The word agar-agar comes from Malay/Indonesian and is now known as an herbal alternative to gelatin. It has been used in Asia for centuries. But what exactly is agar, and how can you use it in the kitchen?
Agar-agar instead of gelatine.
Gelatine is a purely animal product, so cakes or desserts made with gelatine are not an option for vegetarians and vegans.
They use agar-agar instead: Its excellent gelling properties make it the star of the sweet plant-based bakery. Ultimately, you can also make any recipe that uses gelatin with agar-agar. However, you should follow the package instructions carefully; you cannot replace it with gelatine one-to-one.
What is agar-agar made of?
It is a carbohydrate that comes from the cell walls of algae, such as blue or red algae. In terms of its chemical structure, it is very similar to fiber from local fruits and vegetables and, like them, cannot be digested – or only in small parts – by humans. This structure also has excellent swelling properties, and the powder gels when dissolved in hot liquid.
The extract is usually dried and processed into powder for use in the kitchen. But even though it comes from algae, it is tasteless and can be used as a gelling agent for savory and sweet dishes. Pure algae extract comes in powder or flakes for use in the kitchen.
Is agar agar healthy?
Agar is a fiber and has a particularly positive effect on our digestion: the fiber molecules stimulate and improve overall digestion. Thanks to its good swelling properties, fiber binds fluid, which increases the volume of food consumed. It increases our feeling of fullness, and we are not hungry again so quickly.
But as great as these properties may sound, too much of the herbal alternative can have a laxative effect. These consequences usually only occur if you consume more than 4 g of agar daily. However, a cake or a dessert usually does not contain more than 1 g, so most people do not experience grumbling stomachs or indigestion. As always, a balanced diet is usually the best. And even the biggest sweet tooth won’t be able to eat more than four pieces of cake!
How do you use agar agar?
Especially compared to gelatin, it is essential to know that the plant-based alternative is around six to ten times more effective. The gelling process only starts when you boil the agar agar. Don’t get confused because the mixture only changes its consistency when it cools down and becomes solid. If heated again, the gelled mass would become liquid again.
Jellies, jams, ice cream, cakes, puddings, you could prepare all recipes containing gelatine with agar instead.
Place a small plate in the freezer for a few minutes.
After boiling the liquid with agar according to the package instructions, add a few spoonfuls of the mixture to the cooled plate. You put this back in the fridge.
If the liquid has not gelled after 2-3 minutes, add a bit of agar agar. To do this, Add some mixed agar to the mixture. Bring to the boil again and let cool. If the mixture is too thick, add a little more liquid.
Where to Buy?
You can find it in most health food stores and Asian markets. When purchasing agar, check the label to ensure it is 100% pure and contains no additives or preservatives.
Agar agar is a versatile and nutritious ingredient you can use as a substitute for gelatin in vegan cooking. Its many uses and health benefits make it a valuable addition to any vegan pantry. Have you tried using agar agar in your cooking?
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