Agar is the most commonly used product when converting a gelatin-based dish to a plant-based one. There is a common misconception that agar can replace gelatin at a 1:1 ratio. Unfortunately that is just not the case. Gelatin and agar are very different not only in their composition, but also in the type of gel they create. Often a direct replacement will end in disaster. Let’s talk about some of the differences between the gels, and:
“What is the best way to replace gelatin with agar?”
While both gelatin and agar can produce a clear gel, their textures differ. Gelatin in low ratios makes a soft gel, and in higher ratios makes a stretchy, chewy, bouncy, elastic gel. Gelatin will also melt at body temperature which adds to a unique mouthfeel experience. The low melting point allows you to taste more of the flavors. Agar, on the other hand, will always make a brittle gel. This means that the gel will break down into small pieces. Because of its high melting point the gel will not melt and you will feel those pieces when you eat an agar gel.
It is easier to replicate the soft texture of a gelatin dessert with low amounts of agar. If you are looking to replicate the texture of a gelatin panna cotta or jello you can start as low as 0.75% of the total weight of the recipe. Anything below this number the gel will not be strong enough to hold its shape. 0.75% means that if the total ingredients in a recipe weighs 1000 grams you will need 7.5 grams of agar. The same recipe made with gelatin would require twice that amount, so 15 grams of gelatin. If you used a 1:1 replacement in this recipe with 15 grams of agar, the panna cotta will be 2-3 times firmer than it should be.
Does that mean that conversion is as simple as halving the amount of gelatin? Unfortunately it’s not that easy. As the amount of agar increases the stiffness of the gel increases multifold. The best example of this would be gummies. There are recipes where 10% of the recipe is gelatin. If you attempt to use the same 10% or even 5% of a recipe with agar you will end up with a firm gel that is granular in texture. Compared to a jello texture you would only need 0.75% agar, for a gummy texture we recommend using 2-3% of the weight of the recipe. That works out to being 20-30 grams per every 1000 grams. When converting a recipe from gelatin to agar the general rule of thumb is always to start low and work upwards if need be.
Many customers ask for volumetric measurements when using these ingredients. While we do provide volumetric measurements in our recipes we recommend going with weight-based measurements where precision counts. Every teaspoon and tablespoon that is manufactured is slightly different in size. On top of that every scoop will be different depending on how densely it is packed, is it a level scoop or a heaping scoop? With agar the variation of a few grams can make a big difference in the final dish.
So the next time you’re looking to replace gelatin with agar, keep the information above in mind as a guideline to success with your recipe. And for a great agar recipe check out this link.