For many vegetarians, learning about agar sources is pivotal in the search for new recipes.
What is Agar?
Agar is derived from seaweed and is used as a natural substitute for gelatin. It is 100 percent vegan-friendly and does not contain sugar, salt, starch, yeast, wheat, gluten, corn, soy, milk, egg, preservatives, or animal by-products. In its natural state, growing on rocky areas of tidal waters, agar takes the form of red algae. However, after commercial processing, it becomes white and semi-translucent, and is sold in packages as dried strips, flakes or in powdered form.
Agar has been used as an ingredient in Asian cooking for centuries. The Japanese were one of the first to incorporate agar into daily menu items mainly due to its accessibility in the waters off the country's coastline. In Japan, agar is called kanten. In Japanese "kanten" means "cold weather," and refers to the fact that agar is harvested in the winter months. In Japan, agar is used chiefly as an ingredient in desserts. One of the most popular agar-based desserts in Japanese cuisine is anmitsu. The treat consists of small cubes of agar jelly served in a bowl with a variety of fruits or other sweet ingredients.
Despite its historical ties to Japan, the word "agar" was originally introduced by the Malays. In Malay agar agar means, "jelly." To this day people inhabiting the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand refer to the gelatinous substance as "agar agar." In China agar is known as yángcài meaning "ocean vegetable" and in Burma agar is eaten as a sweet jelly known as kyauk kyaw.
While many vegetarians embrace agar as a gelatin substitute, it has a variety of other uses, including:
- A laxative - Agar is approximately 80 percent fiber, so it serves as an exceptional intestinal regulator.
- A thickener for soups, jellies and ice cream
- A clarifying agent in brewing
- A binder for desserts, such as puddings and custards
- Filler in paper sizing fabrics
Agar Jelly Recipe
Agar jelly is one of the most basic agar products available. Adding to its popularity is the fact that it is so easy to make. Many vegetarians make their own agar jelly at home, and then use it as a layer on cakes, a topping for toast, or as the base for vegetable aspics. Agar Jelly
- 1 1/2 tablespoons agar (powder or flakes)
- 1/2 cup hot water
- 2 cups your favorite fruit juice
- 1 to 3 cups of diced fruit (drained, with the juice contributing to the 2 cups being used)
- Place the cubed fruit into several small jelly molds or one large mold.
- Place the agar into a pan with the hot water, bring to the boil and simmer rapidly for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Pour the agar into the fruit juice and mix.
- Pour mixture over the cubed fruit and refrigerate molds until set.
Reputable Agar Sources
Finding reputable agar sources is not as hard you may think. The Internet has done wonders in making the product easily accessible to people who do not live close to agar sources. What's more, advances in technology have helped speed up agar processing, which is reflected in its relatively affordable price. Powdered agar costs, on average, about a dollar an ounce, and can be found at the following locations:
Other Agar Sources
You might be surprised by how widely used agar is in vegetarian and vegan products. The next time you shop, take a look at the ingredient lists on your favorite products. You'll find agar is used in everything from vegan marshmallows to vegetable soup.What's your favorite agar product?