What is Agar?

It’s been a while since I’ve written a piece for my “What’s That?” series and tomorrow’s post will feature this ingredient, so I figured this was a good time to talk about Agar. But before I do that, let’s talk about gelatin. I think PeTA put it best when they said:

It’s probably no coincidence that gelatin rhymes with skeleton—because that’s exactly what it is—animal bones (along with animal skin, hooves, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage all boiled together into a goo)…

How disgusting (and sad) is that? I know I’ve never looked at a regular gummy bear the same way since I learned that many years ago…

gummy bear

But that doesn’t mean that vegans can’t have gelling agents… or vegan gummy bears! Mother nature always provides cruelty-free alternatives, and in regards to gelatin, they exist in the form of Carrageen (Irish Moss), some Kosher gelatins, and… Agar!

Some facts on Agar

  • It is a flavorless gelling agent
  • It is derived from Gracilaria, a bright red sea vegetable (seaweed)
  • It’s also known by its Japanese name Kanten or Agar Agar, the Malay term for the seaweed from which it’s produced
  • It is available flaked, powdered, or in bars
  • The flakes are traditionally produced by cooking and pressing the seaweed and then naturally freeze-drying the residue to form bars which are then powdered or flaked.
  • It is rich in iodine and trace minerals, and has mildly laxative properties
  • It is used as a growth medium for petri dishes to grow mold and bacteria
  • It is used as a gelling agent in food preparation (see below)
Gracilaria

Gracilaria, sourced from Wikipedia

Cooking with Agar

  • Agar can be used like gelatin, to make jellies, custards and puddings.
  • It has stronger gelling properties than gelatin, so it sets in about an hour at room temperature and doesn’t require refrigeration to set
  • Unlike gelatin, agar agar can be boiled and can even be re-melted if necessary
  • For best results when using it in flake or bar form, grind the agar in a coffee grinder or food processor and then cook it, stirring it regularly until it dissolves
  • Due to density variations, flaked and powdered agar agar need to be used in different proportions: 1 tbsp. of agar flakes = 1 tsp. of agar powder
  • Substitute powdered agar in equal amounts for recipes calling for unflavored gelatin
  • For a firmer gel, add more agar, and for a softer gel, add more liquid
  • Highly acidic or alkaline ingredients affect the gelling ability of agar. So recipes calling for citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, etc) and strawberries, may require higher amounts of agar to set. Some ingredients break down the gelling ability of the agar so that it will not set at all, although cooking these fruits beforehand seems to help. These include fresh mangoes, papaya, pineapple, kiwi fruit, fresh figs, paw paws, and peaches.
I’ve only started working with agar in the last week or so, but this page listing all my agar recipes will grow as I continue to do so.
Agar Powder Agar Powder

Q: Have you used Agar before? I’m curious – what are your favorite Agar recipes?

Vegan Month of Food 2011

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26 Comments

  1. Elke says:

    I make the most simple vegan jelly for my 4 year old son.

    I cup of juice to half a tsp of agar agar powder
    (we like organic apple juice)

    Bring to boil and simmer for 5 mins.

    Sometimes we put some chopped fruit, berries or apple pieces in when simmering to make it more exciting.

    Then into the fridge in a dish or small cups, only takes about an hour to set.

    Perfect little healthy dessert or afternoon snack on a hot day.

    Easy!

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Hi Elke,

      Wow, that’s so great, thanks for sharing your recipe with me. That sounds so easy and delicious. I imagine it would be great for those times when you’re feeling under the weather and don’t feel like solid foods. Thanks again for sharing + for stopping by!

      Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Hi Elke – Thanks so much for this recipe, I’ll totally try it!

      Reply
    • Jeanette Lee says:

      You made a mistake. I am interested in whole grain recipes for my diet. I am glad I came across your Thai curry quinoa recipe. I am interested in other whole grain recipes. (Do you know if I can find it in general supermarkets?)

      Reply
      • vegangela says:

        Hi Jeanette – Sorry, which mistake did I make? Yes, you should be able to find Quinoa at supermarkets or health food stores. Otherwise, it can be purchased online…

        Reply
  2. Michelle says:

    Anne Gentry from Real Food Daily (incredible organic whole foods vegan restaurant in LA) makes the most amazing cheese sauce using agar agar. The recipe is in her cookbook, also named Real Food Daily.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Real-Food-Daily-Cookbook-Vegetarian/dp/1580086187

    My only issue with agar agar is that it’s quite expensive (at least here in the UK) so I’ve found that in this particular recipe, I can use cornstarch or arrowroot and it works perfectly. I haven’t tried to make any jellies with it, but I might have to give it a go as it was a childhood favourite.

    Thanks for your blog, it’s fab!
    x

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Hi Michelle! That’s funny, the post I’ve got coming tomorrow is also a cheese from Anne Gentry… You’re right, the agar isn’t cheap. I would only use it for things that really need to firm up, but I’ve always used cornstarch for cheese sauces and it works great… Thanks for the kind words, going to check out your blog now!

      Reply
    • maralyn says:

      i want to use agar agar as i want raw things but the problem i have is that agar agar is from japan and there water and other waters are now contaminated owing the fuchima waste leaking into the waters of the world.

      Reply
  3. I was so bummed out when I realized gummy vitamins = not vegan :/ Thaaaaanks, gelatin. I wonder if they make an agar version – that’s really fascinating!

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      I know, right? I miss gummy candies so much! But there are vegan versions at health food stores. They’re not exactly the same but good if you need a gummy-fix :)

      Reply
  4. Jodi says:

    First: Real Food Daily is an unbelievable restaurant and their food is AMAZING! I bet the cheese sauce Michelle is referring to above is divine.

    Second: I have cooked with agar before in a vegan tiramisu, courtesy of the Candle Cafe cookbook (vegan restaurant in NYC). It was used in the cream cheese filling part and it was so very good! I purchased my “agar agar” at my local Asian supermarket… a small box for US $3.99. Very cheap I would say. But I’m looking forward to your recipes using this because the agar has only been used once for the tiramisu and I’m eager to learn of new ways to try it!

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Hi Jodi – I’m hearing more & more about Real Food Daily. Really hope that I can eat there someday!

      Yum, I never had tiramisu before going vegan, so I’d love to try a vegan one. Did you see my latest post? It’s also a Real Food Daily recipe and it uses agar to make homemade vegan cheese > http://www.vegangela.com/2011/10/15/homemade-vegan-cheese

      Reply
      • Jodi says:

        Yes I just saw it! I had no idea that was a RFD recipe. I will definitely be trying that soon! Looks so good. THanks for the tips! I’m going to make the tiramisu again since it’s been so long… I recently tried the vegan one on the Whole Foods website but it definitely didn’t measure up to the Candle Cafe one.

        Reply
        • vegangela says:

          Awesome! Please keep me posted on that tiramisu!

          Reply
  5. Thanks for this! I’ve had Agar flakes in my cabinet for awhile, but just recently used them when I made the cheese that you posted. I knew it was from seewead, but that’s all I knew :)
    It’s nice to really know what we are putting into our food. I think I’m going to be an Agar lover from now on and try it in some different applications.

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      So glad to hear that this post was of service! That was my first time using it but I’m eager to use it again, especially to make my own vegan Jello!

      Reply
  6. Kelly E. says:

    I just stumbled upon this blog while trying to learn more about agar. I used it in a recipe last night and it was awesome! Then I got to wondering what it was a I just ate….. thanks for the info!

    Here is the recipe – it was KILLER!

    http://www.yumuniverse.com/2012/01/09/dairy-free-red-quinoa-broccoli-quiche/

    Reply
  7. patsfluff says:

    Just came across your site and it’s great! I am really inspired to go and cook all these yummy things now!! I know measurement quantities differ between American And Australian recipes? Do you have any tips on how to adapt them from yours to me cooking them? Also if the Health Food store doesn’t have agar or nutritional yeast flakes can you recommend some Aussie online places please? I went to Aussie Health Products and they were out of stock. I also find a lot of vegan recipes or vegan friendly food still has sugar listed. I guess not eveyone knows about the white sugar being processed with bone char, therefore also making it non-vegan friendly? And thankyou for great cheese recipes, I’m not a huge cheese fan but I have missed it a little in some things since becoming vegan! Keep up the fantastic work!!

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      I use Imperial measurements in my recipes, so you’ll need to use Google to convert them to Metric. Or just get yourself a set of tablespoons and measuring cups and you’re all set :)

      You may just need to do a Google search for other providers of Nutritional Yeast (Savoury Yeast) – or email Aussie Health Products to ask them when they plan on getting more in stock. They provide excellent customer service, and they’re on Twitter if that’s easier for you.

      You can seek-out vegan sugar, as it does exist. I can’t remember the brand I used in Australia, but again, a Google search should lead you down the right path.

      Good luck and thanks for stopping by :)

      Reply
  8. OMG.. Thank you!! I have stirred clear of gelatin ever since I found out what it is.. I know there had to be an alternative. But since I’m just getting my toes wet with a vegan diet, trying different things I didn’t know of one.
    Thanks so much. This will be awesome for homemade jam this summer too :)

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Awesome, glad you found the post useful :)

      Reply
  9. Darla says:

    I hate agar!!!!!!!
    Just kidding, I’ve never tried it :)

    Reply
  10. Rika says:

    I worry about the people that produce foods like this. Not only should the products we buy be vegan, they must be fair trade as well.

    Reply
    • vegangela says:

      Hi Rika – that’s always a good thing to consider, thanks for the reminder :)

      Reply
      • Jeanette Lee says:

        Thanks for the quinoa recipe. My diet needs whole grains and lucky to find the quinoa/curry recipe. Please let me know if you have other whole grain Asian recipes.
        (I don’t think I see it in supermarkets. How do I get it instead of ordering online?)

        Reply
        • vegangela says:

          You’re welcome Jeanette. Where do you live? If it’s not available at your supermarkets or health food stores, then I think you’ll have to order it online…

          Reply
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