If you're familiar with gluten free baking or use thickening agents for higher temperature cooking, you might have used agar agar. In this post, we'll talk about what exactly it is, and ten agar agar substitutes that will work great as vegan substitutes and animal product substitutes.
Agar Agar Substitutes: Key Take-Aways
For best results when using a substitute for agar agar, use one of these products that will produce similar results:
Best Alternatives: Gelatin, cornstarch, and pectin powder are some of the best substitutes for agar agar powder.
Good Substitutes: Xanthan gum, arrowroot powder, tapioca starch, guar gum, cassava flour, carrageenan, and vegan Jel are also good alternatives for agar agar powder.
What is Agar Agar?
Agar agar is a white powder made from seaweed that is used to create elasticity in gluten free baked goods. It's also used in cooking as a thickener. It's very similar to gelatin, but since it comes from the red algae variety of seaweed, it is known as a vegan gelatin substitute. Agar agar is typically available in powder form and just needs to be dissolved in hot water to be activated and become a gel-like substance. It's an excellent ingredient to have on hand, especially if you are gluten free and/or vegan.
How to Use Agar Agar
Since agar agar comes in powder form, it needs to be activated before it is used in a recipe. To activate agar agar powder, simply dissolve the needed amount (usually measured in teaspoon measurements) in hot liquid, typically boiling water.
What is Agar Agar Used For?
Agar agar is a vegan substitute used to provide stability and elasticity in baked goods, and also to thicken things like sauces, dressings, puddings, and jellies. It can be used in a variety of dishes that call for gelatin powder, since it has the same gel-like, thickening properties.
Is Agar Agar the Same as Gelatin?
Agar agar and gelatin have similar properties and both work well in cooking and baking as thickeners or to provide elasticity. The main difference between the two is what they are derived from. Gelatin is an animal product; it's made from animal collagen, while agar agar is a plant-based alternative, made from seaweed. These two ingredients serve the same purpose, but if you're looking for a vegan alternative, you can use agar agar.
Is Agar Agar the Same as Pectin Powder?
Agar agar and pectin are different ingredients but have some similarities. While they are both often used as thickening agents, pectin powder is a type of starch that is derived from fruit. It's commonly used in jellies and jams to thicken them and give a jelly-like texture. Another big difference between pectin and agar agar is their taste. While agar agar is flavorless, pectin is sweet. So pectin isn't the best choice for savory recipes.
10 Best Agar Agar Substitutes
1. Gelatin (unflavored)
Unflavored gelatin is a wonderful substitute for agar agar. As long as you don't need a vegan option, gelatin is probably the closest ingredient to agar agar. They are both powders that create a gel-like texture. Only a small amount of gelatin is needed to contribute to the structure and elasticity of gluten free baked goods, like in this gluten free potato bread recipe. The main differentiator between the two is what they're made of. Unlike agar agar, gelatin is made from animal collagen. So if you're looking for a vegan agar agar substitute, choose one of the other options below.
Substitute gelatin for agar agar powder at a 1 to 1 ratio.
Cornstarch is another great option, and one that you most likely already have at home. This ingredient's name says it all: cornstarch is a starchy powder made from corn. It's popular in cooking for thickening sauces and soups, and it's even used in gluten free baking to help with structure and a tender texture. When using it as a substitute (find out more about corn flour substitutes here), make sure to activate it by mixing it with boiling water just like you would with agar agar.
Substitute cornstarch for agar agar at a 1 to 1 ratio.
Pectin typically comes in a powder form, and is made from fruit. Pectin is found in the cell walls of some fruits, and is responsible for supporting the structure of the fruits. It is often used when making jellies and jams because it gives them their signature gel-like consistency. This property makes pectin an excellent substitute for agar agar. Before you use this substitute, know that pectin contains sugar. So it won't be a great option for something that's not supposed to be sweet.
Substitute pectin powder for agar agar powder at a 3 to 1 ratio.
4. Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum is a fermented corn polysaccharide that is often used in salad dressings, sauces, and even ice cream. It works well as a thickener, but not so much for creating the same gel consistency as agar agar. It will still work as an agar agar substitute for gluten free baking, just don't try to use it for jellies or gelatin-based desserts. Find out more about substituting xanthan gum here.
Substitute xanthan gum for agar agar powder at a 1 to 1 ratio.
5. Arrowroot Powder
Arrowroot powder is a fine powder made from the root of the arrowroot plant. It performs similarly to cornstarch, so it's often used as a thickener and stabilizer. In gluten free baking it is either used on its own or as part of a blend of gluten free flours, and it creates a light, soft texture in baked goods. When using it in place of agar agar, arrowroot powder doesn't need to be activated in boiling water.
Substitute arrowroot powder for agar agar at a 2 to 1 ratio.
6. Tapioca Starch
Tapioca starch (also known as tapioca flour) is a fine powder that is made from the starchy pulp of the cassava root. It has a neutral flavor and wonderful binding properties, which makes it a staple in gluten free baking. Since it is so starchy, it's great for replacing agar agar in recipes that need a thickener. Just note that it doesn't mix well with acidic ingredients like citrus.
Substitute tapioca starch for agar agar powder at a 2 to 1 ratio.
7. Guar Gum
Guar gum is is a binding agent similar to xanthan gum. It is made from guar beans, and is popular in gluten free baking to bind and thicken baked goods like bread. Guar gum is actually a cheaper alternative to xanthan gum, too. Since it's so similar to xanthan gum and agar agar, it has rightfully earned its place on this list! Unlike the others on this list, it only takes a tiny bit of guar gum to get the job done.
Substitute ½ teaspoon of guar gum for 1 teaspoon of agar agar powder.
8. Cassava Flour
Cassava flour is similar to arrowroot powder because it's made from the arrowroot plant. It's made when the whole root of the arrowroot plant is peeled, dried, and ground into a powder. Cassava flour is often used in gluten free baking to make cakes, brownies, and these cassava flour cookies. It's also great for thickening sauces and soups. Because of these thickening properties, it can be used in place of agar agar.
Substitute cassava flour for agar agar powder at a 1 to 1 ratio.
Carrageenan has similar origins to agar agar, as it is made from seaweed. The difference is the type of seaweed. Carrageenan specifically comes from red seaweed, but it has the same gelling and thickening traits as agar agar. Irish moss powder (found here) is a natural source of carrageenan. It is a popular choice for stabilizing and preserving plant milks, but can also work well in gluten free recipes instead of agar agar. Carrageenan can be found online here or in most health food stores.
Substitute carrageenan for agar agar powder at a 1 to 1 ratio.
10. Vegan Jel
Vegan Jel is exactly what the name suggests: a vegan gelatin alternative. For the purpose of making vegan gelatin-based desserts, this is a great option. Vegan Jel comes in powder form and is activated by boiling water just like agar agar. So if you're making a dessert that requires this kind of consistency and you don't have agar agar, this is a great replacement.
Substitute vegan jel for agar agar powder it at a 1 to 1 ratio.
Agar Agar Powder Substitute FAQs
Although they have similar properties that create a gel-like consistency, they are different products. Agar agar is made from seaweed, while gelatin is made from animal collagen. They can substitute for each other!
Agar agar is similar to pectin, but not the same! Pectin does the same job of thickening and creating a jelly-like texture, but it is actually made from certain fruits! Pectin can be used as an agar agar substitute, just remember pectin contains sugar. So make sure you use it in sweet dishes!