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Thursday, January 12, 2012

AGAR-AGAR - THE VEGETARIAN GELLING AGENT: PRODUCTION, USES AND HEALTH BENEFITS OF AGAR-AGAR


AGAR-AGAR, GELIDIUM AMANSII
Agar-agar is vegetarian gelatine, made from a red seaweed. The best is thought to come from Gelidium amansii, although it can also be extracted from other algae such as those in the genus Gracilaria lichenoides which is found off the west cost of the USA and parts of the Asian coast. Other red algae used for agar-agar are those of the Pteroladia genus. Gelidium amansii is notable for the spiky projections which come from the main branches of the plant.
  A jelly made from agar-agar flavoured with lemon used to be food fit for invalids in the 19th and early 20th centuries, although now it is usually not used in medicine. It does have use as a mild laxative however, as it plumps up in water and in the gut, so can help to remove toxins, fats and sugars from it. You can mix it with fruit juice or milk for this purpose, and shreds of it are better than powder. It will work similarly to isphagol or plantain.
  Agar-agar can retain moisture, and so is used in the laboratory as a solidifying component of bacteriological culture. It is used in the food industry and like annatto and gum Tragacanth has an E number, E406. It is used in the food industry and can be found in canned meat products, as well as in medicines and cosmetics. It is also used in dentistry and in the brewing industry where it is used to clarify beer and wines. You can also find it in ice cream and in salad dressings, as it is used as a thickening agent.
  It is believed that the Dutch brought it to the attention of other European nations, after they had taken it from Japan to their colonies in Indonesia, as they had “open ports” in Japan in the 17th century. The Japanese and Chinese are believed to have been the first people to develop agar-agar from red seaweed.
  Now it is made in Australia, the US, Japan, New Zealand and Russia. After the BSE (mad cow disease) it became more widely used as it is a safe alternative to jelly or gelatine made with parts of the cow.
  As you would expect from an algae, it is rich in iodine and trace minerals, as are laver bread and bladderwrack. You can buy it in transparent strips or powder and use it for aspic jelly. 

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