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8 Best Agar-Agar Substitute Options

Agar-agar is one of the best vegan thickening agents substitute for gelatin. If your recipe calls for gelatin, substituting it with agar-agar is probably the easiest option. But what happens when you run out? Well, you can use cornstarch, tapioca starch, flour, and arrowroot starch. But that isn’t all! There are even more agar-agar substitutes I’ve got to share with you. So, let’s jump right in!

What is Agar-Agar Powder

Agar-Agar powder is a vegetarian and vegan-friendly substitute for gelatin. It’s derived from red algae and is commonly used in Asian cuisine for its gelling properties. Agar-Agar powder is odorless, tasteless, and has a neutral flavor profile. It has a higher gelling strength than gelatin, making it a more potent thickener.

Agar agar vs Gelatin

Gelatin is made from animal collagen, while agar agar is made from red algae. This makes agar agar a popular vegetarian substitute for gelatin. Agar-agar is really often only compared to gelatin because of its similar purpose as a thickening agent. It helps stabilize, gel together, and add texture to many recipes; its exact purpose depends on the amount used.

Where to buy Agar Agar

Agar agar can be purchased at various locations, both in-store and online. Many well-stocked grocery stores, health food stores, and Asian supermarkets carry agar agar powder or flakes in the baking or specialty foods section.

agar in bar form

How to Use Agar-agar Powder

  1. Vegan Desserts: Agar agar is commonly used to set and firm up vegan desserts like panna cotta, mousses, and custards, offering a gelatinous texture without using animal products.
  2. Fruit Jellies: Create flavorful fruit jellies by combining agar agar with fruit juices. Pour the mixture into molds to set it into delightful, translucent treats.
  3. Pies and Tarts: Use agar agar to set fruit fillings in pies and tarts, providing a stable and consistent texture without the need for traditional gelatin.
  4. Gummy Candies: Make your own gummy candies by dissolving agar agar in fruit purees and sweeteners. Pour the mixture into candy molds for homemade, vegan-friendly gummies.
  5. Thickening Agent: Agar agar can be used as a thickening agent for soups, sauces, and gravies, offering a vegetarian alternative to animal-based thickeners like gelatin.
  6. Puddings: Create creamy and textured vegan puddings by incorporating agar agar into your favorite pudding recipes.
  7. Iced Tea Cubes: Add agar agar to iced tea or other beverages before chilling to create cubes that set at room temperature, giving your drinks an interesting twist.
  8. Vegetarian Sushi Rolls: Agar agar is often used to set the outer layer of vegetarian sushi rolls, providing the desired firmness and texture.
  9. Molecular Gastronomy: In culinary experiments, agar agar is used in molecular gastronomy to create unique textures and presentations in avant-garde dishes.
  10. Preserves and Spreads: Use agar agar to set homemade fruit preserves, jams, or spreads, providing a gel-like consistency without the need for pectin or gelatin.
  11. Layered Desserts: Agar agar is ideal for creating layered desserts, allowing each layer to be set independently for a visually appealing and textured treat.
mango and coconut agar-agar confection

How much Agar-agar should you use?

Here are additional, helpful tips when cooking with agar-agar

  • Use proper tools, such as a chemist’s spatula or high-accuracy scale.
  • 0.9g agar-agar powder to 100 ml of neutral liquid.
  • 1.3g of agar-agar powder to 100 ml of acidic liquid.

8 Best Agar-Agar Substitutes

We’ve compiled several helpful substitutes for agar-agar in your recipes. While you might need to quickly prepare a slurry with a few agar substitutes, the majority of these are excellent choices for vegans and vegetarians, and can directly be added in powder form.

Unflavored Gelatin

The most common non-vegan alternative for agar is gelatin. Already available in many homes, gelatin is the boiled form of collagen (the connective tissues of animals), often from cows. It’s a flavorless, colorless, and clear protein used as an ingredient in many baking and cooking applications.

Most often used to thicken, stabilize, and bind desserts, it can be easily purchased in the grocery store to replace agar-agar. To use unflavored gelatin as a substitute for agar, sprinkle the powder into cold water to let it bloom before adding it to your cooking or mixing it into a hot liquid to fully dissolve. Use unflavored gelatin powder in a 3:1 ratio in place of agar-agar in any recipe.

Cornstarch

Cornstarch is one of the best choices when looking for a thickening agent. It’s readily available and easy to swap as a thickening agent for gravies, soups, and sauces, and it provides stability and some texture.
This starch is a highly starchy white powder extracted from the center of the corn kernel.

Just note that this neutral-tasting starch can’t perform well in recipes with high-acidity fruits such as lemons, berries, tomatoes, or pineapple. To use this agar-agar substitute, make a slurry with 2 teaspoons of cornstarch and cold water to substitute for each teaspoon of agar-agar. Don’t skip this step because adding the cornstarch directly into hot liquids will cause the starch to clump.

cornstarch

Tapioca Starch

Most people associate the thick, chewy texture of tapioca starch with tapioca pearls. This popular gluten-free flour is also made from the starch of cassava root and makes for a great replacement for agar-agar

It works well as an allergy-friendly thickener for sauces, soups, cold desserts, and stews, though it needs high heat to activate completely. It also won’t produce the same gelatin consistency as agar-agar, but it will lend a similar thickness. Just use tapioca starch in a 2:1 ratio when replacing agar-agar.

Flour

Making it onto our list along with cornstarch is another pantry staple, white flour. It’s an ideal thickener for rich and creamy sauces and is used in many, if not most, baking recipes. Flour doesn’t produce the same glossy shine as cornstarch and has less of the thickening power of agar, but still, it can be used as an easy swap in a pinch. 

Flour should be made into a slurry and not added directly into a recipe. Otherwise, it will clump together. It also needs to be cooked for at least 30 minutes to properly “cook” the flour flavor out & fully activate its thickening power. Use this agar-agar replacement in a 2:1 ratio in your recipe.

Arrowroot Starch

Another neutral-tasting starch, arrowroot starch, is extracted from the roots of the arrowroot plant, Maranta arundinacea. It’s gluten-free, easily digested, and can tolerate acidic ingredients and prolonged cooking better than tapioca flour.

It’s an extremely versatile ingredient that can be used as a flour substitute, flour enhancer, or thickening agent in puddings, soups, sauces, and gravy. It has almost identical properties to agar-agar powder as a thickener and stabilizer. This starch also doesn’t lend a murky color to your dishes; use it in a 1:1 substitution for agar-agar.

gluten-free, grain-free, and paleo-friendly arrowroot powder

Pectin Powder

A naturally occurring fiber found in the inner skin of fruits and vegetables, pectin is one of the most suitable vegan replacements for agar-agar. Commercially used for thickening foods, medicine, and sweets, it’s most commonly associated with jam, marmalade, and jelly making. It’s actually responsible for giving these sweet condiments their mildly jelly-like consistency, including our beloved applesauce.

One big difference between pectin powder and agar-agar is that pectin has sugar added to it. Therefore, while it works well in baking, skip it in cooking savory dishes. Pectin powder may be used instead of agar powder in a 3:1 ratio; pectin, like arrowroot starch, can be added directly to any recipe.

Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is a vegan-friendly and gluten-free alternative to agar-agar. This polysaccharide is made by fermenting sugar with a specific bacteria (from which it gets its name) and is quite highly processed. While it’s most often used in commercial applications as a thickener for liquid foods, it’s now gained popularity for use at the household level. 

To use xanthan gum as a substitute for agar, dissolve 2 parts powder in 1 part water to form a gel, and then stir the liquid into your recipe. Alternatively, you can stir it into the liquid directly when cooking a recipe; it will thicken water-based liquids at any temperature without the need to cook them.

xanthan gum

Guar Gum

You’ve likely seen guar gum used to thicken and stabilize foods, including baked goods, soups, stews, salad dressings, jello, and even dairy products like milk. So, it’s already a fantastic substitute for agar agar. While it’s odorless and has a somewhat bitter taste, it doesn’t generally get used in quantities large enough to affect the flavor of the dish.

It’s also a gluten-free option used to substitute for the gluten content of wheat flour in gluten-free recipes. To use it, simply dissolve a pinch of guar gum in water and then add it to your recipe. This alternative thickens quickly, so use it sparingly.

FAQs

What are suitable alternatives to agar agar for vegetarian gelling?

Pectin powder, carrageenan, and konjac powder are excellent substitutes for agar agar

How does the gelling strength of pectin compare to agar agar?

Pectin has a weaker gelling strength compared to agar agar. This means that you may need to use more pectin powder to achieve the same gelling effect as agar agar.

What is the conversion ratio when substituting gelatin for agar agar?

When substituting gelatin for agar agar, the conversion ratio is usually 1:1. This means that if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of agar agar, you can substitute it with 1 tablespoon of gelatin.

Is guar gum an effective substitute for agar agar in culinary applications?

Guar gum has a similar texture to xanthan gum powder, but it’s not as strong. If you want to use guar gum as a substitute for agar agar, you may need to use more of it to achieve the same effect.

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