Agar Agar sounds like something a molecular gastronomy food scientist would have and only they would know what to do with it. But the truth is, it is very easy to work with and readily available at your local Asian market, Whole Foods, and other natural foods stores.
Agar Agar is a jelly-like substance, derived from seaweed, with many uses. It's sold in stores as a powder or flake. It's most common use is as a vegan gelatin substitute, but can be used as a thickener or stabilizer for fruit preserves, ice cream, custards, or even soups. Agar agar has no flavor, odor or color, so it can be used in a variety of different foods.
Here is Agar Agar in flake form, purchased at Whole Foods.
Agar Agar is derived from red seaweed and is often referred to by its Japanese name, Kanten. Agar Agar is of Japanese origin and is commonly used in Asian desserts. It can be found in either powder form or flake form. It's important to note, however that the powder form is more powerful as a thickener than the flake form.
There are some texture differences between gelatin desserts and desserts thickened with Agar Agar. Agar Agar sets much more firmly than gelatin, so it won't give you the same soft, creamy texture. Agar has a bouncy snap when bitten into that I find quite appealing!
Trying Agar Agar in your own kitchen is easy! It's easy to make a vegan coconut "Panna Cotta" using Agar Agar.
Vegan Coconut "Panna Cotta"
1 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Agar Agar flakes
Place all ingredients in a small sauce pot, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat and pour into small ramakins or dessert bowls, and place in the refrigerator to set. It will take about an hour, depending on size of the bowls. Serves 2-4.
If you like this recipe, it will be the featured dessert at The Chopping Block's next Chef Dinner: Chiang Mai Feast with Chef Jason Garland and me at the Merchandise Mart on January 31!