It is a seaweed, and now we know that eating algae is good and right (read the article on spirulina). In this case, however, we do not use them for their proteins and nutrients, but – thanks to their proteins – for their strong thickening properties (and taking advantage of their nutrients anyway!). It is called agar agar and it is the vegetable alternative to animal jellies.
Quiet: your cakes with cream and strawberries (here how to choose the best ones, by the way) with they will not taste of the sea! If you want to enrich and polish them with gelatine made with agar agar, they will be perfect and simply healthier.
Gelatin is a protein mixture. Among those of animal origin, the famous "fish glue", obtained from the swim bladder of various fish species and in particular from the sturgeons, has now remained only as a name. The vast majority of jellies – very used in industrial products (starting with puddings, ice creams, sweets etc. but also in less suspect ones) – are made from bovine bones and pork (but also fish and poultry) and other pieces (or scraps) of these animals from intensive farming.
In particular, in Europe, a great deal is used pork rind to produce it. However, there are also vegetable substances with which to make gelatine: agar agar is the most famous.
Here are all the good reasons to choose it as an alternative to the classic industrial jellies:
1) It is vegetable, in fact
2) Is more solid of the commercial one: it does not dissolve easily even at high temperatures
3) Is easy to prepare
4) Is rich in minerals such as calcium in the first place and then iron, sodium and potassium; iodine and trace elements
5) Is rich in fibers, it is satiating and moderately laxative, therefore it helps the body in detox and intestinal regularity
6) It hinders assimilation of foods and in particular of sugars
7) It has practically zero caloric intake (and no sugars, no fats, no carbohydrates), since it is only minimally absorbed by the body
8) It does not need sugar to gel (perfect, therefore, to produce low calorie jams)
9) Is gluten-free (but also soy, milk, eggs, yeasts etc.)
10) Does not alter the natural flavor of the dishes (once a traditional method was used to get rid of the strong taste of algae; today instead an industrial one is used which unfortunately provides for the use of sulfuric acid and other whitening procedures to make them colorless).
It is located in different formats: bars, flakes and dust. The dust it is the thicker one (therefore a spoon tends to correspond to a standard jelly) while the flakes and bars require higher doses. Tend to gel a cup of liquid is needed a teaspoon of agar agar powder – in any case the doses should be indicated on the package. Flakes and bars they should be chopped (and eventually soaked first as standard gelatine sheets).
It melts in the hot liquid pouring it in rain (in case of dust and flakes) and stirring vigorously; produces a gel elastic and resistant. Requires only one short cooking – then for the solidification it takes about an hour at temperature environment (the fridge is not necessary).
Like all jellies, it can be used for thicken creams and soups, prepare jams and ice cream and of course the jelly in itself. First note: a lot of foods acids (for example citrus fruits) tend to require one higher dose of agar agar than that of gelatin indicated by the recipe. Furthermore, higher doses are needed to thicken them sweet preparations than in the savory ones. Second note: there are gods alimony which contain enzymes capable of neutralize the gelling effect of agar agar. These include chocolate, fresh figs, spinach, pineapple, peaches, papaya and mango. What to do? That's enough cook these ingredients before.
Although FAO has not set limits on daily doses, don't overdo it, if you don't want to to risk flatulence, meteorism and the poor absorption of essential nutrients such as vitamins. For the rest, at normal and reasonable doses, Agar Agar is a precious and beneficial ally in the kitchen.
Carola Traverso Saibante
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