Monday, November 30, 2009

Flavor-of-the-Month: Traditions

Ah, agar agar--the gelatin of eastern Asian cuisine.  Derived from a seaweed base, it's the perfect vegan alternative to gelatin desserts.  It's difficult to describe exactly the texture of an agar agar dessert.  It's been likened to gelatin, only firmer.  If I had to summarize, I'd say that gelatin is more bouncy/rubbery, while agar agar has more bite/snap.  But even then, it's not quite an accurate comparison.  There's really no true analogue, so I suppose the best way to understand it is to try some!  Agar agar comes in powder or dried (stick) form, and is really quite inexpensive.  You won't find it at your local mega-mart, but any good Asian market in your area should carry it.

November's Flavor-of-the-Month theme is Traditions, and boy is agar agar ever a tradition in our family!  My cousin "J" used to make the most beautiful agar agar molded desserts, taking the time to pour different colors into the various parts of the molds, which were usually floral in design.  The molds may have been destroyed during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but our traditions and memories still live on!  I don't own any of the elaborate molds cousin J used to have, so I relied on my good buddy Mr. Muffin Tin and the set of mini koala pans she gave me for Christmas one year.

Here's (some of) what you'll need:

From left to right: Coconut flavoring, Banana flavoring (aka Amyl Acetate-these were the only English words on the bottle, so luckily I knew what that was from my organic chemistry days.  That's right, Science.  Your big words don't scare me), Pandan flavoring, Coconut milk or cream, Agar Agar powder, and some super-cool koala pans (muffin tins work too!).  You'll also need some water, sugar and a few drops of yellow food coloring--not pictured because I forgot!

Bring coconut cream, water, sugar and agar agar powder to a boil in a medium saucepan (complete recipe is below).  Divide into three small bowls or cups and add flavorings.  Pour small amounts into your pans.  If making layers in muffin tins, let each layer set somewhat before adding the next. 

Unlike gelatin, agar agar will set up at room temperature, but putting in the fridge speeds things along.  Once firm, use the edge of a small knife to coax the agar agar out of the pans.  It should pop out quite easily once the suction is broken. 

Be sure to visit Bridget's blog to check out the "Traditions" Flavor-of-the-Month round-up!  You're sure to see some traditions that are very similar to your own, be reminded of traditions you've long forgotten, or find inspiration to begin new ones with your family!

Tropical Agar Agar Dessert
Adapted from
KookyCulinary's recipe

400 mL coconut cream (NOT cream of coconut)
400 mL water
100 g sugar
4 tsp. agar agar powder
½ tsp. coconut flavor
½ tsp. banana flavor + few drops yellow food color
½ tsp. pandan paste (already very green!)

Combine coconut cream, water, sugar, and agar agar powder in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking to dissolve sugar and agar agar powder. Divide liquid evenly among three bowls or cups (I used those plastic Solo® type cups).  Add coconut flavor to one cup, banana flavor & yellow food coloring to another, and the pandan paste to the last cup.  Stir well, then pour into desired molds.  Agar agar sets more quickly than gelatin, and will even set up at room temperature.  However, it tastes best served chilled :)


  1. Oh, wow...those are so cool! Thank you for linking these's so fun to learn about something new (to me)!

  2. These look so awesome! I love the different layers. I need to give agar agar a try I bet it's delicious :)

  3. very cool! Never heard of that ~ but that's what is so great...I wish I could have a bite ;)

  4. Wow, that is cool! I'd never heard of it before but it looks awesome!

  5. I love the layered ones! I've never heard of agar agar before, but now I want to try it!

  6. The layered ones are beautiful and your little koala heads are cute, too. I'm with everyone else. Hadn't heard of it before and how fun to learn of something new. :)

  7. These are so cute!! I love that this is such a wonderful tradition for your family.