Food on Friday - what you need to know about agar jelly

Guava jelly with kiwi berries. Photo Crystal Jones / NewsMail
Guava jelly with kiwi berries. Photo Crystal Jones / NewsMail Crystal Jones

ASIAN desserts in all their forms have long been an interest of mine.

I say interest, because true Asian desserts are still relatively unknown throughout the west.

Many are based on coconut, rice flour, sesame and mung beans and seem to have a wholesome quality.

Agar is another ingredient common in Asian sweets. 

It forms the basis of the Japanese sweet slice called yokan as well as a whole range of other bite-sized delights.

Sometimes it is used simply to apply a jelly layer to fruits or the tops of cakes. 

Agar jelly has a number of uses but it doesn't mean you need to get too complicated in the kitchen to enjoy it.

A whole range of instant agar jelly powders are available from Asian grocery stores and I've found them to be easy, enjoyable and made in a delicious range of flavours different to what we might find on the usual supermarket shelf.

Agar, a tasteless setting agent derived from seaweed, has a distinctive texture which is different to gelatine-based jellies that are made from animal bones and hooves. 

My favourite way to prepare agar jellies is simply to make them according to the packet directions and add some fruit for variety. 

Each brand is a little different in terms of flavour strength and texture once set, but discovering their different tastes gets to be part of the fun. 

Benefits of agar based jellies:

  • They won't melt in the heat, making them more suitable for lunch boxes and picnics.
  • They don't need to be refrigerated to set.
  • They set quickly once they're cool, meaning it's easier to make layered jellies without having to wait for long periods for layers to set.
  • They come in an impressive range of flavours, depending on the brand. Some flavours include: Orange, banana, lychee, apple, chocolate, raspberry, melon, guava, green tea, mango, coconut and unflavoured.
  • Some brands come without added sugar, meaning you can add sugar to taste and know exactly how much you're consuming.
  • Most agar jelly contains more fibre than the gelatine versions. 
  • They are suitable for vegetarians and vegans and the sugarless varieties could be helpful for diabetics. 

What are the differences between agar and gelatine jellies?

  • Agar jelly generally has a much firmer texture. Sometimes, they can be a little chewy.
  • The flavourings in some agar jellies are sometimes not as strong as the gelatine varieties, though it really does depend on the brand.

Where to get it:

  • Agar jelly can be found in most Asian supermarkets or online in a variety of brands and flavours from a range of countries across Asia. 
  • Asian grocery stores in Bundaberg stock agar products

Topics:  cooking food

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