Agar-agar (or just agar) is white, jelly-like substance obtained from red algae. It is traditionally used and produced in countries like Japan, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. The word agar-agar comes from Malay and means ‘red algae’. Agar is used especially throughout Asia for culinary purposes and can also be used for microbiological work, as a substrate to contain growth media. Since it contains a lot of fiber, agar can even be used as a laxative.
The culinary uses of agar-agar
Since agar is plant-based, it can be used as a vegetarian and vegan alternative for gelatine. This means you can use agar-agar to make cakes, puddings, jellies and even jams and marmalades. The Japanese use it to make anmitsu, in the Philippines they make halohalo with agar and in Russia they use it as a pectin substitute for jams and marmalades.
Agar-agar is tasteless and odorless which means you can essentially combine it with most other flavours and foods, such as cocoa or fruit.
How to use agar-agar?
Normally, agar-agar comes in powder or flake form. Use about one tablespoon of agar flakes or one teaspoon of agar powder for every cup of liquid. That is about three to four tablespoons of flakes or teaspoons of powder for every liter.
Add the agar to your liquid at room temperature, bring it to a boil, stir well for a couple of minutes and remove from your heat source. Pour the liquid into your tin or form and allow it to cool down. The agar will set at room temperature when it cools down. This will normally take a couple of hours, and might go faster if you put your sugar-free dessert in the fridge.
It is better to add the agar-agar to your liquid at room temperature, because adding it when your liquid is already boiling will cause the agar to form lumps and it will not dissolve as well. However, if you have a good hand blender, or are using a Thermomix which allows you to boil and blend at the same time, you might find that adding agar to a hot liquid will also work.
In my personal experience, agar agar is extremely easy to use and the exact amounts of agar that you use do not matter very much. Since agar doesn’t taste and smell like anything, you will not ruin the flavour of your dessert by putting too much of it in your sugar free dessert. It also seems to always set more or less in the same way, no matter if you use a little less or a little more.
Agar-agar in sugar free desserts
Agar is a must-have ingredient for your pantry if you are on a sugar free diet. No sugar desserts and cakes can sometimes lack some mass, especially when you also leave out flour or eggs. Agar is a wonderful ingredient to use, because it will turn any liquid into an edible, solid mass. This means that with agar-agar you can easily make light, sugar free desserts which fill you up but are still low-calorie and low-carb. Be sure to check out our sugar free recipes with agar-agar.