Is Agar Agar Vegan? Here Is Everything You Need To Know

If there is one thing that vegans and vegetarians have in common is that they don’t consume meat, and unfortunately, gelatin is a protein that is obtained by boiling the skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones of animals. 

Agar agar has the same culinary application as gelatin, but the difference is that agar comes from red algae, which means it’s completely vegan. 

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about agar, including whether it’s healthy and where to find it in the grocery store. 

What Is Agar Agar?

agar agar
Photo by Vegan Foundry

Also referred to as agar, agar-agar is a jelly-like substance derived from red algae.  It’s been used in Asia for centuries, but now it’s also a popular substitute for gelatin, notably among vegans and vegetarians. 

Agar is typically made by boiling the red algae into a gel that is dried and then crushed to form flakes, or blended to create a powder. However, you can also freeze-dry it into bars, or convert it into strands. 

You can find agar-agar in health food stores, or at Japanese, Korean, and Chinese stores, but that will depend on the country you find yourself in. Some countries (or regions within countries) don’t have an abundance of Asian stores, so your best bet is to probably go to your local health food store.

We have an article that tells you exactly where you can find agar, both online and offline. 

Is Agar Agar Vegan?

Agar-agar is completely vegan as it is solely derived from seaweed, and there are no animal ingredients used, even when the seaweed is being processed into flakes or powder. 

According to information on Wikipedia, agar-agar consists solely of two polysaccharides: agarose and agaropectin, both of which can be found in the red algae. 

Agarose is the main constituent of agar and it is technically a polysaccharide that contains galactose residues, a type of sugar. This is the component responsible for agar’s gelling properties. Agaropectin is similar to agarose but it contains additional acid groups such as sulfate, pyruvate, and glycuronate. It gives agar its viscous properties.

Is There Any Difference Between Agar-Agar And Gelatin?

While agar is used as a gelatin substitute, the truth is that they’re not the same. 

Agar and gelatin are set up differently, for instance, gelatin melts at a lower temperature so when you consume it it’s going to melt and leave a smooth velvety texture. Agar, on the other hand, melts at a much higher temperature so it can often be a little bit more gummy and chewy. 

Often, when you cut a product that is set with agar, you may find that it doesn’t cut as smoothly, and sometimes breaks, plus, agar does appear to not be as clear when it sets, having a more cloudy appearance. 

Needless to say, one is derived from animals, and the other is completely plant-based, and that’s the biggest difference vegans care about!

Can I Also Use Agar Agar Instead Of Pectin?

Yes, agar can also serve the same purpose as pectin in recipes, for example, if you want to make a homemade jam, you can use agar to thicken the jam as well.

Technically, they are both considered thickening agents, which means they can increase the viscosity of a liquid without substantially changing its other properties. 

This means they have the same culinary applications, and you can use them interchangeably in most recipes. 

What Is Agar Agar Used For?

Agar agar is used mostly in the food industry to set desserts like mousses, jellies, and even ice creams, however, it can also be used in the manufacture of various glazes, icing, and different confectionaries. This is because agar sets at a temperature of 35ºC and doesn’t risk the melting of the gel or set product.

In Japan, agar is used to make a famous dessert called Anmitsu, which is essentially small cubes of agar jelly topped with fruits, dango, azuki bean paste, ice cream, and Mitsu (dark brown colored syrup).

Agar can also be used to make savory jellies (rather than sweet jellies), which can be used to make soup dumplings and other recipes (that are traditionally Asian). 

If you have agar powder, you can also use it to bake gluten-free bread and cake.

As you can see, it has many uses, you just have to be a bit creative!

Is Agar Agar Healthy?

Agar agar is quite low in calories but high in fiber and is loaded with nutrients such as magnesium, manganese, folate, and iron, so with all those characteristics in mind, we can infer that agar is a healthy ingredient. 

Because it’s a great source of fiber, you can regularly use it to benefit from an increase in fiber intake, which will support your digestive system. Additionally, fiber also promotes satiety and appetite reduction, enabling you to lose or maintain a healthier weight.

Naturally, the fact it contains several nutrients will also benefit you in the way those specific nutrients act to maintain the natural equilibrium of your body. 

Can Agar Agar Go Bad? 

Agar agar will not go bad in the harmful sense if stored properly in dry conditions. It has a relatively long shelf life. It may lose some gelling strength over time, especially if stored in harsh conditions (elevated temperature, exposure to humid air, exposure to sunlight, etc.).

If not stored in an airtight container, it could, like anything else, pick up off-flavors, so make sure you store it somewhere where it’s isolated. If you want to check whether your agar is still okay to eat, try turning just a little bit of it into a gel to see if it still retains its properties. 

Conclusion

Agar comes from red algae, so it’s unquestionably vegan, and it is now widely recognized as a vegan alternative to gelatin. 

It can be used in culinary to create various foods, including jellies, cakes, and even ice cream. 

Additionally, it is also very low in calories but high in fiber, not to mention the different minerals, which also make it a rather healthy alternative to gelatin. 

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for over five years! I've set up this blog because I'm passionate about veganism and living a more spiritually fulfilling life where I'm more in tune with nature. Hopefully, I can use Vegan Foundry as a channel to help you out on your own journey!