Agar Agar is considered a healthy addition to weight loss plans due to it being low in calories, fat, sugar and carbohydrates. An appetite suppressant, Agar Agar is chiefly made up of water-soluble, indigestible fibre and is known as a “hydrophilic colloid”. It attracts and absorbs water, increasing bulk with very few calories which gives a feeling of fullness that allows people to reduce their food intake. As Agar Agar travels through the body it also absorbs glucose in the stomach, passing it through the digestive system quickly thus inhibiting its storage as fat.
Consuming Agar Agar as part of a natural weight loss plan is known as the “Kanten Diet” in Japan. This entails adding a teaspoon of the powder to tea or hot water and drinking before meals. Promoting a feeling of satiety, it can also help to stabilise blood sugar and block the storage of fat and is a diet that many Japanese women swear by.
The fibre found in Agar Agar has many digestive benefits. It absorbs toxins from the gut and gastrointestinal tract, carrying the toxic waste safely out of the body. Often used as a remedy for constipation, the soluble fibre found in Agar Agar absorbs water in the gut and forms bulk which acts as a natural laxative. Regulating and cleansing the bowel is one of the cornerstones of digestive health.
Agar Agar is high in calcium and magnesium, and whilst calcium is famous for its contribution to strong and healthy bones, a lesser known fact is that it must be in balance with magnesium to increase bone density. A common problem in western diets is too much calcium and not enough magnesium which can lead to painful calcification of joints and the formation of kidney and gallstones. Luckily Agar Agar contains a healthy balance of these two important minerals, alongside manganese – a nutrient that is vital to the metabolism and formation of bones.
Agar Agar is a polymer made up of sub-units of the simple sugar molecule galactose which is commonly referred to as “brain sugar”. It is vital for the development of the brain in babies and children, and can be produced endogenously by the body as well as supplemented from foods such as Agar.
When synthesised by the body, galactose forms a part of glycolipids and glycoproteins in several tissues. It is an important component of the myelin sheath protecting the brain, spinal cord and central nervous system. With regards to degenerative conditions of the brain, a recent study concluded that: “galactose plays a potentially useful role in removing neurotoxic compounds from the brain in patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease”.
Folklore and history
According to Japanese legend, Agar Agar was discovered by an innkeeper who found that some discarded seaweed soup had gelled after being discarded outside on a cold winters night.
"A Japanese Emperor and his Royal Party were lost in the mountains during a snow storm and arriving at a small inn, they were ceremoniously treated by the innkeeper who offered them a seaweed soup with their dinner. Maybe the innkeeper prepared too much or the taste was not so palatable but some soup was thrown away, freezing during the night and crumbling afterwards by thawing and draining, leaving a cracked substance of low density. The innkeeper took the residue and, to his surprise, found that by boiling it up with more water a jelly could be made".
Agar Agar is a gelatinous substance that is derived from the cell walls of red seaweed – most notably Tengusa (Gelidiaceae) and Ogonori (Gracilaria). Thought to have been discovered accidentally by a Japanese innkeeper in the 17th century, Agar is a mixture of two components – the linear polysaccharide agarose, and a heterogeneous mixture of smaller molecules known as agaropectin. It forms the supporting structure in the cell walls of certain species of red algae, and is released on boiling.
Since its discovery Agar Agar has been extensively used as an alternative to animal derived gelatine, and most famously in petri dishes to culture bacteria. Firmer and stronger than gelatine, Agar replaced gelatine as the preferable medium used in laboratories to grow bacteria as it was found that Agar isn’t degraded (eaten) by the bacteria.
Agar Agar can be substituted for gelatin at a ratio of 1:1. It can be used to make jelly, panna cotta, ice cream, jam and to thicken soups and stews.
Agar Agar consists of a mixture of two polysaccharides: agarose and agaropectin, with agarose making up about 70% of the mixture. Agarose is a linear polymer, made up of repeating units of agarobiose, a disaccharide made up of D-galactose and 3,6-anhydro-L-galactopyranose.
It is important to consume Agar Agar with plenty of liquid. Please consult your health practitioner if you have dysphagia or an obstructed bowel before using Agar Agar.