You never know when you may need an agar agar substitute, so I have listed a few of the best options to use in a pinch! These substitutes will work to thicken soups, sauces, or gravy in the event you can't find or run out of agar agar. Take a look at this list and see if you have an agar agar substitute on hand!
What Is Agar Agar?
A byproduct of red seaweed, agar agar is a powder that when mixed with water forms a gel. The gelatinous consistency of agar agar powder is why it is commonly used as a vegan substitute for gelatin.
In addition to making vegan Jell-O, agar agar is also gluten-free. Therefore, it can be used as a gluten-free substitute to thicken soups, sauces, and gravies.
Why Would You Need A Substitute?
Often the substitute, what happens when you need a substitute for the substitute? You look for another substitute! Luckily, there are plenty of substitutes for agar agar. Even better, almost all of them are also vegan and gluten-free.
Beyond simply running out, you may want a substitute simply to make things easier.
The Best Agar Agar Substitutes
Agar agar powder cannot be used in its powder form. It must first be mixed with water, boiled, and then cooled.
These extra steps may be another reason to consider a substitute. While you may need to make a quick slurry for some substitutes, most of them can be added in their powder form.
1. Pectin Powder
One of the best vegan replacements for agar agar when making gelatin is pectin. Pectin is derived from the inner skin of fruits and vegetables. It essentially helps support and shape these fruits and veggies.
Not only is pectin derived from fruit, but it is also used to make fruit jams and jellies! It is responsible for giving these sweet condiments their jelly consistency.
One big difference between pectin powder and agar agar is that pectin has sugar added to it. Therefore, while great for desserts avoid it in savory recipes.
Use pectin in a 3:1 ratio for agar agar powder. Unlike agar agar, pectin can be added directly to the recipe without prior preparation.
2. Unflavored Gelatin
If you are not vegan (or cooking for a vegan) then unflavored gelatin is one of the best substitutes for agar agar. Unflavored gelatin is made from animal collagen that is ground into a white powder.
Gelatin is the base for many favorite desserts like flavored Jell-O. It can also be used as a thickener, stabilizer, and binder.
However, since gelatin can be used in its powder form you need to use more than what the recipe calls for in agar agar powder.
Use unflavored gelatin powder in a 3:1 ratio in place of agar agar in any recipe.
3. Vegan “Gelatin”
If your primary need for agar agar powder is to make vegan Jell-O then your best substitute is to buy vegan gelatin. Vegan gelatin can be found in most health food stores. It is also available online. The most popular brand is Veg Jel.
While this may not be the quickest substitute it can be easier than making homemade vegan gelatin. Moreover, if you follow a vegan diet then vegan gelatin is a great staple to have on hand for many recipes.
Since vegan gelatin is a blend of several ingredients it may take some adjustments to find the perfect ratio. Start with a 1:1 ratio and then add more if needed.
4. Xanthan Gum
While once only used in commercial kitchens, xanthan gum is getting more and more popular in home kitchens. Therefore, you can find it easily in the baking aisle of most grocery stores.
Even though xanthan gum is vegan-friendly and gluten-free it is highly processed. For some people, this can lead to irritation in the gut if eaten too much.
The great thing about xanthan gum is that it is a simple 1:1 swap for agar agar powder. Plus, it doesn’t require any extra prep before use.
5. Guar Gum
Guar gum is another ingredient that was used for a long time in commercial kitchens. With more home chefs exploring new ways of cooking though it has become a common ingredient in all kitchens.
Made from guar beans, which are members of the pea family, it is vegan and gluten-free. It works great to bind foods and as a thickener.
One big difference between guar gum and other substitutes is a little goes a long way!
Use only a ½ tablespoon of guar gum to replace 1 cup of agar agar powder.
Carrageen is an ingredient that you may recognize from reading the label of soy milk. It is a common thickener and stabilizer made from Irish red seaweed. You will find it as a preservative in plant-based milk and other similar foods.
While not as common outside of commercial kitchens, it is an easy substitute for home cooking. Like agar agar, it is also derived from seaweed.
However, it does better as a thickening agent rather than a primary ingredient for gelatin.
Start with a 1:1 replacement of carrageen for agar agar powder. If you don’t get the right consistency, add up to 2x or 3x the amount the recipe calls for.
When looking for a thickening agent, one of the best choices is cornstarch. Cornstarch is the white powder that is extracted from the center of the corn kernel. It is extremely starchy.
Cornstarch has been used for decades to thicken soups and sauces. It is also a popular choice for making gravy. Moreover, it can replace agar agar powder in recipes that need a stabilizer.
Like agar agar powder, cornstarch needs a little bit of preparation before using it. It only takes a few seconds though.
Measure cornstarch in a 1:1 for agar agar powder. Place the cornstarch in a small bowl with 2 parts water (1 tablespoon cornstarch + 2 tablespoons water) to make a slurry. Add the slurry to your recipe the same way you would add the agar agar.
Arrowroot powder is a common substitute for cornstarch. It has almost identical properties as a thickener and stabilizer. However, some people prefer it because it is not made from corn.
Since arrowroot is a good substitute for cornstarch it can also be a good substitute for agar agar powder. One difference is that arrowroot powder can be added directly to a recipe.
Use arrowroot in a 2:1 substitution for agar agar powder (2 tablespoons of arrowroot = 1 tablespoon agar agar). While it does not need to be mixed with water first, you can follow the same directions to make a slurry (like with cornstarch) if you prefer.
One of the most popular uses of tapioca powder is tapioca pudding. That gives you some idea of the consistency that tapioca powder can produce. However, the ability to thicken is a result of what it is mixed with.
Tapioca powder does well mixed with dairy but does not stabilize when mixed with acidic foods. Therefore, avoid using it as a substitute in recipes that have citrus or other acidic ingredients.
Tapioca can be used as a substitute for thickening soups, sauces, baked goods, and cold desserts. It will not produce the same gelatin consistency as agar-agar, but it will lend a similar thickness.
Use tapioca powder in a 2:1 substitution.
With the right agar agar substitute from this list, you can thicken soups, sauces, or gravy without missing a beat! Remember to come back and let us know which substitute worked for you!
Agar Agar Substitute: Pectin Powder (+More Great Alternatives!)
- 1 tablespoon pectin
- 1 tablespoon gelatin (unflavored)
- 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
- Use pectin in a 3:1 ratio to agar agar. No need to prepare the pectin, just add it into your recipe and stir to combine.1 tablespoon pectin
- You can also use gelatin in a 3:1 ratio to agar agar. Like pectin above, simply add the gelatin powder into your recipe and stir to combine.1 tablespoon gelatin
- Use xanthan gum as a 1:1 equal substitute for agar agar in recipes. Again, this alternative can be sprinkled into your recipe directly.1 teaspoon xanthan gum
Angela is an at home chef that developed a passion for all things cooking and baking at a young age in her Grandma's kitchen. After many years in the food service industry, she now enjoys sharing all of her family favorite recipes and creating tasty dinner and amazing dessert recipes here at Bake It With Love!