This no added sugar, Agar Agar Jelly Recipe (Kanten Jelly) is an easy, healthy dessert full of fibre. It only needs 2 ingredients and is cooked in minutes! I also include an overview of this amazing culinary ingredient which I grew up using and which is naturally vegan and Gluten-free too.
⭐ Why This Recipe is a Star
- This Agar Agar Jelly Recipe is literally the world's easiest dessert: simply replace water with coconut water when making agar agar I.e. you only need 2 ingredients! Voila, you have a refreshing dessert snack that is full of fibre. It's an appetite suppressant that is perfect for a hot day!
- It's a super healthy dessert recipe: Coconut water is naturally sweet so you can get away without adding sugar. If you have a sweet tooth, you can add fruits into the jelly to make it naturally sweeter or try 1 of these sugar substitutes. Alternatively, add some aloe vera to create a nice contrasting texture.
🍧 What is Agar Agar?
Agar agar is a gelatin made from red algae. On its own, it has no smell or taste.
Hence, it is a great vegetarian substitute for those on a vegan diet. Think plant-based panna cotta, vegan cheese etc. (Regular jelly is made from animal-derived gelatine.)
Agar agar is thought to have been discovered in Japan in the 17th century, where it is known as Kanten. You find it in a lot of Japanese desserts, such as Mitsumame.
Other names for agar agar (the Malay word for it) are Ceylon Moss, Japanese Isinglass, China Glass, China Grass (as it's known in India) and Jaffna Moss.
It's super common in Singapore and Malaysia. It was literally the 1st food I ever made.
Note: if you can't get it where you are, try 1 of these agar agar substitutes, such as pectin powder.
The seaweed is usually boiled to form a gel, before it is pressed, dried and made into:
- agar agar flakes OR
- agar agar powder OR
- agar agar bars OR
- in seaweed-like strands
All the forms can all be stored at room temperature in a cool and dry place.
Agar-agar powder is the easiest to work with.
It dissolves the most quickly in water. Thus, it's usually more expensive in this form. (Note the water: agar agar ratio actually varies depending on the form of agar agar you are working with! See more on this below)
Tip: To save money, you can make your own agar agar powder by blending/ grinding the agar agar flakes or strands. Cut them up first to make it easier!
Where to Buy
It's widely available in Asian grocery stores, online or in health food stores.
Tip: When I lived in London, UK, I would just pop to the Chinese grocery near Leicester Square when I needed more!
As mentioned, this is a 2-ingredient recipe:
- agar agar: I recommend using agar agar in powder form. Some brands flavor, sweeten and color the agar agar so make sure you get the unsweetened, translucent version if you want a healthy jelly. (Although the powder still looks colorless, the resulting jelly will be colored.) See below for the quantity of agar agar to liquid required, although your packet may have brand-specific ratios indicated at the back.
- coconut water: Use fresh if you can get it but I often use bottled coconut water. You can substitute with water but it will be very bland with no sugar! If you decide to experiment with the liquid used, be careful if using citrus fruits and acidic liquids as acidity impacts the ability of agar to set. For example, you will need more agar agar powder with orange juice and lemon. (Approximately 13g of agar agar powder to 1 litre of juice.)
Important: Some raw fruit juices won't set and you'll need to cook them first. These include kiwi, pineapple, fresh figs, mango, papaya and peaches. (Canned fruits are pre-cooked and work OK.)
How Much Water
For firm jellies, to set 1 litre of pH-neutral liquid, it usually requires:
- 8-10g of agar agar powder
- Most agar agar packets will specify their powder:liquid ratios. Do check before starting.
- 2 sticks of agar agar/ kanten in stick form (about 16g)
- soften in cold water before bringing to the boil (for 5-10 minutes)
- 48 threads of agar agar/ kanten (about 16g)
- as with the agar stick, soften first
Alternatives: Konnyaku & Gelatin
If you don't have agar, you can make this jelly with konnyaku or gelatine. The ratio of water: gelling agent varies depending on the gelling agent used.
Moreover, keep in mind that the textures of the 3 are very different. Jelly from animal-based gelatins is soft and wobbly whilst agar agar and konnyaku are firmer.
Important: There is a choking hazard with konnyaku jelly, which is why some countries have stopped selling it. If making food for the young or old, you may wanna give konnyaku a miss.
Regular gelatin can dissolve in warm water (95F/ 35C) to form jelly- which is why it melts in your mouth!
However, agar agar needs to be boiled at high temperatures before it sets. (It melts at 185F/ 85C.)
On the plus side, agar agar sets more quickly than gelatine. It is also more stable at higher temperatures compared to gelatine
Hence agar agar is more common than gelatine-based jelly in tropical Asian countries. (Agar does not require refrigeration whilst Jello would melt under the hot sun!)
♨️ Step-by-step Instructions
- Pour the coconut water into a pot. Do not switch on the fire! Agar agar should only be added to room temperature or cold water to prevent clumping!
- Pour in the agar agar powder, whisking continuously.
- Switch on the fire, continue whisking whilst you bring the pot to a rolling boil.
- Once all the powder has dissolved, switch off the fire.
- The liquid jelly will need to cool before it can set.
- See below on how to shape the jellies- some methods work with hot liquid jelly whilst other jellies are shaped after cooling.
How to Shape
- easiest: pour it into a deep dish, leave to set then cut into squares
- if you have cookie molds: after setting, use the molds to cut into different forms (see butterflies in photo below.)
- set in silicon containers: you can pour the liquid jelly into silicone cookie molds (or heat-proof ice-cube containers) and cool in them to get pretty shapes. Scatter some citrus zest or pour the jellies on top of edible flowers for visual effect!
📋 Other Uses
Some vegetarians and vegans like to use agar agar as a thickener. It's also used in puddings, mousse, cheesecake and even ice-cream!
I've even seen recipes which use agar agar to make jam. However, my Father, who is a professional baker, says that such jams won't last as long as those made with pectin. (Mind you he makes biscuits not jams so the shelf life he is looking at is in years!)
As agar agar is about 80% dietary fibre, some people use it as part of their weight loss diet, to help suppress their appetite. (After agar agar is eaten, it absorbs water and triples in size, making people feel fuller.)
Agar agar also has non-food uses for e.g. it is sometimes found in children's modelling clay.
Note: this information is just FYI and not meant as nutritional or dietary advice- please consult someone qualified!
👩🏻🍳 Expert Tips
Tip #1: If you do want to add sugar, whisk the sugar and agar powder together before adding to the water. This helps prevent clumping.
Tip #2: Experiment with the firmness of the gel formed by increasing the quantity of water. You can add up to 20% more water for softer, wobblier jellies. (Personally, I like firmer jellies, like konnyaku, which is very bouncy!) If you add too much water, the agar jelly won't set. Don't fret. Just add more agar powder and bring the mixture to the boil again. (I had to do this the first time I made mango jelly!)
Tip #3: Agar Agar jelly isn't as translucent as water- instead, it's more like a clear grey-ish jelly, so take note if you're designing something special!
💭 Recipe FAQs
As a plant-based gelatin, agar agar is used as a thickening agent and to stabilise foods. For example, it can be used in place of eggs in ice cream or as a vegan substitute in some fruit jams. You can also use it for no-bake cream cheese cake. (Replace gelatine in a 1:1 ratio.)
You can add flavorings such as pandan juice, pandan syrup, pandan milk or coconut milk to make it richer. Some South East Asian desserts add both! Alternatively, you can add different colors and flavors to different batches of jelly, then build them into a rainbow cake with thin layers.
🍹Other Agar Agar Recipes
Enjoyed this easy 2-ingredient dessert recipe? Please leave a 5-star 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟rating in the recipe card below & if you REALLY liked this introduction to Singaporean Agar Agar Jelly, a comment would make my week! Thank you and have a great day!
Agar Agar Jelly (2-ingredient)
- Heat proof whisk
- Silicone container, wide heat-proof container and/ or cookie cutters
- 0.35 oz agar agar powder 10g. Substitute: agar agar flakes or agar agar strips. Soften in the water for 5-10 minutes before switching on the heat. You can also use konnyaku (but note it's a choking hazard) or gelatine (if not vegan.)
- 4.2 Cups coconut water (1 litre/ 0.264 US gallons.) This can be either fresh or from the bottle. For this recipe, I used bottled coconut water to make the agar agar jelly before setting it in a real coconut husk. (Note: your brand of agar agar powder may require a different amount of liquid to set- check before starting!) You can substitute with water but it'll be super bland without a sweetener. If adding sugar, whisk the sugar with the agar powder before pouring into the liquid. (This prevents clumping.)
- Cut-up fruits Optional. If you want to make the jelly sweeter without adding sugar, add some fruits into the agar agar before it sets.
- Pour the cold/ room temperature coconut water into the pot, add the agar agar powder then stir to dissolve. The heat is not on yet.
- Switch on the fire to medium heat, bring the solution to the boil, whisking continuously.
- Stil till all the powder has dissolved, let it fullyboil for 5 minutes, then switch off the fire.
- Agar agar sets quickly at room temperature. Hence, if you are adding fruits, stir them into the agar agar now before it has set, making sure to stir such that the fruits are well-distributed. Note that the heat will make the fruits soften and affect their texture a little.
- Pour the jelly into the designated containers/ molds to set. Optional: cut out shapes with cookie cutters once hardened. (It sets at room tempeature but tastes nice cold, especially when the weather is hot out!)Tip: If you're entertaining, it's a nice touch to pour the jelly into coconut husks. (Leave the coconut flesh in the coconut for a nice contrast in texture.) Do make sure to choose smaller coconuts and not to pour all the way to the brim, or it will be too big of a portion for 1 person!
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