Agar-Agar Powder Substitute – What Can You Use?

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Known simply as agar in the culinary world, agar-agar powder is a plant-based gelatin made from seaweed. Agar agar is available in powder, flake, strand, and bar form and is often used as a thickening or stabilizing agent in recipes.

Agar powder is a vegan-friendly alternative to gelatin and is often used as a gelatin substitute in recipes. But what happens when you run out of agar agar powder? If this is the case, you must wonder what can you use as an agar powder substitute.

So, what is the best agar-agar powder substitute? The best agar-agar substitute is cornstarch. Cornstarch is a fine powdery starch used as a thickening agent in various recipes. Other good agar-agar substitutes are arrowroot powder, unflavored gelatin, xanthan gum, guar gum, pectin powder, tapioca starch, carrageenan powder, and vegan gelatin. 

This article explains what agar-agar powder is, lists readily available agar substitutes, and tells you how to use them in recipes. 

What Is Agar Agar Powder?

Agar agar powder is a plant-based gelatin made from red algae called Gelidium Amansii. To make agar-agar, the algae is boiled until it forms a gel, which is then dried and ground into a powder. 

Agar agar is white or semi-translucent in color and is sold as agar flakes, powder, strips, strands, or bars. Odorless and tasteless, this vegan substitute for gelatin can absorb up to 200 times its weight in water and is used as a stabilizing or thickening agent in many recipes. 

In addition to being vegan, agar-agar powder is also gluten-free and safe for people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. 

Agar agar can’t be consumed directly nor used in its powder form. When used as a thickening agent in recipes agar-agar must first be mixed with water, boiled, and then cooled. Although not particularly time-consuming, these extra preparation steps might be the reason you’re looking for an agar substitute in the first place. 

Is Gelatin Powder the same as Agar Agar?

No, gelatin powder isn’t the same as agar-agar. Agar is a plant-based thickening agent made from red algae whereas gelatin is made from livestock collagen. 

These two thickening agents also need to be prepared differently when used in recipes. While gelatin can simply be dissolved in warm water, agar-agar needs to be boiled and cooled before use. 

The resulting recipes will also be slightly different. Dishes made with agar-agar powder are usually firmer and less creamy than those made with gelatin.

5 Best Agar Agar Substitutes

Agar is commonly used as a vegan gelatin substitute. But if you don’t have any agar-agar powder at home, several other ingredients have similar thickening properties as agar and can be used instead of it in recipes. 

1. Cornstarch

Cornstarch is the best agar-agar substitute. Also called cornflour, cornstarch is a carbohydrate extracted from the endosperm of corn kernels. 

This white powder is used as a thickening agent for marinades, sauces, glazes, gravies, soups, pies, casseroles, and other desserts. When using cornstarch as a substitute for agar powder, mix it in liquid first to form a slurry, and then stir it into other wet ingredients.

Use cornstarch as a 1:1 substitute for agar-agar powder in recipes. 

2. Unflavored Gelatin 

Agar powder is commonly used as a vegan substitute for gelatin. Also known as granulated gelatin, unflavored gelatin is made from animal collagen, which is processed into a yellow, odorless, and flavorless substance. 

Gelatin is usually sold in powder form, but it also comes in sheets which are often used by professional chefs. Substitute gelatin for agar-agar powder in a 1:1 ratio in recipes.

3. Arrowroot Powder

Arrowroot powder is another great substitute for agar-agar powder. This white, flavorless powder is extracted from a root of a tropical plant called Maranta arundinacea. 

Arrowroot powder is most commonly used as a thickening agent in soups, sauces, and pie fillings. It has a neutral flavor, and it’s also gluten-free, vegan, and paleo-friendly.

4. Tapioca Starch

Tapioca starch, also called tapioca flour, is made from cassava root. This gluten-free starch is used to thicken stews, soups, and gravies, and can also be used in gluten-free baking.

Tapioca starch is a neutral-tasting vegan flour that can be used as a 1:1 substitute for agar powder in recipes. 

5. Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is a commonly used food additive that has thickening and stabilizing properties. It’s made when sugar is fermented by a type of bacteria called Xanthomonas Campestris. 

When added to liquid, xanthan gum quickly dissolves creating a viscous solution, which makes it a great thickening, stabilizing, and suspending agent. Use xanthan gum as a 1:1 replacement for agar powder in recipes.

Can I Substitute Agar Agar with Cornstarch?

Yes, you can substitute agar-agar powder with cornstarch. In fact, cornstarch is the best substitute for agar powder and is readily available at grocery stores. 

Cornstarch has the same thickening properties as agar-agar powder and is also vegan. Use cornstarch as a 1:1 substitute for agar-agar powder when making soups, gravies, marmalades, jellies, and sweet or savory sauces. 

Can I Replace Agar with Gelatin?

Yes, you can replace agar powder with gelatin. Agar powder is often used as a vegan gelatin substitute and has the same thickening qualities as gelatin. Substitute agar-agar for gelatine in a 1:1 ratio when making soups, sauces, gravies, and desserts. 


Agar agar powder is an increasingly popular vegan-friendly thickening agent. This plant-based powder is often used as a vegan substitute for gelatin and is also gluten-free and safe for people with celiac disease or other gluten-related disorders.

If you’ve run out of agar powder, substitute it with cornstarch in recipes. Some other commonly used substitutes for agar-agar powder are unflavored gelatin, xanthan gum, arrowroot powder, tapioca starch, guar gum, carrageenan powder, pectin powder, and vegan gelatin.

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