Agar-agar is an essential ingredient in making certain Asian candies and sweets. It is also used as a vegan gelling agent, but the irony is that it is not a widely used ingredient worldwide.
Since it is not commonly used in most places, you may not readily find them in stores or grocery supermarkets. If you need something with the same properties as agar, you could try out other agar agar substitutes.
Some of the best agar agar alternatives that you can use include gelatin, cassava flour, guar gum, xanthan gum, cornstarch, pectin powder, and carrageenan – and they’re all readily available in your local stores.
So if you don’t know where to get agar, relax and read on to learn all the available substitutes that best fits your dish.
What Is Agar Agar?
Agar-agar is a jelly-like substance made from polysaccharides from the cell wall of some species of algae, majorly the red algae. It has been used as an ingredient in desserts in large parts of Asia.
Agar can be used as a laxative, an appetite suppressant, and an excellent soup thickener; it can also preserve ice cream and be used as a clarifying agent in brewing.
Best Agar Agar Substitutes
There are many substitutes for agar in places where agar cannot be reached, but some aren’t as good as others. Here, we are going to be emphasizing the top seven substitutes for the agar.
Since agar is tasteless and odourless, it’s perfect for adding to many recipes, whether sweet, sour, or spicy. Some excellent substitutes include-
One of the best agar agar substitutes, gelatin or galantine is a translucent, colorless, and flavorless food ingredient commonly derived from animal body parts. It is brittle when dry and rubbery when moist.
It is commonly found in jello and similar products. Gelatin is not vegetarian as it contains meat. Gelatin is colorless and odorless, and as a result, it does not affect the flavor of the original meal.
Gelatin is easier to combine with other dishes, unlike agar, and is sold in many grocery stores. Still, in terms of nutrition, gelatin is less nutritious than agar. While agar needs to be boiled before being used, gelatin can be used as it is. When substituted in a recipe, you should use it in a ratio of 3:1.
2. Guar Gum
Guar gum, also called guaran, is a polysaccharide extracted from guar beans. It is a good thickener and stabilizer, useful in food, feed, and industrial applications. It is a gluten-free alternative that is used in making wheat flour. It is nutritious, healthy, and versatile.
It can be used when making doughs for pizzas, cakes, muffins, and other baked food. During usage, put half a tablespoon per serving to avoid overuse.
3. Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum is a common food additive and is another good substitute for agar agar. It is also effective in thickening and stabilizing to prevent the ingredients from separating. It is made from fermenting a specific type of bacteria, and it is safe to consume.
When used as a thickener, you should use it in a ratio of 1:1 to give a perfect result. It is easily found in stores and lasts for extended period. The major disadvantage of this product is that it is costly and may not be price friendly to many people.
Another good substitute for agar is cornstarch. Cornstarch is derived from corn grain. It is obtained from the kernel’s endosperm; apart from desserts, you can use it to thicken sauces and soups.
It is a texturizer, tasteless and odorless, like most substitutes. It can be used in cookies and other desserts to add tenderness by improving the texture. For a better result, you should use it in a ratio of 1:1 to substitute agar.
5. Pectin Powder
Pectin powder is an excellent vegan substitute for agar. It is a vegetable-based substitute made from berries and citrus fruit. It is known as one of the best thickeners in jams and jellies.
Pectin powder is fibrous and does not have a lot of nutritional value. Pectin powder is found to be sweet, unlike agar.
It is mainly used to prepare sweets, but the downturn of this importance is that you cannot prepare savory dishes with it. It should be used in a ratio of 3:1 when substituting for the agar.
Carrageenan is similar to agar because they are both seaweed-based gelling agents. While carrageenan is widely used because of its high availability, there are adverse health effects associated with its use.
Carrageenan is widely used in meat and soy milk production. It can only be used as a thickener or stabilizer as it has no nutritional value or taste.
7. Cassava Flour
Cassava has been grown in popularity for a long time now, and getting its flour is not difficult. Cassava flour is produced from the cassava plant, and it is used in many gluten-free recipes.
Cassava flour is much like arrowroot, and in turn, it also works as an all-around agar flake or powder substitute. It also works well in gravies and baked recipes.
How Do You Make Agar Agar at Home?
For an agar recipe, you’ll be needing a cup of water and one teaspoon of activated agar powder. You must activate the agar for it to set a dessert.
If you make an agar recipe and the dessert does not set, that means that the agar agar was not thoroughly cooked. For you to know that your agar isn’t set, it would remain liquid even after an hour in the fridge.
For the preparation, dissolve the agar agar powder in a liquid and keep whisking to avoid the powder from clumping together, and they set the mixture to boil.
Once it starts boiling, reduce the heat and let the mixture simmer for about five minutes. Once this is done, pour the liquid into a tray, cup, or any container of your choice and let it chill in the refrigerator until ready.
Agar-agar sets quickly and should be ready after about an hour or two in the fridge.
Frequently asked questions
What is agar made of?
Agar-agar is plant-based gelatin that is gotten from seaweeds. It is a white and semi translucent vegetable sold in flakes, strands, and bars. It is majorly used in culinary dishes as a stabilizing or thickening agent.
Can I use gelatin instead of agar?
Though gelatin is an excellent substitute for agar-agar, the same results should not be expected when substituting one for the other.
Gelatin gives a creamy texture, while agar gives a much firmer texture. Agar is much more powerful than gelatin. One teaspoon of agar powder is equal to eight teaspoons of gelatin powder.
So, when substituting gelatin for agar, use a lot of it to get similar results to when you’ll be using agar.
Can you mix agar-agar and gelatin?
Yes, they can both be mixed but make sure you add the gelatin and agar to dry ingredients and whisk everything to combine well before adding any liquids.
Using them excessively can make loaves of bread soggy, so make sure to use them in the correct quantity for your dishes or baked food.
Is cornstarch a good substitute for agar?
If you’ll need agar-agar in powdered form for a recipe and don’t have them available, you can always use cornstarch as a substitute but note; this is only possible when agar-agar is needed in powdered form.
Since agar powder is more substantial than corn flakes, one tablespoon of agar is equivalent to two tablespoons of cornstarch.
Can you add your agar?
Yes, add beef stock powder, sugar, and gelation to boiling water and stir continuously until all the ingredients dissolve.
Cool your agar mixture slightly while covered, and only take the lid off when you’re ready to add your agar powder, or the ingredients will become contaminated by the air.
Can I use xanthan gum instead of agar-agar?
Yes, xanthan gum is one of the best substitutes for agar-agar. You can replace agar with xanthan gum in the ratio of 1:1, but you’ll need to dissolve it in water first for it to work optimally.
Can I use xanthan gum instead of gelatin?
Yes, xanthan gum is a substitute for gelatin in some cases, but to use xanthan gum for gelatin in a recipe, use half the amount of gelatin required in the recipe.
You cannot use xanthan gum and gelatin interchangeably for all purposes because gelatin is a gelling agent, whereas xanthan gum is a thickening agent.
You can use one for the other in some cases, but it depends on the use of the ingredient for your recipe.