If you’re trying a new recipe that calls for agar agar, you might be baffled if you’ve never used this powder before.
Even if you’ve used it in other recipes and happen to be out, you might not know if you have a suitable agar agar substitute in your pantry.
Good news! You probably have at least one agar powder substitute available that will make your recipe a winner.
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What Is Agar Agar?
Agar agar is a thickening agent made from red algae. Commonly called agar, this product comes as a powder or small flakes.
Few grocery stores carry agar, but health-food stores or stores stocked with vegetarian and vegan products usually sell it. Agar powder is also easy to purchase online.
What Is Agar Used For?
Vegans and vegetarians regularly use agar to thicken recipes as a plant-based alternative to gelatin, an animal-based food product.
You can use agar and gelatin powder interchangeably. Both products have thickening properties, they’re odorless and tasteless, and they create similar results in recipes.
Agar appears in vegetarian jelly, cheesecake, pudding, ice cream, and other dishes that need a thick, firm consistency.
What is a Good Substitute for Agar?
Next time your recipe calls for agar, but you don’t have any in your pantry, choose an agar agar substitute from this list of the seven best alternatives.
1. Vegan Jel
This product is a combination of ingredients designed to mimic the thickening and stabilizing effects of agar.
You can choose from several brands, but you might have to shop at a specialty store or online to find it.
Most brands contain things like xanthan gum , tapioca powder, and other ingredients to have the same effect in a recipe as regular gelatin powder.
Vegan Jel is the best agar agar substitute to use if you want the most gelatin-like consistency while still keeping the dish vegetarian and vegan. Use the same amount of this product as you would agar in the recipe.
2. Gelatin Powder
The next best substitute for agar agar in some recipes is gelatin powder. Gelatin powder is a reliable thickener that sets fast and firm.
Don’t use it if you want to keep the dish vegetarian or vegan, however.
This powder is created by boiling the remains of animals like bones, hooves, and skin. Boiling extracts the collagen thickens and solidifies after it’s mixed into wet ingredients and heated in recipes.
How to substitute gelatin for agar agar?
It depends on the specific recipe you’re making.
Agar is stable at higher temperatures than gelatin and is regularly used in dishes where it’s boiled, but gelatin will break down and lose its consistency at high heat.
Gelatin powder needs to dissolve in hot liquid, however. If the recipe calls for boiling the agar with other ingredients, remove the dish from the heat before adding gelatin.
If the recipe calls for thickening over heat until the dish reaches the desired consistency, gelatin won’t make a good agar powder substitute.
When using gelatin powder in place of agar, a similar amount as the recipe calls for will provide a soft set. Use up to double the amount of gelatin for a firmer texture.
Carrageenan is a product made from seaweed, so it’s naturally a good agar powder substitute. You can find carrageenan  online or in specialty and health-food stores in powder form.
Though you may never have heard of it, this ingredient is common in everyday foods like ice cream and yogurt.
Use kappa carrageenan in dishes that need to be set firmly, like gel desserts or cheeses. Iota carrageenan is a better choice for softer foods like puddings.
Add carrageenan to liquids and stir rapidly to dissolve before the liquid is heated. You may need to experiment with the amount because it can take two to three times more carrageenan than agar to achieve the same effect.
Pectin is a common ingredient in jams, jellies, and similar foods.
This fruit-based ingredient is easy to find in powdered form in most grocery stores. Look near the canning section where they sell canning jars and other supplies.
A 1.75 oz box of pectin is the equivalent of about four to five tablespoons of agar, so use that measurement to help you find the appropriate amount of this substitute for agar agar in your recipe.
Unlike some of the other choices here, pectin contains sugar, so it’s not suitable for use in savory recipes.
5. Xanthan Gum
Xanthan Gum is a common substitute for meringue powder and will work as a substitute for agar equally well.
Like carrageenan, xanthan gum is plant-based and already appears in many food products we eat every day, like dairy products, desserts, and salad dressings.
Most vegan gelatin substitutes contain xanthan or guar gum as one of their ingredients.
Xanthan gum comes in powdered form and works as an agar agar substitute on a 1:1 basis. Blend it into the liquid ingredients quickly to avoid clumping. Use a blender or hand mixer if possible.
“Can I use cornstarch instead of agar agar?” Yes, you can!
If you cook even occasionally, you probably have cornstarch in your pantry. This powder made from corn works to thicken gravies, soups, and puddings.
Cornstarch works best in recipes when mixed with a tiny amount of cold water to dissolve it before it’s added. Stirring it directly into hot liquid can cause it to clump.
If your recipe calls for agar powder, use an equal amount of cornstarch. If you’re using cornstarch as a substitute for agar agar flakes, use twice the amount of cornstarch to get a good result.
7. Arrowroot Powder
Arrowroot powder can also be a good agar replacement.
Cornstarch is easier to find in grocery stores, but many people prefer arrowroot because it comes from the arrowroot plant instead of corn, so it’s grain-free.
To substitute for agar agar, use twice the amount if the recipe calls for agar powder and four times as much if it calls for agar flakes.
FAQs About Agar Agar
Where to buy agar agar?
You can find it in your local grocery store, health food stores and even some Asian markets.
If you’re looking for a place that specializes in this ingredient, then check out an online retailer like Amazon or Vitacost.com where they have plenty of options at competitive prices.
Xanthan gum vs agar agar, what’s the difference?
The main difference between xanthan gum and agar agar is that xanthan gum can be used in hot liquids while agar-agar cannot.
Xanthan gum has a stronger binding power than agar, so it’s more suitable for thickening sauces or heavy cream.
Agar will work better when you want to create an airy texture in desserts like marshmallows or meringue.
Is agar agar vegan?
Agar-agar is made from seaweed and can be used to replace gelatin in recipes for both vegetarians and vegans.
It’s important to note that not all brands of agar-agar are vegan because some contain ingredients derived from animals like fish or shellfish.
How to substitute agar for gelatin?
Agar-agar is a vegan substitute for gelatin. It’s made from the cell walls of red algae, which makes it high in fiber and low in calories.
Using an equal ratio of 1 tsp. of agar powder per cup will give you similar results as what 1 tablespoon would do in place of gelatin.
If you need a substitute for agar agar, read the ingredients on the product for tips about using it in your recipe.
Most of these products come with instructions on using them as thickening agents to help you achieve recipe success.