Agar, a red algae thickener you’ll love. What is the difference between agar and gelatin?

Agar is a great vegan substitute for gelatin that is becoming more and more popular.

What is important to know about him?

How does it differ from classic gelatin?

What are its health benefits?

In this article, you will learn how to prepare it correctly, where you can use it, and many other tips.

What exactly is agar?

Agar is a natural substance found in red seaweed. It is processed into a solid substance, most often in the form of a powder, which is tasteless and odorless. There is only partial solubility in water, so the agar must be boiled and slightly swollen before preparation.

Nutritional values

In the following table, look at the nutritional values of 100 g of agar.

Nutritional values per 100 g Agar
Energy 26 kcal
Proteins 0.54 g
Fat 0.03 g
Carbohydrates 6.75 g
Sugars 0.1 g
Fiber 0.5 g

Vitamins and minerals

Dried agar provides small amounts of essential vitamins and minerals – including calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium and folic acid. Although agar is not an extremely rich source of any of these micronutrients, a little every now and then will help you meet your daily nutritional needs.

Differences between agar and gelatin

Due to its high gelling ability, it is used as a substitute for gelatin or as a thickener, gelling agent or stabilizer.

Why is it better to use agar than gelatin?

  • against gelatin, it is stable even at higher temperatures
  • low calorie content
  • much higher gelling ability
  • contains more vitamins and minerals

See the main differences between agar and gelatin in the table below:

Agar Gelatin
Definition A gelatinous substance that is obtained from seaweed. A colorless, odorless substance that is obtained from collagen found inside the bones and skin of animals.
Other uses Microbiological tests, laxative and in electrochemistry. Widely used in photography, cosmetics and ammunition.
Use in the kitchen A main ingredient in desserts, especially in Japan. A popular ingredient in desserts and confections in most parts of the world.
Form It has two forms – powder and slices. Powder, granules or slices.
Cooking It must be brought to a boil. Can be dissolved in warm liquid and allowed to solidify.
Texture after solidification Gummy and chewy. Smooth and velvety.

Where in the kitchen is agar used?

It is a great vegetarian alternative to gelatin in a variety of dishes. It is added to bakery products, flours, to thicken creams, but also to drinks, ice creams, frozen egg creams, fruit pulp, snow pastry, sugar toppings, confectionery, artificially sweetened jellies and preserves. It is used in the production of processed cheese, meat and dairy products.

Use in recipes:

Powdered agar in a glass and on a spoon with jellies placed next to it.

In what form can we buy agar?

  • Flakes
    The agar is crushed into flakes, and when you want to use them, you don’t have to soak them beforehand, but just boil them in water. However, if you want a particularly smooth cream, it is a good idea to soak the flakes for at least 30 minutes.
  • Powder
    It is cheaper than flakes and the easiest to work with because it dissolves almost instantly. It is used in a 1:1 ratio when you want to replace gelatin with it.
  • Sticks
    Dried agar can be cut into small sticks, which can then be soaked in cold water for at least 30 minutes.
Agar fibers in the bowl and the hand holding it.

How is agar prepared?

Before adding agar to the recipe, it must be dissolved in water and then boiled ; it cannot simply be dissolved in liquid or added directly to food. In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, dissolve the agar in the liquid, bring to a boil, then cook until slightly thickened, about five to seven minutes . Agar powder dissolves faster than flakes and sticks, which require a longer soaking and mixing time to completely dissolve. (Both flakes and sticks can be powdered before use.)

To use agar flakes in a recipe, measure 1 tablespoon for each cup of liquid; for agar powder , use 1 teaspoon to thicken 1 cup of liquid. (A general rule of thumb when substituting agar for gelatin is to use the same amount of agar powder and one-third the amount of flakes as gelatin.)

Once the dissolved agar is added to the formula, it will take approximately one hour to solidify . Agar is mostly used in foods that are eaten cold, so the food will need to be refrigerated.

It is important to note that foods with a high acid content, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, and kiwis, may require more agar to fully gel.

Where to buy agar and how to store it properly?

Agar can be found in the health food section of the supermarket, health food stores, Asian grocers and online. Agar flakes are more expensive than powder (and gelatin), but less is needed in recipes.

All forms of agar should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, such as a pantry, where they will keep for at least eight months.

Jelly cubes served on a plate.

Why is it appropriate to include agar in our diet?

Consuming agar has several health benefits such as

It helps in losing weight

Agar is considered a healthy supplement for weight loss because it is low in calories, fat, sugar and carbohydrates. It is an appetite suppressant and consists mainly of water-soluble, indigestible fiber and is known as a “hydrophilic colloid”. Attracts and absorbs water, increases volume with very few calories, giving a feeling of fullness. This will allow you to reduce your food intake. As agar passes through the body, it also absorbs glucose in the stomach, quickly passing through the digestive system, preventing it from being stored as fat.

In Japan there is a “Kanten diet”. This means adding a teaspoon of agar to tea or hot water and drinking the drink before a meal. It promotes satiety, can also help stabilize blood sugar and block fat storage, and is a diet that many Japanese women swear by it.

Improves digestion

The fiber contained in agar has many benefits for digestion. It absorbs toxins from the intestine and gastrointestinal tract and safely removes toxic waste from the body. The soluble fiber in agar, which is often used as a remedy for constipation, absorbs water in the intestines and forms a bulk that acts as a natural laxative. Regulating and cleaning the intestines is one of the cornerstones of healthy digestion.

Supports bone health

Agar is high in calcium and magnesium, and while calcium is known for its benefits for strong and healthy bones, a lesser-known fact is that it must be in balance with magnesium to increase bone density. A common problem with Western diets is too much calcium and not enough magnesium, which can lead to painful joint calcification and the formation of kidney and gallstones. Fortunately, agar contains a healthy balance of these two important minerals along with manganese, a nutrient that is vital for metabolism and bone formation.

Supports brain health

Agar is a polymer composed of subunits of the simple sugar molecule galactose, which is commonly referred to as “brain sugar”. It is vital for brain development in infants and children and can be produced endogenously by the body as well as supplemented from foods such as agar.

Folklore and history of agar

According to Japanese legend, agar was discovered by an innkeeper who discovered that seaweed soup had gelled after being thrown outside on a cold winter night.

The Japanese emperor and his royal retinue were lost in the mountains during a snowstorm, and upon arriving at a small inn, they were ceremoniously treated by the innkeeper, who offered them seaweed soup for dinner. Maybe the innkeeper made too much or it just wasn’t very good, but some of the soup got thrown out, froze and then thawed during the night, and when it drained, it was left with a cracked mass of low density. He took the leftovers from the tavern and discovered to his surprise that when he boiled the substance with water, a jelly was formed.

Milan & Ondra

We are both fans of good food and enjoy cooking. On this website, we want to inspire you with traditional, but also less common recipes. We will be happy if you try our recipes and let us know how you liked them. Bon appetite! :)