Agar vs Gelatin: Unveiling the Distinctions

Agar vs. Gelatin – What’s the difference?

When it comes to gelling agents, agar and gelatin are two popular options with different characteristics. Gelatin is a well-known ingredient used in various food products such as jello, jam, and gummy candies. On the other hand, agar, also known as agar-agar, is gaining popularity, especially in vegan cuisine, as a plant-based substitute for gelatin. In this article, we will explore the differences between agar and gelatin, including their sources, uses, and nutritional content.

What is agar?

Agar is a jelly-like substance derived from red seaweed. It has been used for centuries in Southeast Asian countries, particularly Malaysia, to make jellies for consumption. In recent decades, its use has expanded to culinary applications in the Western world. Agar can be found in powder or strip form, with the powder more commonly used in the kitchen. It serves as a perfect substitute for gelatin in recipes and acts as a thickening agent in soups, jams, preserves and desserts such as ice cream. In addition, agar can be used as a vegan-friendly binding agent to replace eggs or dairy in various recipes.

Agar Activation and Texture

To activate the jelly-like properties of agar, it must be boiled for at least 1-2 minutes. Unlike gelatin, which turns to jelly in the presence of warm liquid, agar requires a full boil to achieve its gelling effect. In terms of texture, agar has a more chewy and gummy consistency compared to gelatin. It also requires more heat to melt and has a slightly cloudier appearance.

What is Gelatin?

Gelatin is made by cooking collagen, a protein found in the skin, tendons, ligaments and bones of animals. It has been used for generations as a thickening and binding agent in cooking. Gelatin is tasteless, odorless and colorless, but it gives candies and jams their gummy, jelly-like texture. It can be substituted for agar and vice versa gram for gram in recipes, although agar sets more firmly than gelatin.

Nutritional content of gelatin

Gelatin is not only known for its culinary applications, but also for its health benefits. Collagen, the main component of gelatin, plays an important role in maintaining healthy hair, skin and nails. It is also an important source of protein, which is essential for muscle growth, joint health, and brain function. Animal-derived gelatin, such as pasture-raised, grass-fed, non-GMO beef gelatin, can provide these health benefits.

Nutritional content of agar

As a plant-based alternative to gelatin, agar is often considered a healthier option. However, its nutritional value is limited. Agar is primarily a dietary fiber and contains very few calories, carbohydrates, sugars or fats. It is free of common allergens such as soy, wheat, milk, eggs, and starch. The fiber in agar is highly absorbent and can help with water retention and glucose regulation in the body. However, the amount of fiber in agar is too small to completely offset the effects of excessive sugar consumption.


Agar and gelatin are both versatile gelling agents with different properties. Agar, derived from red algae, is a popular plant-based substitute for gelatin and can be used in a variety of recipes, including vegan-friendly alternatives. Gelatin, derived from animal collagen, offers culinary benefits and is associated with health benefits such as improved hair, skin and joint health. When choosing between agar and gelatin, consider factors such as dietary preferences, nutritional content and desired texture to make the best choice for your specific needs.


What is the main difference between agar and gelatin?

Agar is derived from red algae, while gelatin is derived from animal collagen.

Can agar be used to replace gelatin?

Yes, agar can be used as a plant-based substitute for gelatin in various recipes.

How is agar activated compared to gelatin?

Agar must be boiled for at least 1-2 minutes to activate its gelling properties, whereas gelatin sets in the presence of warm liquid.

What is the difference in texture between agar and gelatin?

Agar has a chewy and gummy texture, while gelatin has a smooth and velvety texture when set.

What are the nutritional differences between agar and gelatin?

Agar is primarily fiber and has almost no nutritional value, while gelatin is a significant source of collagen and protein.

Can agar and gelatin be substituted in recipes?

Yes, agar and gelatin can be substituted gram for gram in recipes, although agar will set more firmly than gelatin.