar powder is sold in small bags and can also be found in natural food stores along with spices. Agar flakes are often stocked next to seaweed products in the international section.
Vanilla panna cotta with agar
Cooking with agar is as easy as boiling liquid on the stove. Try this easy vanilla panna cotta recipe.
- 2 tbsp agar flakes or 1½ tsp. agar powder
- 3 cups unsweetened plant milk
- 3 tbsp pure maple syrup
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Whisk agar flakes or powder with unsweetened plant milk in a large saucepan.
- Bring the mixture slowly to a boil; boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. (Heat activates the solidifying properties of the agar.)
- Strain through a fine sieve to get rid of lumps.
- Whisk maple syrup and vanilla.
- Divide into six molds. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before removing from mold and serving.
Other agar recipes worth trying
Use agar for its health benefits with these healthy vegan recipes from Forks Over Knives.