Sweets like panna cotta, mousse, and jellies rely on gelatin for their unique textures. Gelatin is made from animal collagen, but if you're a vegetarian or vegan, you can still make the delicious desserts. Here are three great gelatin alternatives and some tips on using them!
Note: The substitution amounts given below are just a rule of thumb. You may need to play around depending on your recipe.
1. Agar, Agar-Agar, or Kanten
What it's made of: cooked and pressed algae
Where it's often used: Asian desserts and firm jellies
Flavor and texture: Flavorless and has a firmer, less jiggly texture than gelatin.
How to use it: Agar needs to be heated to dissolve properly. The powdered form of agar is easiest to measure and use; bars and flakes should be dissolved in water first or can be broken down into a powder using a coffee or spice grinder. It sets in about an hour at room temperature.
- 1 teaspoon gelatin = 1 teaspoon agar powder (this will set 1 cup of liquid)
- 1 teaspoon agar powder = 1 tablespoon agar flakes = 1/2 agar bar
2. Carrageenan, Carrageen, or Irish Moss
What it's made of: dried seaweed; carrageen extract called carrageenan is used in some vegan Kosher gel products like Lieber's Unflavored Jel
Where it's often used: soft jellies, puddings, mousses, soups, ice creams, dairy products
Flavor and texture: Flavorless and sets things more softly than regular gelatin; melts in the mouth. Use iota carrageenan for soft gels and puddings and kappa carrageenan in harder gel products.
How to use it: To use the carrageen in its dried seaweed form (look for whole, not powdered), rinse it well, soak it in water for about 12 hours until it swells, then boil it thoroughly with the liquid you want to set before you strain it out.
- To set 1 cup of liquid, use 1 ounce dried carrageen
3. Vegan Jel
What it's made of: Faith highly recommends Unflavored Vegan Jel by Natural Desserts, which is made of vegetable gum (we're not sure what kind), adipic acid, tapioca dextrin, calcium phosphate, and potassium citrate
Where it's often used: Anywhere gelatin is used
Flavor and texture: 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."
How to use it: Beat this powder into cold water until dissolved.
- 1 teaspoon gelatin = 1 1/2 teaspoons Vegan Jel
Have you used any of these gelatin alternatives, or do you have others to recommend?
Updated from a post originally published in May 2013.
(Image credits: violeta pasat/Shutterstock; Green Cilantro; Anjali Prasertong; Only Fabrizio/Shutterstock; Natural Desserts)