Agar agar is a gelling agent derived from red algae.
It’s mainly used in vegan recipes like jelly and cakes to replace gelatin.
Finding agar agar is fairly easy now, but if you don’t have it on hand for a recipe, there are a few alternatives.
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What Does Agar Agar Do?
Ingredients like gelatin and agar agar are thickeners. They both happen to give the food that they are added to a more jelly-like texture.
While gelatin is more popular in Western cultures, agar has long been used in Asian foods like soups, desserts, and even brewing.
The Best Plant-Based Substitutes for Agar Agar
You can substitute any of the following ingredients in a 1:1 ratio (e.g. 1 tbsp of either gum for 1 tbsp of agar agar).
They won’t give you quite the same “jelly” texture as agar agar, but will thicken up your food.
I’d recommend looking for the first 2 options first, as carrageenan is usually harder to find.
1. Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum is a relatively new ingredient, not discovered until 1968. It’s made by fermenting a specific type of bacteria (that’s found on leafy vegetables like broccoli), and research in both North America and Europe shows it’s very safe for consumption.
It’s used as a thickener in recipes, and can be substituted for agar agar powder in a 1:1 ratio with pretty good results.
While it’s easy to find, xanthan gum is also fairly expensive, but one small bag will last you quite a while.
2. Guar gum
Guar gum is a natural thickener that’s derived from guar beans (grown mostly in India).
It’s usually used as a gluten-free alternative to wheat flour in many recipes, but can also be used as a fairly good substitute for agar agar.
Due to its high soluble fiber content, guar gum is often sold as a “health” product.
Carrageenan is a very good plant-based substitute for gelatin and agar agar, but also seems to be one of the most controversial ingredients that exists.
It’s also derived from seaweed like agar agar, but there are serious health concerns that aren’t proven 100% one way or another.
I’m not going to go over it all here, but the gist of it is that it seems to be safe in relatively small amounts, but there are concerns over consuming a lot of it. Here’s a more detailed look at the safety of carrageenan if you want to learn more.
4. Corn or Tapioca Starch
If you’re desperate, there’s 1 final option: starch. Either corn starch or tapioca starch can do in a pinch. Arrowroot powder functions the same way as well.
They are both used to thicken up liquids (like in vegan heavy cream substitutes).
It’s a bit more time consuming of a substitution though.
Note that tapioca starch also goes by the name of “tapioca powder.”
- Start with a 2:1 ratio, so 2 tbsp of corn or tapioca starch for each tbsp of agar agar flakes or powder.
- Then, mix it with water in a 1:1 ratio. For example, 2 tbsp of cornstarch should be whisked together with 2 tbsp of water. Then add it to your recipe.
If your recipe isn’t thickening up enough, add more starch to it, but do it in very small increments.
Common Questions About Cooking With Agar Agar
Here are a few questions I’ve been emailed referencing this page that you might also have.
Can You Substitute Agar Flakes for Agar Powder?
Depending on where you’re shopping, you may only find agar agar flakes, and not the powder.
While you can use agar flakes in recipes that call for agar powder, you can’t use it in the same ratio (i.e. not a 1:1 substitution).
While it depends on the brand, in general you’ll find that one tablespoon of agar flakes is equal to one teaspoon of agar powder.
Is Agar Agar a Good Substitute for Gelatin?
When it comes to gelatin substitutes, the 2 best options are pectin and agar agar. Pectin is arguably the best gelatin substitute, and is derived from fruit. However, agar agar is also a very good direct substitute, and does a good job in most recipes.
Where Can You Buy Agar Agar?
You can find agar agar in most grocery stores either in the “health” or baking aisles. In some stores it’s in the Asian or international aisles.
Additionally, agar agar powder can be found at most bulk stores, or online from Amazon or Walmart.