Agar agar, the vegetable version of gelatin

Whether we are vegetarian or vegan, or if we are not, we will be interested in knowing what agar agar is. As a hint we will say that it looks like gelatin, but instead of being obtained from cartilage and animal remains, algae are used. We are going to discover what it is for, what its nutritional values are, what dangers it has, etc.

Perhaps we have heard or read about agar agar, so today we are going to find out. When something begins to become famous, at first we always feel mistrust, due to ignorance, that’s why today we want to clarify all doubts and explain in depth what agar agar is.

What is it and what is it for?

It is a gelling gel that is obtained from red algae . As we can see, it is of plant origin and despite coming from red algae, this product has no color, smell or taste, so it does not directly affect the preparation.

The most curious thing is that it has a gelling power 10 times higher than alternatives of animal origin , that is, conventional jellies. To get that power, you have to serve it in the boiling liquid and stir gently for 2 minutes.

Obviously, it is mainly used to give consistency such as a mousse, jams, juices, compotes, cakes, flans, curds, etc. Depending on the amount used, we will get a soft or hard texture.

Un pastel hecho con agar

Nutritional values

We have already seen what agar agar is and what it is used for, well, now we are going to know its nutritional values. As we know, it comes from an algae, and we also know that it does not alter flavors. These two details give us information about its low amount of sugars and its high hydration content.

100 grams of agar agar has approximately 30 kilocalories , but we are never going to eat that, perhaps a maximum of 15 grams to achieve a very compact and firm texture. There are no sugars, no protein, but there are 7 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of fiber, and 91% water.

As for vitamins and minerals, we have vitamin K and folic acid (B9). When it comes to minerals, we have calcium, iron, potassium, sodium, magnesium, and phosphorus.

Something very curious is that it has a satiating and somewhat laxative effect, so it is not recommended in soft diets or if we are going through a punctual diarrheal process such as after eating something in bad condition, or being with the period or hangover.

Where can it be used?

We have already given some clue about where it can be used, and it is that this gelling gel can be used in many dishes, since it works when mixed in hot liquid (from 85 degrees it begins to melt). This opens up a range of possibilities that we do not have with normal gelatin, in addition, if we control its quantities, we can perfect the results.

About 2 grams for a soft result, about 3 or 4 grams for a soft texture with movement, about 10 grams if we want something consistent and about 15 grams if we want something firm.

We can use it in jams, sauces, creams, mousse, curds, cake decorations and the like, ice cream, etc. By not giving flavor or altering the qualities of other ingredients, we can use agar agar almost without fear whenever we need it.

Differences with gelatin

Agar agar is like conventional gelatin, but there are certain differences, some of which we have already pointed out throughout the text, and now we will remember and expand on other differences between the two products.

Both substances with gelling agents, that is, they have the ability to turn the liquid into a “solid”. They cannot always be substituted for one another, since one is hydrated when cold and mixed when hot, but they only set when cold (gelatin) and another when hot directly (agar agar).

Another aspect that differentiates them is their origin, one is of animal origin, that is, gelatin is extracted from the remains of bones and cartilage of animals in slaughterhouses, and agar agar comes from red algae .

Another difference is the format, gelatine are sheets that need to be hydrated and for a recipe several sheets are needed, and, however, agar agar is a powder similar to erythritol or sugar, that is, a fine granule that, depending on the amount that we use will achieve one result or another.

Un croissante con mermelada

Dangers of taking agar agar

Experts do not recommend more than 3 grams of agar agar for every 500 ml of liquid, in addition, after its preparation, it only lasts in good condition for about 5 or 6 months . So one of its first contraindications may be indigestion due to taking it expired, which will surely cause diarrhea, vomiting and similar effects.

The other dangers or contraindications of using this product are related to flatulence, due to its high fiber content, and that leads us to its diuretic property, which can cause us to lose minerals and vitamins.

In addition, it promotes thyroid function , due to its sodium content, and can negatively interact with medications. This is because it can cancel out the effectiveness and even lead to side effects.

It is not recommended for people with blood sugar problems, especially diabetics. Also, if we consume alcohol after taking agar, we can suffer from dehydration, this will give us headaches, we will be low on energy, dizziness, etc.

Substitutes and alternatives

The most notorious substitute is gelatin, and vice versa, but there are other lesser-known ones that we can also try to find the gelling ingredient that best suits us, and that we know how to control best.

Another alternative may be xanthan gum . its name may put us off, but it is an ingredient that is obtained by fermenting a bacterium, which is found in broccoli. It is also used as a thickener, so it is a good alternative. The problem is that it is difficult to locate and is somewhat expensive.

Guar gum is a natural thickener and is gluten-free. This ingredient is obtained from guar seeds, and they are grown in India. The only negative is its high content of soluble fiber, so we have to be careful with the amounts.