Jell-O, doesn’t that just sound all fun and warm and bring back fuzzy memories of one of your favourite desserts that mom used to make and maybe you helped her make it for the family.
Now picture this. Horses, cows, pigs dragged from one end of the slaughter house, squealing, screaming – it’s a horrendous sound – then shot through the eyes with a bolt to stun them. Now they’re hoisted up by their ankles by chains, their skin tearing and bleeding.
Their throats are cut at which point many will regain consciousness and flail about as blood gushes all over the place.
Now they’re skinned, eviscerated – means to cut out their inside organs – and chopped up into what me erroneously mistake for food i.e. their flesh is chopped up according to butchers’ guides to the cuts of meat. You’re left now with sinew, tendons, skeleton and bits of skin that aren’t used to make leather.
Now take all that left over material also known as collagen and boil it up with some chemicals and you’re left with gelatin.
I bet that Jell-O doesn’t sound all that yummy anymore does it?
So what are some things that are made of gelatin that vegans avoid? Jell-O as mentioned as well as many gummy-type candies (you’ll have to read the ingredients), marshmallows, trifles, aspic (basically a savoury Jell-O) and other gelatin desserts.
Gelatin is also sometimes found in margarine, jams, yogurt and cream cheese as a stabilizer. And of course most vitamin and medicine capsules are made from gelatin unless they say otherwise.
Quite gross I agree. And the grossest part is that all of the above can be made just the same with vegetarian gelatin or vegan gelatin. There are even now, very tasty vegan marshmallows out there which are great for making vegan rice crispy squares and for use in hot cocoa or melting over campfires.
So you might be asking yourself what are the vegetarian gelatin substitutes out there? Well my good and kind vegetarian friend I’m about to share with you the most common ones.
Agar agar is perhaps the most popular vegan gelatin out there that is used for cooking and for making things like vegan Jell-O or other vegetarian based gelatin desserts.
Agar or agar agar is derived from red algae and as such is a vegan gelatin substitute. It is also a very easy vegetarian gelatin to use in recipes that call for regular gelatin. Agar is available in flakes or powdered form and I recommend the powdered form as it dissolves more easily. If you have flakes you’d do well to grind them in a (clean) coffee grinder until powdered.
Use the same amount of agar as gelatin that is called for in any recipe.
A couple of pointers to bear in mind. Citrus fruits because of their acid content will require more agar agar so add an extra 20% to start and see how that does. Tropical fruits like mangoes, papaya and pineapple have enzymes that will disable gelling so cooking them/boiling them for a couple of minutes will neutralize these enzymes.
1 tablespoon of agar flakes is equal to 1 teaspoon of agar powder.
As a general rule of thumb if you are looking to gel 2 cups of liquid then use 2 tsp of agar agar powder or 2 tbsp of agar agar flakes.
The nice thing about agar agar is that you don’t need to refrigerate it in order to let it set. It will set at room temperature.
Carrageenan or carrageen
Carrageen is also made from seaweed and also red seaweed. Carrageenan is also known under the name of Irish Moss and is a vegan and vegetarian substitute for gelatin.
Carrageenan I have not used myself but I have heard that it is best for softer puddings or gels. If you are after a more traditional Jell-O then you’re better off to use agar. To use carrageen which is often available in sheets you clean it and then soak it in water until it swells which can take a couple or so hours.
Once swollen you add it to the liquid you want to set and boil it for 10 minutes. Then you take the carrageenan out and let the liquid cool and it will set.
Guar gum is another option you can use in place of gelatin. In fact, guar gum is often used in gluten free cooking for baked goods as it acts as a stabilizer and it is apparently has 8 times the thickening power of cornstarch.
Guar gum also known as guaran is from the guar bean primarily grown in India and Pakistan. It is a very versatile cooking ingredient and not just for vegan cooking.
To use guar gum as a gelatin substitute use about one fifth the amount of guar gum for the amount of gelatine asked for in the recipe. So if the recipe calls for 5 tsps gelatine then use 1 tsp of guar gum.
Mix the guar gum with any other dry ingredients in the recipe and then add slowly to the liquid while stirring vigorously. Alternatively, you can use a blender and add the guar gum gradually as you blend the wet ingredients. Guar gum does not have to be heated in order to work well so you can use cold or room temperature liquid with guar gum.
Those are perhaps the most well known of thickeners and stabilizers used as vegan and vegetarian gelatine substitutes.
However, I would be remiss if I did not draw your attention to Pamona’s Universal Pectin. Pectin as many of you might know is used for making jams and jellies. Pectin is derived from plants and usually from citrus fruits. Pamona’s comes with detailed instruction for making all sorts of jellied or gelatin like desserts. It is cheap and definitely worth a try.