Agar-agar, obtained from algae and also known as agar, is used for cooking and in research and science. In cooking, agar-agar is often used as a thickening agent, where it serves as a vegetarian substitute for gelatin, which is derived from animal products. In molecular biology, agar-agar has been used for many years as the basis for culture mediums in which many microorganisms are cultivated. Thanks to its special properties, it is even used for medical applications in some countries.
From Wikipedia: “Agar or agar-agar is a jelly-like substance, equivalent to vegan gelatin, obtained from algae. It was discovered in the late 1650s or early 1660s by Mino Tarōzaemon in Japan, where it is called kanten. ...
Throughout history into modern times, agar has been chiefly used as an ingredient in desserts throughout Asia and also as a solid substrate to contain culture media for microbiological work. Agar can be used as a laxative, an appetite suppressant, a vegetarian substitute for gelatin, a thickener for soups, in fruit preserves, ice cream, and other desserts, as a clarifying agent in brewing, and for sizing paper and fabrics.
The gelling agent in agar is an unbranched polysaccharide obtained from the cell walls of some species of red algae, primarily from the genera Gelidium and Gracilaria. For commercial purposes, it is derived primarily from Gelidium amansii. In chemical terms, agar is a polymer made up of subunits of the sugar galactose.”
“Agar-agar is a natural vegetable gelatin counterpart. White and semi-translucent, it is sold in packages as washed and dried strips or in powdered form. It can be used to make jellies, puddings, and custards. For making jelly, it is boiled in water until the solids dissolve. Sweetener, flavouring, colouring, fruit or vegetables are then added and the liquid is poured into molds to be served as desserts and vegetable aspics, or incorporated with other desserts, such as a jelly layer in a cake.
Agar-agar is approximately 80% fiber, so it can serve as an intestinal regulator. Its bulk quality is behind one of the latest fad diets in Asia, the kanten (the Japanese word for agar-agar) diet. Once ingested, kanten triples in size and absorbs water. This results in the consumers feeling fuller. This diet has recently received some press coverage in the United States as well. The diet has shown promise in obesity studies.
Agar-agar in specific countries:
“One use of agar in Japanese cuisine (Wagashi) is anmitsu, a dessert made of small cubes of agar jelly and served in a bowl with various fruits or other ingredients. It is also the main ingredient in mizu yōkan, another popular Japanese food. ...
In Russia, it is used in addition or as a replacement to pectin in jams and marmalades, as a substitute to gelatin for its superior gelling properties, and as a strengthening ingredient in souffles and custards. Another use of agar-agar is in ptich'ye moloko (bird's milk), a rich jellified custard (or soft meringue) used as a cake filling or chocolate-glazed as individual sweets. Agar-agar may also be used as the gelling agent in gel clarification, a culinary technique used to clarify stocks, sauces, and other liquids.
Mexico has traditional candies made out of Agar gelatin, most of them in colorful, half-circle shapes that resemble a melon or watermelon fruit slice, and commonly covered with sugar. They are known in Spanish as Dulce de Agar (Agar sweets)
Agar-agar is an allowed nonorganic/nonsynthetic additive used as a thickener, gelling agent, texturizer, moisturizer, emulsifier, flavor enhancer, and absorbent in certified organic foods.”
“Agar is used:
- As an impression material in dentistry.
- As a medium to precisely orient the tissue specimen and secure it by agar pre-embedding (especially useful for small endoscopy biopsy specimens) for histopathology processing
- To make salt bridges and gel plugs for use in electrochemistry.
- In formicariums as a transparent substitute for sand and a source of nutrition.
- As a natural ingredient to form modelling clay for young children to play with.
- As an allowed biofertilizer component in organic farming.
- As a substrate for precipitin reactions in immunology.
Gelidium agar is used primarily for bacteriological plates. Gracilaria agar is used mainly in food applications.
In 2016, AMAM, a Japanese company, developed a prototype for Agar-based commercial packaging system called Agar Plasticity, intended as a replacement for oil-based plastic packaging.”