Gelling Without Gelatin: Vegetarian and Vegan Substitutes

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Gelatin is made from animal collagen, but that doesn't mean vegetarians and vegans have to miss out on gelatin-based sweets like panna cotta, mousse, and jellies. Here are some great alternatives and tips for cooking with them. 

Note: The amounts given here are just a rule of thumb. You may need to play around depending on your recipe.  
  • Agar, agar-agar, or kanten: Made from red algae, agar is often used in Asian desserts and firm jellies. It's flavorless and has a firmer, less jiggly texture than gelatin. The powdered form of agar is easiest to measure and use; bars and flakes should be dissolved in water first. See this post for more tips. 

    → 1 teaspoon gelatin = 1 teaspoon agar powder

    → To set 1 cup of liquid, use 1 teaspoon agar powder or 2 tablespoons agar flakes or 1 agar bar
  • Carrageen or Irish Moss: Carrageen is a flavorless seaweed that can be used for soft jellies, puddings, and mousses. To use the dried seaweed (look for whole, not powdered), rinse it well, soak it in water for about 12 hours until it swells, then blend it thoroughly with your liquid. A carrageen extract called carrageenan is used in some vegan Kosher gel products like Lieber's Unflavored Jel. 

    → To set 1 cup of liquid, use 2 ounces dried carrageen

  • Vegan Jel: Faith highly recommends Unflavored Vegan Jel by Natural Deserts. It's made with vegetable gum (we're not sure what kind), adipic acid, tapioca dextrin, calcium phosphate, and potassium citrate. As Faith wrote in her panna cotta post, Vegan Jel "sets softly, melts in the mouth, and is by far the closest thing to regular unflavored gelatin that I have found." 

    → 1 teaspoon gelatin = 1 1/2 teaspoons Vegan Jel

Have you used any of these gelatin alternatives, or do you have others to recommend? 

This post was requested by sairuh for Reader Request Week 2013.

(Images: Green CilantroAnjali Prasertong)

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