Agar Vs Gelatin What's The Difference

Agar vs. Gelatin – What’s the Difference?

This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links, at no cost to you.

When making desserts such as mousse, ice cream, or puddings, we can use Gelatin or Agar. Both of these compounds have different properties and have different textures after they settle. So, the question arises, “Which one should I use?”.

Culinary experts take this question very seriously. They believe that using the right ingredient based on accurate ingredient knowledge is essential to making the perfect dish. The amount of Agar and Gelatin used in a dish varies depending on which one you are using; experts usually use a chemist’s spatula to measure the amount of Agar or Gelatin.

Other than their uses in the culinary world, Agar and Gelatin is also being used in other fields such as microbiology, pharmaceutical industry, and agriculture. For instance, according to a study done at mdpi by Jyoti Chaudry and Sourabh Thakur, it was revealed that Agar and Gelatin could be used to increase the moisture-holding capacity of soil by 10 – 30 times. These findings show us how beneficial Gelatin and Agar are.

Now, let’s take a deeper look into these two incredible ingredients, their uses, and their nutritional values.

Agar 

Agar is a polymer, which means that it has the same chemical repeated in its structure repeatedly. In the case of Agar, this chemical is a polysaccharide (sugar). Agar is derived from red seaweed and is available as strips, powder form, or as flakes.

Agar, also called agar agar or Kanten, has its roots in south-east Asia, where it is used as a thickening agent in various recipes. It wasn’t until recently that Agar was brought to the west, where it found diverse applications in food, microbiological testing, and electrochemistry. Today, Agar is easily available at your local health food store or a Chinese, Korean, or Indian food store.

How to use  

Using Agar is quite simple. But it would be best if you kept in mind that you can’t simply add the agar powder or flakes directly into the food mixture. There are several steps you need to make to ensure that the Agar is activated.

Here is the brief procedure:

  • Add 1 tsp of powdered Agar or 1 tablespoon of Agar flake in 4 tablespoons of warm water.
  • Then bring the mixture up to its boiling temperature.
  • Simmer the mixture for 1 – 5 minutes if you are using powder and 10 – 15 minutes using flakes.
  • Now mix with other warmed ingredients that you have prepared in a mixer and let it sit and cool.

It is best to follow the instructions given on the package on how much Agar you should use. But as a rule of thumb, don’t use more than 1tsp of agar powder and 1 tablespoon of flakes for one cup of any liquid.

Uses

Agar is famously used in many recipes around the world as a thickening agent. It is used in soups, jellies, jams, and other desserts. In the west, it is usually considered one of the best substitutes for Gelatin. This is because Agar is plant-based, while Gelatin is made from animal sources.

People who follow a vegan diet can use Agar as a binding agent, meaning they can replace eggs and dairy with Agar in their recipes. Agar is also a great emulsifier or stabilizer (Emulsifiers are used to mix two immiscible liquids), which has great utility in the food manufacturing industry.  

Health benefits of Agar

As Agar is a plant-based food, most people automatically assume it is healthy or has numerous health benefits, but that’s not true. Agar essentially contains nothing more than fiber. It has no calories, no micro and macronutrients, and it doesn’t even have a taste or smell.

The only benefit one can derive from Gelatin is from its fiber content. Fiber is essential for humans as it helps improve our gastrointestinal health. Fiber absorbs moisture and glucose from our GI rack hence reducing the rate at which our insulin levels and blood glucose rises. Additionally,  Researchers at Marine drugs have found that Agar can potentially have anti-colon cancer and prebiotic activities.

Now that we have discussed Agar in detail let’s talk about Gelatin.

Gelatin

Gelatin is just cooked collagen. Different raw materials are used to extract collagen, but the most famous one is pork skin and bones. Other commonly used materials include animal bones, tendons, ligaments, and skin, all collagen-rich materials.

But recently, researchers have found an alternate collagen source derived from plant hydrocolloids and labeled as veggie-gelatin. This is a revolutionary finding and good news for people following a vegan diet.

Uses

Gelatin has been used in the culinary world for a long time. It is a famous ingredient in the products you find at grocery stores, including ice cream, frozen yoghurt and marshmallows. Most people, as well as brands, use it as a thickening and binding agent.

What’s even cooler about Gelatin is that the pharmaceutical industry also uses it to make capsules for drug-delivery purposes. Gelatin is also found in the list of ingredients used in making Makeup and various cosmetic products.

Health benefits of Gelatin

Gelatin can be considered more nutrient-dense than Agar as it is packed with proteins and has good amounts of the amino acids Lysine and alanine. Both of these amino acids are important. Arginine helps produce creatine in our body, and Lysine is an essential amino acid that has various functions in our body ranging from muscle production to energy generation.

Additionally, as Gelatin is made from animal bones and cartilage, it also has a good supply of calcium in it. According to the USDA, 100g of Gelatin contains 3g of calcium. Gelatin is also a major source of collagen, which helps our body in wound healing and improves our nail and hair health.

Key differences between Gelatin and Agar

Here is a list of the key difference between the two products:

  1. Gelatin can be used as it is, but Agar must be boiled first.
  2. Once set, both have a different texture: Gelatin is smooth and velvety, while Agar is chewy and gummy.
  3. Agar is cloudier and sets up more firmly.
  4. Agar is a better gelling agent than a thickening agent.

Sources