Imagine a clear, versatile, smooth-textured, and wildly useful gelling agent – that is, wait for it – also vegan, plant-based, low in saturated fats, and simply divine in any desert.

You’re imagining agar agar.

This traditional southeast Asian ingredient is starting to line the shelves in health food stores, Asian grocery shops, and even larger supermarkets – and there’s no surprise why. This gelling agent is the ultimate jelly-maker – whether that’s in a delicate mousse, a hearty soup, or even as simple jelly cubes – agar agar recipe is becoming more popular by the day.

But how does one cook with agar agar? How does it behave and what are its secrets? Here are five ways to cook with agar agar jelly.

I’m new here. What’s agar agar?

Agar agar is a gelling agent made from seaweed, which is dried, ground up into a powder. If you’ve used agar agar in your cooking before you’ll notice that it has no taste or smell. This actually makes it super useful as an ingredient as it doesn’t influence the flavours in any particular way. It’s also a great alternative to gelatine which is made from animal products.

1. Use agar agar as a thickener

Whether it’s in a soup or risotto, agar agar is an excellent thinking agent. Its natural thickening ability makes it an ideal ingredient in any homemade soup. Simply boil in the agar agar – making sure it has enough time to melt properly. Depending on what form your agar agar comes in – this time can vary. Typically agar agar sheets take about 10 minutes to be fully melted. Powdered agar agar will take about 5 minutes.

2. Agar Agar is the ideal jelly-maker

There’s nothing more delightful than a bowl of jelly.

Agar agar is the perfect ingredient for making delicious vegan jelly. It’s used in the same way as gelatine – in that it’s boiled/melted in with your favourite flavours and sweeteners and then let it set until you have superb wobbly jelly ready to eat. It can even be used to make your very own savoury jelly.

3. Use agar agar in puddings and cakes

Something you should know about agar agar is that it has a relatively high melting point. This makes it a firm and useful alternative to gelatine which can melt easily in hot temperatures. If you’re into making cheesecakes, jelly puddings, mousses, and the like – you’re going to love agar agar for its resilience to heat. In Australia, we know better than most how a warm summer’s day can affect an innocent birthday cake.

4. Use agar agar as a filling for desserts and baked goods

Custard tarts, bakery goods, and other confectionery is another realm where agar agar comes into its own. Whether you’re using jelly as a filler or adding it to jam, custards, glazes, sauces, or even ice creams – you can count on agar agar to deliver the perfect texture.

5. Use agar agar in savoury meals

Agar agar is as versatile as it gets. Savoury meals that need some thickening – and an egg, gelatin, or other gelling agent that isn’t available for desired, is where agar agar can save the day. Whether it’s a humble soup or a tasty quiche, agar agar is just as effective as any thickening agent.

Tips on cooking with agar agar

Switching to a plant-based alternative can be risky if you’ve never used it before or don’t have the experience. Here are some tips to help you cook with agar agar if it’s your first time:

  • Don’t expect the same texture as gelatin – once set, agar agar is firmer than gelatin and won’t be as creamy. This has its advantages on a hot day – when all you want is for the desert to hold together.
  • Remember that agar agar must first be dissolved in water or a liquid like milk and boiled – before it can work its magic. Agar agar is not something you can sprinkle on a salad or slide into a sandwich.
  • Try to use a set of sensitive scales when measuring out your agar agar powder. Adding only the smallest bit extra can have a large effect on your end result.
  • Always use the correct ratio depending on the type of liquid you’re working with. In neutral liquids, 0.9g of agar agar will set 100ml, and if you’re using an acidic liquid like juice use 1.3g per 100ml.

Where to buy agar agar?

These days agar agar is becoming increasingly sought after and can be found on the shelves of major supermarkets, health food shops and Asian grocers. However you can also find it online – and if you’re interested in cooking with 100% organic agar agar powder then you should do your research online before heading into the store.

If you’re ready to start your agar agar journey, then buy organic agar agar powder online today.