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If you spend a good amount of time looking up dessert recipes, you’ve probably come across the mysterious ingredients agar agar powder, agar powder or agar flakes. You likely mentally responded with a huge question mark. What is this intriguing ingredient, and do I actually need it in my recipe?

Agar agar powder is essentially a plant-based form of gelatin, so the best way to replace it is to use another type of thickening agent. Since it’s the key ingredient that will decide whether your recipe turns out liquidy or firm, it’s an ingredient that you shouldn’t skip in a recipe.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you don’t have any agar powder on hand. If you’re wondering what to replace agar agar with, you’ve come to the right place. Luckily, there are many vegan agar agar substitutes that are easier to find than agar powder.

How to substitute agar agar will largely depend on whether the recipe calls for agar powder or agar flakes. Here is an overview of the best vegan agar agar substitutes:

#1 Cornstarch

Cornstarch is the most readily available agar agar powder substitute. In fact, you probably already have some sitting in your cupboard. Since it’s derived from corn grains, cornstarch is also gluten free.

How to substitute agar agar with cornstarch?

  • Agar flakes: Substitute 1 tablespoon of agar flakes with 2 tablespoons of cornstach.
  • Agar powder: Substitute 1 tablespoon of agar powder with equal parts of cornstarch.

Where to buy cornstarch?

#2 Arrowroot Powder

Similar to cornstarch, arrowroot powder is a starch that is extracted from the West Indian Arrowroot plant (Maranta arundinacea). It’s gluten-free and grain-free, making it a paleo-friendly option. Arrowroot is considered to be healthier than cornstarch since it’s produced using more traditional methods and is not linked to corn in any way.

The only downside of using arrowroot powder as a agar substitte is that you’ll need much more of it.

How to substitute agar agar with arrowroot powder?

  • Agar flakes: Substitute 1 tablespoon of agar flakes with 4 tablespoons of arrowroot powder.
  • Agar powder: Substitute 1 tablespoon of agar powder with 2 tablespoons of arrowroot powder.

Where to buy arrowroot powder?

#3 Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is another popular substitute for agar agar powder. Unlike starch-based agar substitutes, xanthan gum is basically made from bacterial fermented sugar. Xanthan gum will not harden your recipe in the same way that agar will, but it will thicken it and keep it from separating. It’s commonly referred to as a thickener or stabilizer and is gluten-free.

The only downside of substituting agar agar with xanthan gum is that it’s not as accessible as other agar substitutes. If you’re lucky enough to have a health food store nearby, you might be able to find some there.

How to substitute agar agar with xanthan gum?

  • Agar powder: Substitute 1 tablespoon of agar powder with equal parts xanthan gum.

Where to buy xanthan gum?

#4 Tapioca Starch (Tapioca Flour)

Another vegan alternative to agar is tapioca flour, also referred to as tapioca starch or tapioca powder. Tapioca flour is a gluten-free flour made from extracting the starch from cassava root. Since it’s very starchy, it’s comparable to cornstarch in terms of its effectiveness in substituting agar agar. Nonetheless, tapioca flour can be used to replace agar agar in certain recipes.

How to substitute agar agar with tapioca starch?

  • Agar powder: Substitute 1 tablespoon of agar powder with 1.5 tablespoons of tapioca flour.

Where to buy tapioca starch?

#5 Pectin Powder

Pectin powder is one of the best agar agar substitutes, especially if you need to thicken a dessert. Pectin is a plant-based gelatinous-like substance that is made from the pulp and skins of certain fruit. It’s most commonly used as a thickener for jams, jellies, custards, or puddings. Pectin can also be used for preserving fruit.

The only downside of substituting agar agar with pectin powder is that it tends to contain sugar. For that reason, we only recommend substituting agar agar with pectin in dessert recipes.

How to substitute agar agar with pectin powder?

  • Agar powder: Substitute 1 tablespoon of agar powder with 3 tablespoons of pectin powder.

Where to buy pectin powder?

What is Agar Agar Powder?

Agar, also known as agar agar, is a natural plant-based form of gelatin that is usually sold in powder or flake form. When combined with hot liquid, agar powder will thicken. In the vegan culinary world, agar agar is widely considered the best vegan gelatin substitute.

An image of agar agar powder

What is Agar Agar Powder Made of?

While gelatin that is made from boiling down animal remains, agar agar is derived from certain seaweeds. The main seaweed used to make agar agar is red algae. Red algae are boiled down for hours in order to extract its gelatin-like carbohydrates. The remaining carbohydrates are then dehydrated and sold in various dry forms, such as powder or flakes. Agar agar powder is the most popular form.

What is Agar Powder Used For?

Agar powder is commonly asked for in vegan recipes that would otherwise call for gelatin, such as homemade jelly, puddings or even as a soup thickener. Due to its lack of taste, color, odour, and its thickening ability, agar powder is the best vegan gelatin alternative.

When substituting for gelatin in a recipe, agar powder can be used in a 1:1 ratio. In other words, if a recipe asks for 1 tablespoon of gelatin, you can substitute it for 1 tablespoon of agar powder.

Below are some vegan recipes that might call for agar powder:

  • Vegan mozzarella cheese or other vegan cheese
  • Vegan desserts like custards, panna cotta, jams, jellies or puddings
  • As a soup or gravy thickening agent

Whether it's vegan cooking or nutrition, I'm passionate about veganism and the wealth of benefits that come with the lifestyle. Since going vegan in 2017, I made it my life's mission to educate people about veganism and reshape the common perception that vegan food is boring.