Agar agar powder is an essential ingredient if you want to make certain Asian candies or if you want a vegan gelling agent. The downside is that it is not a widely used ingredient, which means that you may not find it in most grocery stores. If you need something with the same properties right now, try one of the agar powder substitutes below.
Your best bet: Gelatin
If you have ever braised meat or reduced a stock and placed it in the refrigerator, you may have noticed that the liquids solidified into a jelly. This effect is caused by collagen in the cartilage and bones that gets dissolved as the meat and bones are boiled. It is this substance that is used to make the gelatin that you find in Jello and similar products.
Like agar agar powder, it is both colorless and odorless so it will not affect the flavors of your other ingredients. It is used to make marshmallows and is an essential ingredient in pannacotta. Gelatin has the benefit of being much easier to find when compared to agar agar powder as it is sold in most grocery stores. It will have a similar effect as agar agar powder in most liquids; however, you will need to refrigerate it in order for it to set. Another drawback to gelatin is that it is less nutritious than agar agar powder. Note that while you will need to boil agar agar powder to dissolve it completely, gelatin should not be boiled.
Use about three times the amount of gelatin when using it in place of agar agar powder.
A decent second choice: Pectin powder
Like agar agar powder, pectin’s sources are entirely vegetarian. One of the big issues that many people have with gelatin is that it is a meat product, which means that it is not suitable for vegans. Pectin comes from berries and some citrus fruit; it is the substance used to make the cell walls in fruit. It is best known as the thickener for jams and jellies and can provide the jelly texture that you want from an agar agar powder substitute.
Aside from the fact that it is rich in soluble fiber, pectin does differ from agar agar powder in that it does not provide much in the way of nutrition. It is low in calories and will provide the gelling that you need from an agar agar powder substitute. Pectin powder typically includes sugar (dextrose or sucrose), unlike agar agar powder. Both are typically used in sweet preparations, so the sugar content should not be a problem most of the time; however, pectin powder may not be an ideal substitute when following savory recipes.
Use a 1.59-ounce package of pectin in place of every 4 tablespoons of agar agar powder called for in your recipe.
In a pinch: Gelatin and pectin combination
Gelatin is often used in candy because it can provide an elastic, gummy texture. The big problem is that gelatin is not ideal on its own since it requires refrigeration. Pectin is often combined with it to increase shelf stability. The addition of pectin keeps the gelatin from breaking down at higher temperatures. Pectin also allows the mixture to set in less time.
Combine gelatin and pectin in a 3:1 ratio when using it as an agar agar powder substitute.
Guar gum is another vegetable-based gelling agent. It is often used as a replacement for gluten in gluten-free dough. It comes from the guar plant, which originates in India.
Carrageenan is similar to agar agar in that it is a seaweed-based gelling agent. Both come from seaweeds in the same Rhodophyta family, the plants from which they come are different. While carrageenan is widely used, there are potential negative health effects associated with its use.