Agar is the product of several species of seaweed. It is also known as agar-agar. In Japan, it is referred to as kanten. Hundreds of years ago, the Japanese and Chinese learned how to freeze-dry and dehydrate the fern-like fronds of this seaweed and form them into kanten bars. These bars were used as gelatin.
Different from gelatin in some ways, agar does not melt easily. Its texture is also more firm. Agar has a slightly sweet flavor and contains no calories, which is useful if you are looking for a low calorie food. It is used often for making desserts in Japan.
The Nutrients in Agar
Agar is a good source of calcium and iron, and is very high in fiber. It contains no sugar, no fat and no carbohydrates. It is known for its ability to aid in digestion and weight loss. It carries toxic waste out of the body. It is also used in some parts of the world to treat hemorrhoids.
Other benefits associated with agar are its ability to reduce inflammation, calm the liver, and bring relief to the lungs. It is also considered a mild laxative and not recommended for those with weak digestion or loose stools.
Preparation of Agar
Agar comes in powder, flakes or in kanten bars. There are a number of steps in preparing agar:
- Break up kanten bars into pieces. Wash them and wring them out. Soak them in liquid for 30 minutes, then strain.
- If using flakes or powder, soften them in liquid.
- Dissolve agar in boiling water or broth.
- Moisten a glass bowl and allow the agar to set in the refrigerator or at room temperature.
- Serve agar in a glass bowl or cut it into slices or cubes.
Recipes for agar can be found for pies, fruit desserts, jams, jellies, custards, puddings, and vegetable molds. An example of a recipe for jelly made from agar would include water, agar powder, rose essence, vanilla and drops of food coloring. To sweeten, you would use sugar or a sugar replacement of your choice based on your particular diet regimen.
Caramel custard made from agar would include agar powder, milk, custard powder, vanilla and sugar. Or, you might choose to make a vegetable mold, an example of which might include the following ingredients: agar flakes, water, lemon juice, kelp powder, carrots, greens, avocado, grated onion, sunflower seeds, cumin powder and vinaigrette.
A good thing to know when working with agar is that it will not set in wine vinegars or in distilled water. It will also not set in foods containing a large amount of oxalic acid, such as chocolate or spinach.
Overall, as a calorie-free food, agar has many benefits. Besides its health benefits, it allows you to create new desserts and snacks that are flavorful but do not contain unnecessary calories. Also, given that gelatin is often made from animal tissue, some vegetarians consider agar as a good alternative for preparing gelatin-based desserts.