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This Fruit Kanten recipe uses agar as a plant-based food thickener to create a jelly-type treat! Agar is used to enhance the texture of puddings, ice creams, jellies, gummies, soups and sauces. In Japan, agar and the desserts made from it are called kanten. The amount of agar can be varied depending on whether the desired texture is a soft or a firm gel, and some highly acidic fruit may need more agar.
What is Agar?
There are several potential health benefits of using agar, such as improved digestive health, reduced appetite and better blood sugar regulation; also, agar contains nutrients that are important in preventing anemia and supporting bone health.
Agar is a marine gum, which is a type of gum extracted from seaweeds. The cell walls of many seaweeds contain phycocolloids (a type of polysaccharide) that can be extracted by hot water. The 3 major phycocolloids are alginates, agars, and carrageenans. Phycocolloids are generally considered to be safe for human consumption, and are used in a wide variety of prepared foods, such as non-dairy milk products, ready-mix cakes, instant puddings and other foods. (Something to consider: there are studies that show carrageenan may trigger or magnify an inflammatory response in the human intestine that may potentially lead to IBD. Carrageenan is still approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an additive and remains in wide use in many food products; however, it may be best to avoid this particular additive when possible!)
Why We Love It:
The main benefit of agar is that it is an excellent vegetarian substitute for gelatin. Agar is made in powder form, flakes and bars and can be mixed with liquid and simmered to act as a thickening agent. A rule of thumb for recipes: gelatin can be replaced with agar powder with a 1:1 ratio. Agar powder can replace agar flakes at a 1:3 ratio (e.g. 1 tsp agar powder = 3 tsp agar flakes)
In substituting agar for gelatin, remember that agar may not set when mixed with vinegar or foods high in oxalic acid, like spinach, chocolate, or rhubarb. Agar gelled liquids will stay solid at room temperature, while gelatin will eventually melt.
Basic Fruit Kanten
- 3 cups fruit juice
- 4 tablespoons agar flakes
- 2 cups berries or fruit
- In a saucepan, combine the first two ingredients. Boil over medium heat, stirring often, until the agar dissolves, about 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and cool about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally while cooling.
- Arrange fruit in the bottom of individual molds or an 8” baking dish.
- Pour gel over fruit. Let set in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
You can chill the gel mixture, without the fruit, until set. Then cut into cubes and toss with the fruit.
For smoother kanten, you may strain the cooked mixture to remove undissolved agar.
You can also soak the agar to pre-soften before heating.
(Recipe by Chef Lynda Lacher)
Daina Rasutis is a current student of NTI’s Nutrition Therapist Master Program. She plans to use her certification to spark a craving for health through movement, sustainable living and, of course, nourishing food. Follow Daina’s cooking creations and lifestyle tips at www.tabletocrave.com
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