This no added sugar agar agar jelly recipe is literally the world’s easiest and healthiest dessert recipe: simply replace water with coconut water when making agar agar and, voila, you have a refreshing dessert/ snack that is full of fibre and perfect for a hot day! Coconut water is naturally sweet so you can get away without adding sugar- if you have a sweet tooth, you can add some fruits into the jelly to make the jellies naturally sweeter.
Introduction to agar agar
Agar agar is a gelatin made from red algae so it is a great vegetarian and vegan substitute for regular jelly, which is made from animal-derived gelatine. The seaweed is usually boiled to form a gel, before it is pressed, dried and made into agar agar flakes. It is also available as a powder, in bars or in seaweed-like strands. Agar agar in powder form is the easiest to work with, dissolves most quickly in water, and is thus 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!) You can actually make your own agar agar powder by blending/ grinding the agar agar flakes or strands (cut them up first.)
It usually requires 9-10g of agar agar powder to set 1 litre of pH-neutral liquid- most agar agar packets will specify their powder:liquid ratios so do check before getting to work. Do also keep in mind that if you are using an acidic liquid such as orange juice, you will need more agar agar powder (approximately 13g of agar agar powder to 1 litre of juice.)
Note: agar agar is the Malay name for this jelly. In Japan, it’s known as kanten and in India, China grass.
Other uses of agar agar
Some vegetarians and vegans like to use agar agar as a thickener. It’s also used in puddings, mousse, cheesecake and even ice-cream! Agar agar also has non-culinary uses for e.g. it is sometimes found in children’s modelling clay.
What gelling agent to use: agar agar vs konnyaku vs gelatin?
You can make this recipe with any of the 3 gelling agents listed above. (Note: the ratio of water: gelling agent varies depending on the gelling agent used.) However, do keep in mind that the textures of the 3 are very different. Jelly (formed by animal-derived gelatine), especially, is soft and wobbly whilst agar agar and konnyaku are firmer, which I find much more pleasing. (If you are not familiar with konnyaku jelly, do check out my posts on yuzu konnyaku jelly and osmanthus konnyaku jelly (gui hua gao) in which I shared more on konnyaku jelly.)
Whilst regular gelatin can dissolve in warm water to form jelly- which is why it melts in your mouth- agar agar needs to be boiled before it sets. On the plus side, agar agar sets more quickly than gelatine and is also more stable at higher temperatures compared to gelatine, which is why agar agar is more common than gelatine-based jelly in tropical countries. (Jelly would melt under the hot sun!)
How to present your agar agar jelly
The easiest way to shape agar agar is to pour it into a deep dish, leave to set then cut into squares. If you have cookie moulds, you can also use them to cut the agar agar into pretty shapes, such as the butterflies shown above.
When I have guests, I like going the extra mile and pouring the no added sugar agar agar jelly into fruit husks to set and then serving. You can use coconut husks, passionfruit skins, mangosteen shells, orange skins etc and scatter some citrus zest or place edible flowers on top of the jellies for visual effect!
2-ingredient no sugar added coconut water agar agar jelly
- 9-10 g agar agar powder
- 1 litre coconut water 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.
- Optional: cut-up fruits If you want to make the jelly sweeter without adding sugar, add some fruits into the agar agar before it sets.
- Pour the coconut water into the pot, add the agar agar powder then stir to dissolve. Bring the solution to the boil, stirring continuously.
- Stil till all the powder has dissolved then switch off the fire. 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.
- Pour the jelly into the designated containers/ molds to set. (It sets at room tempeature but tastes nice cold, especially when the weather is hot out!) 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!
For more refreshing jelly ideas, check out lychee bellini konnyaku jellies.