Agar agar is a substance that is used as a food additive. It is made from sea vegetables and is also known as seaweed. It is a polysaccharide and can be used in puddings, pies, deserts, candies, jellies and yogurts. Agar agar can also stabilize fruit juice and when mixed with gelling agents it makes an excellent pudding. Properties range from mild to weak depending on the esterification of methyl (E-407) or propyl (E-416).
You might be familiar with agar-agar, or at least have heard of it and wondered what it is. You’ve probably seen it used in restaurants, has health benefits and is actually a pretty useful ingredient to have at home. So keep on reading to find out exactly what agar-agar (aka agar) is and what you can do with it!
What is agar agar?
Agar Agar is a gelatinous substance obtained from red algae. It’s used as a thickener, gelling agent and stabilizer in food.
Agar agar has a neutral flavor and dissolves easily in hot water. It doesn’t require refrigeration and can be used in both hot and cold applications.
Agar agar comes in two varieties: powder and flakes. The powder form has the best binding properties (it’s the one you’ll use most often), but it can take longer to dissolve than flakes or bars.
What is agar agar used for?
Agar agar is a gelatinous substance derived from seaweed. It’s often used as a vegan substitute for gelatin in gummy candies, marshmallows and other products. Other uses include:
Food. Agar agar is used in food items such as ice cream, candies and puddings to improve texture and stability. It’s also added to some Japanese soups for the same reason.
Cosmetics. Agar agar is used in cosmetics such as shampoo, facial masks and hair conditioner because of its ability to improve the texture of these products.
Medicine. Agar agar has been used for centuries by traditional healers in India and southeast Asia to treat diarrhea, dysentery and abdominal pain caused by bacterial infection. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved agar agar as a medicine or drug but has allowed it to be used as a dietary supplement since 1990.
What agar agar powder?
Agar Agar Powder is a vegetarian gelatin alternative made from seaweed. It is used in many Asian dishes to add texture and flavor. It can be used to make desserts, puddings, jellies and more.
It’s important to note that while agar agar powder is a good substitute for gelatin, it doesn’t have exactly the same properties. Agar Agar Powder is generally less gelatinous than gelatin, so you may need to use more when substituting it in recipes.
Is agar powder the same as agar agar?
Agar powder is a gelatinous substance derived from seaweed. It’s similar to agar agar, which is made from red algae. Both are used as thickeners and binders in food.
Agar agar and agar powder are interchangeable in recipes. They’re also both vegan. Though they’re derived from different sources, the two products have similar properties and cooking techniques.
Agar powder Vs agar agar: The differences
Agar powder is made by grinding up dried seaweed into flour-like particles that resemble fine sand. It’s sold primarily at Asian grocery stores, but you can also find it online if you search for “agar.”
Agar agar is a common ingredient in Japanese cooking because it’s easy to work with and makes sauces thick without using heavy cream or butter. Agar agar comes in bars or flakes that can be rehydrated with hot water before use (or dissolved directly into liquid).
Where does agar agar come from?
Agar agar is made from seaweed, specifically a species of red algae called Gelidium amansii. It’s found in the waters around Japan and Korea, and can also be cultivated in tanks.
Agar agar powder is made by drying and grinding the seaweed. The powder is then dissolved into hot water to make a gel that can be used in cooking or baking.
Agar agar comes in two forms: powdered and sheets. The powdered form dissolves more quickly than its sheet counterpart, but you’ll need to dissolve both before using them in your recipe (or else they’ll leave clumps).
What is agar agar made from?
According to the FDA’s definition above, it comes from red algae of the Rhodophyceae family. As a general rule, these algae belong to Gelidium and Gracilaria, both of which are used in commercially produced agar. Also called agarophytes, these seaweeds are made of agar.
A variety of this plant grows best at a temperature of 15-20°C, is difficult to cultivate, and is mostly harvested naturally in Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Japan, and Mexico. It is possible to extract strong-gelling agar directly from it.
Agar and agarose made from this seaweed are used in bacteriological and pharmaceutical applications.
Food grade agar can be produced from this plant. The plant needs temperatures of at least 20°C for three months of the year in order to grow.
Commercially, it is grown in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
The strength of a gel formed by these species once made them considered low quality. Nevertheless, later manufacturers discovered that this property can be improved with alkali treatment to remove sulfates.
What are agar agar made of?
This polysaccharide consists primarily of D- and L-galactose units. The sulfate ester group is present in every tenth unit of D-galactopyranose. As well as calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium cations, polysaccharides contain a number of other cations.
This mixture consists not only of two major polysaccharides, agarose and agaropectin, but also of other polysaccharides, some rich in sulfate and others in pyruvate.
Its composition depends on the source of seaweed and the production process.
Around 70% or more of the weight of agar is made up of this component. As well as providing gelling power, it is free of sulfates. Agar is composed of repeating units of disaccharide agarobiose, which is a disaccharide containing D-galactose, anhydro-L-galactose, and D-fructose.
The below is the agarobiose structure:
There is a non-gelling fraction that contains a sulfated polysaccharide which will affect the properties of solutions, the strength of gels, and other features of gels.
How is agar agar made?
Agar is a seaweed that grows in the ocean. It is harvested by cutting off the seaweed, drying it, and then grinding it into powder.
Following are the steps in the manufacturing process of agar powder:
Harvesting the agar seaweed: The harvesting process involves cutting off the agar seaweed, drying it, and grinding it into powder.
Drying the agar seaweed: After harvesting, the agar must be dried out completely before being ground into powder. Otherwise, moisture will not allow for proper grinding. This step can take anywhere from 2-10 days depending on how much moisture is left in the seaweed after harvest.
Grinding: This process can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours depending on how finely ground you want your final product to be. Grinding also depends on whether or not you are using an electric grinder or a manual grinder (like mortar and pestle).
Four types of Agar Agar
Food grade agar on the market can be classified into four types based on appearance and application. The four types are bar, strip (string), flake, and powder, respectively.
The majority of agar powder is used in industrial applications. Cooking mostly involves flakes, bars, and strips.
Strips and Bars
Traditionally, agar gel is frozen and thawed into strips and bars through a more traditional production method. Natural agar is sometimes used to describe them.
When cooled down, the gels are cut into square bars or extruded into 25-40 cm long strips. These types are mostly made from Gelidium and are commonly used at home to prepare traditional dishes. (G. O. Phillips and P. A. Williams, Handbook of hydrocolloids, 2000)
In order to cook these two forms, they must be soaked before softening, and then dissolved in boiling water. Recipes can later be made with other ingredients, such as sweeteners, colors, flavours, or fruits.
Flakes and Powder
Powders and flakes are smaller sizes that dissolve quickly in boiling water. Flakes may need to be soaked before cooking. Powdered forms are most commonly used.
|Agar, Gelose, Kanten, Ceylon, Chinese or Japanese isinglass
|Agar powder is white to yellowish-white or pale yellow, odorless
Cold water is insoluble; boiling water is soluble.
Agarose is responsible for the gel’s strength.
How to form a Gel
It is necessary to heat agar in order to make it completely soluble, and the solution will gel when cooled. There are no specific ions necessary for it to gel, unlike carrageenan. Also, it differs from high methoxyl pectin, whose gel is dependentar.
Low concentration is needed
It absorbs 20 times its weight in water and swells in cold water. After dissolving in hot water and cooling, it solidifies at a very low concentration (0.5%). If the concentration is below 0.1%, it cannot be gelled and becomes a viscous liquid.
Setting and melting point
At 32 * 42 °C, 1% agar solution solidifies, its gel has elasticity, and its melting point is 80 ~ 96 °C. The large difference between the gelling and melting temperatures makes it useful for many uses.
As opposed to gelatin gels, it is tasteless, odorless, and sets more firmly at room temperature. Around 35-40°C is the melting point for gelatin gels.
A reversible gel is produced by agarose when hydrogen bonds are formed, which makes the gel ‘physical’. It melts upon heating, but it gels again after cooling. The process can be repeated. Agar gel is known for its reversibility. The same characteristics can be found in gelatin as well. Food, microbiology, biochemistry, and many other fields can benefit from this advantage.
In contrast, ‘chemical gels’ are formed through covalent bonds that are irreversible through a chemical reaction.
The agaropectin in Gelidium makes Gelidium agar synergistic with locust bean gum (LBG). When LBG and Gelidium agar are mixed, the gel is stronger, more rigid and more elastic.
When used in products with a high sugar concentration (around 60%), such as jams and jellies, agar is synergistic with sugar.
What are the application of agar agar?
Its gelling properties make it a popular hydrocolloid. Most of the products on the market are used in food applications, while the remaining 10% are used in biotechnology and bacteriology.
Agar is often used in jelly, bakery and confectionery applications, as well as dairy products, beverage and meat products.
Jellies and other desserts that require gelling are the most common uses for agar.
In Asian countries, agar is a traditional and popular ingredient in jellies. Firstly, agar is boiled in water to make it completely soluble, then flavors, sweeteners, and fruits are added, and finally the mixture is poured into molds to form a jelly.
By stabilizing and thickening pie fillings, sugar icings, bread dough, cake glazes, coatings, and meringues, it tolerates high temperatures in the baking process.
As of today, Gracilaria agar is often used as an ingredient in confectionery products that contain a lot of sugar, such as fruit candies, gummies, gums, caramels, marshmallows, and so on.
Agar is used in dairy products such as yogurt, ice cream, cheese, chocolate, etc.
As an agent for clarifying and refining juices, beers, and wines, it acts as an emulsifier.
Meat and fish products can also be gelled with agar due to its melting temperature and gel strength.
According to the European Commission database for cosmetic ingredients and substances, it can be used for binders, masking agents, and viscosity control.
Due to its swelling properties, it is used as a mild laxative in the treatment of digestive tract malfunctions.
In bacterial culture media, agar is used for solidification.
Are agar agar safe to eat?
Yes, There are almost no side effects, and the safety has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
As an emulsifier or emulsifier salt, flavor enhancer, processing aid, thickener or stabilizer, surface-finishing agent, and texturizer, it is generally recognized as safe (GRAS).
It may be present in the following foods at the maximum levels approved:
- Baking mixes and baked goods: 0.8%
- Confections and frostings: 2.0%
- Soft candy: 1.2%
- All other food categories: 0.25%
According to Annex II and Annex III of Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 on food additives, Agar Agar (E 406) is categorized as “additives other than colours and sweeteners” in the European Union (EU).
Safety re-evaluation in 2016
In a refined exposure assessment for the reported uses of agar as food additive, EFSA found no evidence of genotoxicity, carcinogenicity, reproductive toxicity, or developmental toxicity.
The following foods may contain it:
- Unflavored live fermented cream and substitutes
- Sweetened chestnut puree and jam, jellies, and marmalades
- Vegetable or fruit spreads
- Specially formulated dietary foods
UK Food Standards Agency
This substance can be used as an emulsifier, stabiliser, thickener, and gelling agent.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand
Australia and New Zealand have approved it as an ingredient under code number 406.
JECFA (Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives)
Function: food additives, emulsifier and thickener.
Acceptable daily intake (ADI): Unlimited since 1973.
What are the side effects of agar agar?
Consumers often ask whether agar is harmful to our health and what its side effects are. It is understandable that consumers are concerned about the ingredients in their food. There are, however, few reports regarding agar’s health risks. It may cause allergies in some people.
In 2016, EFSA provided the following information:
- The woman, 64, suffered nausea, vomiting, and dysphagia after consuming an agar-based dessert.
- As a result of consuming a large amount of highly concentrated agar, a 70-year-old Japanese woman suffered abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
What is agar agar benefits?
Agar agar is an excellent source of fiber, which helps keep your digestive system healthy by preventing constipation and helping you feel full after eating a meal. It also contains calcium, magnesium and iron — all nutrients that are important for maintaining good bone health.
The American Heart Association recommends consuming at least 25 grams of fiber per day for women ages 19 to 50 years old and 38 grams per day for men in this age group. One tablespoon (5 grams) of agar agar provides 2 grams of fiber, so eating foods made with it can help you meet these fiber recommendations easily.
Frequently asked questions
Where can i find agar agar powder?
Agar agar powder has no taste or smell and is made from the same material as gelatin, but it doesn’t contain any animal products. It’s also highly soluble in hot water, making it an ideal thickener for dishes like puddings and custards.
You can find agar agar powder at most natural food stores or Asian markets. If you aren’t able to find it locally, many online retailers sell this ingredient online.
Is agar agar healthy?
Yes, agar agar is healthy! Agar agar is a healthy food because it’s low in calories, fat, and sodium. It has no cholesterol and no trans fat. It also contains fiber, iron, calcium and potassium.
Is it Natural?
Yes, Agar is natural since it occurs naturally in red algae (class Rhodophyceae).
Is it Halal?
Yes, According to Muslim policy, it is halal. The MUI Halal certification is also available from a number of suppliers.
Is it Kosher?
Yes, It is pareve kosher. In order for it to be certified as kosher, it has to meet all “kashruth” requirements.
Is it Gluten free?
Yes, Agar is gluten free because it contains no wheat, crossbreeds of these grains.
Is it Vegan?
Yes, The product is vegan. Animal matter or products derived from animal origin is not used in the raw materials or manufacturing process. It is often used as a meat substitute and gelatin replacement for vegetarian and vegan diets.
Is Agar Edible?
It is edible. It is possible that you think that the agar in bacteriological culture media is edible. It’s a two-grade system.
How to use Agar?
Normally agar must be dissolved in boiling water before use. For some food applications, agar is usually premixed with sugar, then slowly added to water to prevent clumps during dispersion.
In sum, E406 Agar Agar is not going to kill you. It’s safe for consumption in small amounts, and it’s definitely suitable for use in cooking. Apart from desserts, agar agar can be used as a gelling agent in marinades and to give body to things like dips and spreads. In other words, enjoy your desserts, but maintenance your health too.
Have you found this ingredient on any food labels? Is there anything I missed and what are your thoughts on this ingredient? Comment below and let me know what you think.