Agar is the name for the natural jelly which forms from certain species of red seaweeds. Learn how to use Agar to give texture, while reducing fat and sugar.
Our 7 top tips for how to use agar will help you get the best from this incredible superfood! All you need to know about using Agar is right here – the what, why and how of using agar in your cooking or baking! Use Agar as a vegan alternative to gelatine in your baking, as an egg replacement and way to achieve a better consistency in your preserves and dressings, but also as a wonderful health supplement.
What is Agar and How is Agar Used?
Agar is the common name for the natural jelly like substance which is produced by certain species of red seaweeds (algae). It is most commonly used as a vegan alternative to gelatin to set or stabilize foods, and can also be used in science labs to create cultures. In food preparation Agar can be used to give texture and substance – replacing or reducing the need for added fat and sugar.
You may hear reference to ‘Agar agar’ – this is the Malay name for the red seaweed from which the powder is extracted. Agar has been widely used in Asian communities to make jellies for centuries – the first known use of Agar was in 1885! This amazing culinary ingredient is becoming increasingly popular in kitchens across the globe.
Why Use Agar As a Plant-based, Vegan Alternative to Gelatine?
There are so many incredible uses for this versatile sea vegetable product, especially if you are following a plant based, vegan or vegetarian lifestyle:
- Replace gelatin, an animal-based gelling agent, with a plant based sea vegetable alternative. Unlike gelatine, agar is colourless, odourless and tasteless so won’t impact the flavour of the dish.
- As a functional food, agar provides more than a jelly substance, it can help our health in many important ways.
- Make puddings, savoury jellies, fruit purees, yoghurts, jams and marmalade without the need for added sugar to get the desired texture.
- Make dressings without the need for fats to lend a thicker texture.
- Agar can also be used other ways to replace eggs in vegan recipes or to reduce fat and sugar while keeping a creamy texture
How much Agar to use?
Agar is available in three different formats (bars, granules and powder) but Pacific harvest offers only the powder which we feel is easiest to use in the kitchen. Because agar needs to be heated to 90°C to dissolve properly in liquid, the powdered form is easiest to work with. If you are using bars or flakes, we suggest you break them into a powder first, using a coffee or spice grinder. The powder form dissolves faster and more evenly. A general conversion is:
1 teaspoon agar powder = 1 tablespoon agar flakes = 1/2 agar bar
The ratios below are a guide only – we recommend that you experiment a little as the amount of agar you need for a recipe can vary:
- for a hard set: 1 tsp agarpowder per cup of liquid
- for a soft set/wobbly: ½ – ¾ tsp agarper cup
- for a ‘jam-like’ effect: 1/3 – ½ tsp agarper cup
- for dressing-like effect: ¼ tsp agarper cup
8 Top Tips for Working with Agar Powder
- A little goes a long way – measure your agar!
- ‘Blooming’ and bringing agar to temperature are key factors in enabling the gelling power – not too hot, not too long!
- Agar needs to ‘bloom’ or rehydrate in liquid first for 8-10 minutes before applying heat to activate the thickening agent in the agar. Agar must be heated to 85-90°C or it won’t melt, but make sure to not let it boil for too long past melting point as this can harm its gelling ability.
- Make sure to stir the agar constantly until it completely dissolves to avoid it sticking to the bottom of the pot or pan.
- The acidity of the liquid used will impact the gelling ability of the agar. A more acidic liquid will require more agar powder to set. Agar breaks down and doesn’t set if exposed to the enzymes of certain raw tropical fruits like kiwifruit, papayas, pineapple, peaches, mangoes, guavas and figs, which contain an enzyme (bromelin) that can prevent agar from setting. If you are using these fruits, heat them before adding agar to break down the enzyme and allow the recipe to set successfully.
- Agar will set at room temperature, so pour the agar mixture into a serving dish while it is still hot or warm, as once agar sets, it will not reset properly once disturbed! But unlike gelatin, agar can be re-melted if necessary, so don’t worry!
- To test whether your dish will set properly, spoon a small amount on a cold plate – it should set in 20-30 seconds. Add more agar or liquid to fix this.
- Jelly made with agar may ‘sweat’ when in humid weather. To prevent this, you may dissolve 1 tsp of corn starch (corn flour) with the agar into the liquid that you are cooking it in.
Disclaimer: This material is provided for educational purposes only and IS NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This information is generic and may not include the latest research. We encourage you to do your own research and discuss your findings with a qualified health practitioner who can help you validate the outcomes in the context of your specific & individual health situation.