Gelling agents are used in numerous dishes and so far gelatine has mostly been used. However, this is not an option for vegetarian and vegan diets and plant-based alternatives are therefore increasingly in demand. One of them is agar-agar, which is made from algae.
In Asian cuisine, agar-agar has been used to prepare food for centuries, and the gelling agent is now available in many supermarkets, drugstores and health food stores in this country too. There are some important details to know about agar-agar.
Algae gelling agent
The vegetable gelling agent is obtained from dried algae, with red algae often being used. A powder is formed which can be used as a tasteless thickening agent and which, in combination with liquids, assumes a gelatinous consistency.
However, agar-agar only develops its binding effect after it has been boiled and then cooled. The binding capacity is significantly higher in relation to gelatine, but it can vary greatly depending on the base liquid.
In water, the binding power is assumed to be up to ten times higher than that of gelatine, while the binding power of agar-agar decreases in acidic and greasy liquids. Finding the right dosage can therefore be a bit more difficult depending on the food in question.
Proper consistency is important
In the case of food for small children in particular, however, the consistency of the food that is subsequently achieved can play a role.
Because, as the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) (then still the Federal Institute for Consumer Health Protection and Veterinary Medicine) explained in an older report on the dangers of suffocation when consuming jelly products, such a mass may not melt in the mouth and cannot be crushed with the tongue, what could pose a risk of swallowing.
For this reason, too, the European Commission banned the placing on the market of jelly confectionery with agar-agar in mini-cups as early as 2004.
So test the correct dosage
It is therefore advisable to test the consistency that is achieved at the end. For this purpose, a small sample of the liquid boiled with agar-agar is placed on a plate that is as cool as possible. If it remains too liquid after cooling for a few minutes, more agar-agar can be added. If the sample is too solid, more liquid is required.
Help for the dosage can also often be found in the packaging information. And it should also be noted that agar-agar can have a laxative effect in high doses.
importance in medicine
Agar-agar also plays a role in medicine that should not be underestimated, since agar-agar plates have been used as a nutrient medium for bacterial cultures in laboratories for over a hundred years and offer significant advantages (e.g. higher temperature resistance) compared to other media.
Other possible uses
In addition, agar-agar can also be used to produce biodegradable packaging, as shown by a study by a Brazilian research team, the results of which were published in the specialist journal “Biomolecules”.
The possible uses of the gelling agent from algae seem to be far from exhausted and agar-agar could offer much more than “just” a plant-based substitute for gelatine. (fp)