Agar is a gelling agent extracted from red algae. It is commonly used to stabilize foams (talking culinary gastronomy here) and to thicken or gel liquids.
It doesn’t mirror gelatin 100%, but it’s a great vegan substitution if you are looking for one. And interestingly enough it is derived from red algae.
Truthfully, the stuff scared me. I didn’t understand what it was, why it was used or most of all… how to use it in my home kitchen. It seems as though it belonged in a chemistry lab! But after using it a few times and learning just how easy and fun it was to work with, I felt silly that I allowed a little white powder to frighten me so.
Agar actually has some great health benefits even though it isn’t a raw product. It is a good source of calcium and iron, and is very high in fiber (water-soluble, indigestible fiber). In the digestive tract, it absorbs water, increases bulk, and stimulates large bowel muscle contractions. One of agar’s most common therapeutic use has been as a laxative, and it has been used for decades as a daily treatment for chronic constipation.
As it travels through the body, helping with cleaning the pipes… is known for its ability to aid in digestion as well as carrying out toxic waste out of the body. It can also help to reduce inflammation, calm the liver, and bring relief to the lungs. For more information you can read about it at the WellnessTimes site. Pretty amazing stuff. And here I thought it was just some odd thickener that you only read about, but never had in the kitchen pantry.
How to use Agar
Agar is an excellent Vegan replacement for gelatin, which is derived from animal hooves. But don’t expect the same results when replacing gelatin with agar in a recipe. It won’t give the same texture. Agar gives a firmer texture. Plus it is much more powerful than gelatin : 1 teaspoon agar powder is equivalent to 8 teaspoon gelatin powder.
Agar has no taste, no odor and no color. It sets more firmly than gelatin, and stays firm even when the temperature heats up. The melting point is around 185 degrees (F).
Agar can be very firm on its own. Combining it with other thickeners such as lecithin and / or Irish moss can make it more delicate.
Acidic foods (such as lemon or pineapple juice) can interfere with the gelling of Agar so you may need to increase its volume.
The most important thing to know is that agar needs to be first dissolved in hot / boiling water or another liquid. It sets as the ingredients cool down and it doesn’t take long!
Agar – Flake & Powder Form
Agar comes in the form of flakes and powder.
1 Tbsp agar flakes = 1/2 tsp agar powder
2 Tbsp agar flakes = 1 tsp agar powder
4 Tbsp agar flakes = 2 tsp agar powder
8 Tbsp agar flakes = 4 tsp agar powder
1 tsp agar powder = 2 grams
Formula to gel 2 cups of liquid using agar powder:
1 tsp agar powder
1 cup liquid
Soak in 1 cup of liquid for several minutes and then simmer for a couple of minutes until it dissolves.
In order for agar to hydrate properly it has to be brought to a boil for 3 to 5 minutes.
Pour the liquid into molds and let it set at room temperature.