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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 airtight container.

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.

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