Vegetable 'gelatin' derived from a number of
seaweeds (Gelidium amansii) which are processed by boiling and drying.
Agar-agar is used as a quick setting base for many sweets and desserts in
Asia. Refrigerators are a luxury many people in Asia do not have, and
agar-agar's chief advantage is that it will set without refrigeration and
not melt down in tropical heat. It is also used as a finishing glaze.
Agar-agar is more readily available in Asia than gelatin. It also has the
advantage of being 'halal', so it is acceptable to Muslims while gelatin,
derived from animals, is not.
Purchasing and storing : Refined agar-agar
is purchased as fine white powder in small packets, or extruded into large
square sticks (sometimes colored) which the Japanese call kanten, or fine,
crinkly strands (usually in bundles bound with pink raffia ties) in long
cellophane packets. These strands are used, soaked in cold water and
softened, as a texture ingredient to supplement the very expensive bird's
nest in soups, and also as an addition to cold platters or salads in
Chinese cuisine. Dried forms of agar-agar will keep indefinitely in an
Preparation : Quantities should be
measured carefully, depending on the result required. Each form of
agar-agar needs a different approach. If using powder, sprinkle it over
the surface of the measured water in a saucepan, bring to the boil, and it
should dissolve in a few minutes of simmering. If using strands or sticks,
soak in cold water for an hour, drain, bring to the boil in the measured
amount of water and simmer until dissolved.
Sugar, flavoring and coloring are added and
it sets as a firm jelly without refrigeration, even in tropical climates.
It is the base for the famous Almond Bean Curd, Coconut Jelly, Awayuki and
numerous other sweets throughout Asia.