Life was much easier back then.
We had no smartphones to distract us from life. Our planet wasn’t trying to kill us.
And we simply had gelatin. That’s all… nothing fancy.
Then, somewhere during the 90s, came molecular gastronomy, Michelin stars, and chefs became the new rockstars.
And here we are, with Xanthan gum, Carrageenan, Agar-Agar, Pectin, Vegan Jel, Sodium Citrate, Starches, Arrowroot, Tapioca, Konjac, Maltodextrin.
It’s no wonder that regular folks have no idea when and how to use them. To make your life easier, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of agar agar substitutes.
Save it, then pull it up anytime you need some fancy gel in your life.
But first, let’s see what Agar Agar has to offer.
What is Agar Agar?
Agar-Agar is a type of hydrocolloid made from red algae. It’s the single most popular vegan gelatin alternative. (*)
It comes in many forms; flakes, bars, powder, and threads, and is added to a variety of dishes as a versatile thickening agent and stabilizer.
Some people experience an odd film on their tongue and palate after eating agar agar. This jellifying substance is PH sensitive in acidic ingredients, and usually brittle.
Its flavor release is the worst among gelatin substitutes. This refers to how much flavor you can experience in your mouth from the ingredients retained by agar agar.
Knowing the pros and cons, let’s see where we use them to find the best agar agar substitutes.
What is Agar Agar used for?
It’s a vegan cooking staple that can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. It can be substituted for gelatin in a 1:1 ratio.
We consider it a relatively new ingredient in the Western world. It has, however, been used in Asian cuisine for decades.
Agar agar can be found in vegan cheeses, desserts, jams, puddings, soups, and as a thickening agent in almost anything.
It’s one of those unusual ingredients that, once you get used to it, quickly become a household staple.
Let’s see the best alternatives then!
The Best Agar Agar Substitutes with Surprising ingredients!
On our list, there are several “new” hydrocolloids, as they were invented in recent years.
Understandably, some people are hesitant to use chemicals when cooking.
However, everything we recommend is derived from natural substances and is perfectly safe to consume.
Let’s see what Agar Agar substitutes we can work with.
Made from corn grains, it’s gluten-free and, naturally, vegan as well. Widely available, corn starch is a convenient substitute for agar agar.
However, it’s not suitable for all recipes. It is primarily useful as a thickening agent and should not be used in jellies or gels.
We recommend adding it to ice cream, curries, stews, sauces, and soups, and you have to activate it by boiling.
Cornstarch is rarely used in fine dining because it dilutes the flavor somewhat and can sludge. However, they still use it to add tenderness and a creamy feel to dishes and cookies.
- 1 tbsp Agar Agar Flakes = 2 tbsp Cornstarch
- 1 tbsp Agar Agar powder = 1 tbsp Cornstarch
#2. Arrowroot Powder
Arrowroot powder, like cornstarch, is extracted from a plant, the arrowroot of West India.
In contrast to cornstarch, it is not only gluten-free but also grain-free. In addition, arrowroot powder is healthier.
We recommend using it in gravy, sauces, and some desserts in the same way that cornstarch is, but primarily as a thickening agent instead of jelly.
You need considerably more from Arrowroot than from agar agar.
- 1 tbsp Agar flakes = 4 tbsp Arrowroot powder
- 1 tbsp Agar powder = 2 tbsp Arrowroot powder
After starches, the next Agar Agar replacement is a relatively new invention.
Learn more: What Can I Substitute for File Powder?
#3. Xanthan Gum
Xanthan Gum is a thickening agent similar to starches.
Because it is made from fermented sugar, it does not harden as much as Agar Agar. It is, however, a gluten-free stabilizer.
This vegan option is used in many commercial goods and is also more difficult to find.
We think it’s best used in condiments, syrups, sauces, soups, jellies, panna cotta, cheesecakes, and ice cream. It has no impact on flavor, whereas agar agar tones it down slightly.
If you use too much, the food can become mucous-textured. Another downside is that it’s not a price-friendly alternative to agar agar.
Xanthan Gum activates instantly without any heat processing. On the other hand, it clumps up on its own, so it’s best to blend it into food or vigorously stir it.
Alternatively, after adding Xanthan Gum to sauces, strain them to remove clumps.
- 1 tbsp Agar powder = 1 tbsp Xanthan Gum
The next Agar Agar substitute is used more like a jelly than a thickening agent.
Carrageen is also known as Irish moss because it is derived from seaweed in the same way that Agar Agar is.
It’s frequently listed as an ingredient in puddings, mousses, yogurt, jellies, cakes, panna cotta, and some ice creams.
As mainly a dessert additive, it is rarely used in savory products. Carrageen has a softer mouthfeel than agar agar, and when eaten, it melts slightly.
In health food stores, you can buy kappa or iota Carrageen. Kappa is a firm setting gel for gels, cheeses, and jellies. Iota is used in softer desserts such as puddings, ice cream, and mousse.
It is not necessary to heat it; simply add it to liquids and stir. To achieve the same consistency, use two or three times as much carrageen as agar agar.
- 1 tbsp Agar agar powder = 3 tbsp Carragen
Our next candidate for agar agar substitute is a more complex additive.
#5. Vegan Jel
Unlike the previous four agar agar substitutes, Vegan Jel contains a variety of thickening and gelling agents.
As a commercial alternative to gelatin and agar agar, it has tapioca, xanthan gum, potassium citrate, acids, veggie gum, and some other ingredients.
It is suitable for vegan meals and is ideal for soft cakes, puddings, panna cotta, mousses, and jellies.
Using it is quite easy; simply mix it with water. What’s the best part? It has the same consistency as regular gelatin.
- 1 tbsp Agar Agar = 1 ½ tbsp Vegan Jel
Our next agar agar substitute is for those who prefer their meals “au naturel.”
Vegans can skip this section completely. Gelatin is not a viable option for them because it is made from animal collagen derived from skin, bones, and ligaments.
Gelatin is quite healthy when you consider how much protein and amino acids it has.
It’s the first choice for most chefs for improving food consistency, creating gel-like substances, and solidifying creams.
Gelatin sets quickly and adds the most firmness of any hydrocolloid on this list. When working with gelatin, we recommend adding 20% more liquid.
It is softer than agar agar, melts easier in the mouth, and crumbles nicely. We believe that tarts are the best way to use gelatin.
When using it as an agar agar substitute, however, never boil it.
- 1 tbsp Agar Agar powder = ⅔ tbsp Gelatin powder
The power of veggies continues with our next agar agar substitute, Guar Gum.
#7. Guar Gum
The guar bean-fueled Guar Gum, also known as Guaran, is significantly sweeter than the other substitutes on this list.
Guar gum is found in many foods, including ice cream, pudding, yogurt, creams, and salad dressings.
Want to know what the best part is? It’s good for your heart and gut health, and it’s gluten-free.
Unlike the previous agar agar substitutes, Guar Gum can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.
You can add it to cakes, creams, custards, vegan cheeses, soups, and sauces. Besides thickening, it’s used in wheat flour, commercial pizzas, and baked goods.
- 1 tbsp Agar Agar powder = 1 tbsp Guar Gum
Moving forward, the next substitute is more of a thickening agent.
#8. Cassava Flour
Cassava plant, like arrowroot, is a gluten-free agar agar substitute. For gravies and baked goods, as well as an all-purpose texture enhancer.
As the name suggests, it’s not suitable for making jelly, pudding, or any clear substances. More specifically, it’s a creaming substance to get a firm shape and mouthfeel.
- 1 tbsp Agar Agar powder = 1 ½ Cassava Flour
If you’re not a pro chef, the next one is probably new for you.
This less-known ingredient is a soy protein stabilizer. It has very specific uses, but they are unrivaled.
You can make a meringue out of anything with Versawhip. Alternatively, you can dehydrate it with ingredients to make it crispy. The versatility is real with this one!
In upscale restaurants, it is combined with a whip of xanthan gum to stabilize creams. To get the best results, keep it cold.
- 1 tbsp Agar Agar powder = ½ tbsp Versawhip
The next one on our list has one main purpose: cheese!
#10. Sodium Citrate
Have you ever tried heavenly vegan cheeses, or sauces? It was made with sodium citrate.
Unfortunately, you can’t find it in grocery stores, but you can buy it from Amazon.
It thickens vegan cheese to just the right consistency. Also, with a smaller dose, great to make cheese sauces.
- 1 tbsp Agar Agar powder = 1 ½ tbsp Sodium Citrate
It can be a wild ride when you first try molecular gastronomy. The ideas of textures and the complexity of flavors widens dramatically. (*)
These hydrocolloids can help you get a head start on your adventure. Learning how each works best is not easy, but you can always save our guides and get back to them as needed.
Our favorite thickening agent mixture is a 24:4:1 ratio of agar agar, xanthan gum, and cornstarch. This, we believe, works best in all recipes.
Experiment with foams, spherification, and gels!