What is Gelatin?
What is gelatin exactly? What are some good substitutes for gelatin when cooking and baking?
Animal bones (along with animal skin, hooves, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage) boiled together into a gel-like substance that’s added to all types of confectionery and baked goods. Unfortunately, in Canada, gelatin can be derived from pigs. You can get your hands on halal gelatin, however, it’s not as readily available and a steady supply can be inconsistent. Thankfully, there are plenty of easy gelatin alternatives at your fingertips.
This flavourless gelling agent, derived from cooked and pressed seaweed, is available flaked, powdered, or in bars. For best results, grind the agar-agar in a coffee grinder or food processor and then cook it, stirring it regularly until it dissolves.
When used in a recipe, agar-agar sets in about an hour and doesn’t require refrigeration to gel. For a firmer gel, add more agar-agar, and for a softer gel, add more liquid. And don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time—you can fix miscalculations by simply reheating the gel. Here’s a general guide on how to use agar-agar in recipes:
• Substitute powdered agar-agar for gelatin using equal amounts.
• 1 tablespoon of agar-agar flakes is equal to 1 teaspoon of agar-agar powder.
• Set 2 cups of liquid using 2 teaspoons of agar-agar powder, 2 tablespoons of agar-agar flakes, or one bar.
NOTE: Very acidic ingredients, such as lemons, strawberries, oranges, and other citrus fruits, may require more agar-agar than the recipe calls for. Also, enzymes in fresh mangoes, papaya, and pineapple break down the gelling ability of the agar-agar so that it will not set. However, cooking these fruits before adding them to a recipe, neutralizes the enzymes so that the agar-agar can set.
Carrageen (AKA Irish Moss)
Also known as Irish moss, this seaweed, found in coastal waters near Ireland, France, and North America, is best when used for making softer gels and puddings.
To prepare carrageen, rinse it thoroughly, and then soak it in water until it swells. Add the carrageen to the liquid you want to set, boil for 10 minutes, and remove from liquid.
One ounce of carrageen will gel 1 cup of liquid.
Vegans, vegetarians plus other religious groups have similar restrictions when it comes to food made with gelatin. Look for vegan products for a safe alternative.