NOTE: I have just been informed that the product below is actually gelatin and not actually seaweed powder!!! This is extremely annoying as the label on the back clearly says “seaweed powder” in English. Since I have bought this product several times, I can even justify that it might have been a one time mistake. Shame on you store where I bought this! Normally, I would go to the store and correct them…but the store is no longer in business. I am leaving the pic so you know NOT to use it if you are vegan.
In my guest post for Just Bento last week, I admit to getting a little lazy. Realizing it would be silly to fill an entire bento with mini cakes and rice crispie treats, I decided to add an extra filler. You know, a little something that I could eat since cake and I never really meshed as friends. Ensuring that my filler would be quick and pretty, I reached for a staple that I always keep in my cupboard: agar powder.
Agar powder (also known as agar agar) is actually a powder made from seaweed. Rather then getting into a long discussion about it, there are two things that you need to know. One, it works just like gelatin, and two, its vegan. I could wax poetic about how versatile it is and all that fun stuff, but like I said: vegan gelatin. Any recipe I list using this stuff could just as easily be made using plain gelatin. So no need to worry about getting to an asian market.
Agar itself can actually come in more than one form. I prefer the powder because it dissolves a lot faster, but agar can also be purchased in sheets. These work pretty much the same way, you just need to wait for the pieces to dissolve. I used the sheets once in high school and never bought them again because I was too impatient and I ended up with little hard bits in my jelly. I’d assume avoid the trouble all together and get the powder, just make sure you mix it in well.
I purchase agar powder from my local Japanese Market. and the box looks like this:
PLEASE SEE NOTE ABOVE REGARDING THIS PICTURE – it really is gelatin and was mislabeled when i bought it.
Thankfully the ingredient label on the back was in english, otherwise I never would have been able to figure out what this was. It also took a little trial and error with figuring out how much agar powder to use because I wasn’t clever enough at first to notice that those numbers on the package are saying 1 packet per 250ml of water. But hey, if I’m wrong, please feel free to correct me.
And now for the recipe:
500ml of water
4+ tea bags of your choice
sugar to taste (I use raw cane sugar, but I’ve even used Splenda)
2 packets of agar powder
Prepare tea with brewing method best for tea choice (I say this because I have been scolded many times for letting my water come to a full rolling boil when making green tea). When you brew, shoot for a tea that is about twice as strong as you would normally like without letting it get too bitter. Once tea is brewed (and off the burner), add sugar according to your taste. This is another time when I’d advise that you make it a little sweeter than you would normally like. Once sugar is dissolved, add packets of agar powder one at a time, making sure the first one is completely dissolved before adding the second. Once all powder is dissolved allow to cool slightly before pouring into into a mold or container. Refrigerate until set.
Option: If you like milk in your tea, you can add that too. Just don’t boil the milk. Add it when you add your sugar. Just make sure that you use slightly less water to accommodate for the amount of milk you are using. You can also add powdered milk and use the same water measurement.
I personally like to pour mine into a pyrex container. This allows me the option to either cut the jelly into cubes or use small cookie cutters for a fancier effect.
So there it is, it really couldn’t be any more simple than that. If you can make jello, you can make this. Also feel free to get creative, add layers, use coconut milk. And don’t forget to add a few cubes to your bento as a little dessert the next day!
Oh, and one more fun fact about agar! Agar is about 80% fiber. This means that it makes a great intestinal regulator and makes you feel more full. Gelatin on the other hand, is 98-99% protein.