Gelatin powder is a versatile ingredient used in many recipes to provide thickness, structure, and that signature "jiggle." Derived from collagen in animal bones and tissues, gelatin acts as an effective gelling agent in desserts like panna cotta, mousses, marshmallows, and jello. However, for vegetarians, vegans, and those with certain dietary restrictions, regular gelatin powder is off the table.
Luckily, there are several plant-based ingredients that can adequately substitute for gelatin powder in recipes. Each works a bit differently, so some trial and error is required to achieve the perfect result. But with the right gelatin alternative, you can recreate rich custards, fluffy mousses, and even bouncy marshmallows without a hint of animal products.
Common Gelatin Powder Substitutes
Here are the most popular options for replacing gelatin powder in vegan and vegetarian recipes:
- Agar Agar - Derived from red algae, it acts most similar to gelatin.
- Carrageenan - Sourced from red seaweed, it provides a softer set.
- Pectin - Naturally found in fruits, ideal for jams and jellies.
- Vegan Jel - A commercial blend designed to mimic gelatin.
- Xanthan Gum - A thickener and stabilizer, also used in gluten-free baking.
- Cornstarch - A versatile kitchen staple that can work in some recipes.
- Arrowroot -Creates thickness in items like pie fillings and sauces.
- Guar Gum - Another stabilizer that provides structure in baking.
- Instant Clear Jel - A modified cornstarch that thickens without heat.
Key Takeaway: Agar agar, carrageenan, vegan jel, and pectin are the best direct substitutes for the gelling properties of gelatin powder.
While the options seem endless, agar agar remains the gold standard, as its firm, gummy texture closely resembles gelatin. However, other alternatives can also produce delicious results with the right techniques. Let's explore how eachsubstitute works and excels in certain recipes.
Using Agar Agar as a Substitute
Agar agar is the most popular gelatin alternative derived from red algae. When dissolved in hot liquid and cooled, it solidifies into a firm, resilient gel.
How to use agar agar:
- Use a 1:1 substitution ratio for agar powder instead of gelatin powder.
- For flakes, use 1 tablespoon per 1 teaspoon of gelatin powder.
- Simmer agar in liquid for 1-2 minutes until dissolved.
- Agar sets at room temperature after cooling.
Due to its potency, agar agar produces firmer gels than gelatin. For softer textures, use less agar than the recipe calls for in gelatin. Agar works wonderfully in items like:
- Fruit or vegetable terrines
- Vegan jello desserts
- Panna cotta
Key Takeaway: With its strong gelling abilities, agar agar excels as a substitute in firmed molded desserts like terrines, vegan jello, and marshmallows.
Agar agar powder is available at most health food stores and online retailers. When stored in a cool, dry place, it will keep for up to 1 year.
Carrageenan for Softer Gels
Carrageenan comes from red seaweed and provides excellent gelling properties. However, it results in a more tender, delicate gel compared to firmer agar agar.
There are two main types:
- Iota carrageenan - Best for creamy gels like pudding
- Kappa carrageenan - Creates firmer gels closer to agar
How to use carrageenan:
- Use 1 ounce dried seaweed per 1 cup liquid.
- Soak dried carrageenan in water for 12 hours.
- Simmer for 10 minutes to activate gelling properties.
- Strain out seaweed pieces after cooking.
Carrageenan works well in:
- Ice creams
Key Takeaway: For melt-in-your-mouth gels, carrageenan is ideal in creamy desserts like puddings, mousses, and ice creams.
Purchase carrageenan online or at health food stores. It lasts 6-12 months stored in an airtight container.
Naturally occurring in fruits, pectin is commonly used to make jams and jellies. When combined with sugar and acid, pectin forms a thickened gel-like matrix that encapsulates the fruit.
How to use pectin:
- Mix pectin with sugar before adding to other wet ingredients.
- Dissolve pectin in warm liquid.
- Requires both heat and sugar to activate gelling properties.
Pectin works well in:
- Jams and jellies
- Fruit glazes
- Fruit pies and tarts
- Some mousses and custards
Key Takeaway: Thanks to its fruit-gelling abilities, pectin shines when making jams, jellies, marmalades, and fruit-based desserts.
Find pectin in the baking aisle at grocery stores or purchase online. Store in an airtight container for 6-12 months.
Convenient Vegan Jel
For easy, fuss-free gelatin substitution, look no further than commercial vegan jel products. These powdered mixes contain vegetable gums, starch, and other gelling agents tailored to mimic gelatin.
How to use vegan jel:
- Substitute 1:1 for gelatin powder called for in recipes.
- Dissolve jel powder in cold liquid per package instructions.
Vegan jel creates:
- Vegan jello
Key Takeaway: Vegan jel conveniently substitutes for gelatin at a 1:1 ratio in nearly any gel-based dessert recipe.
Find vegan jel online or sometimes in health food stores. Follow individual product instructions.
Xanthan Gum for Stability
Xanthan gum is a popular ingredient in gluten-free baking. Produced through sugar fermentation, it acts as a thickener and stabilizer.
How to use xanthan gum:
- Use 1/2 the amount of xanthan gum vs. gelatin called for.
- Mix xanthan gum into liquid ingredients.
- No heating required.
Xanthan gum works well in:
- Pie fillings
- Pastry creams
- Salad dressings
Key Takeaway: At half the amount of gelatin, xanthan gum adds stability and thickness to sauces, smoothies, salad dressings, and fillings.
Find xanthan gum in the gluten-free section of grocery stores or online. It stores for up to 1 year.
Cornstarch for Gravies and Sauces
A kitchen staple, cornstarch can thicken liquids in place of gelatin in some recipes. However, it lacks true gelling abilities.
- Make a slurry with equal parts cornstarch and cool water.
- Heat slurry mixture to activate thickening.
Cornstarch works in:
- Pie fillings
- Some puddings
Key Takeaway: While not a true gel, cornstarch thickens up gravies, sauces, and some desserts in place of gelatin.
Find cornstarch in any grocery store's baking aisle. Store in an airtight container indefinitely.
Arrowroot for Fruity Desserts
Extracted from the arrowroot plant, this starch thickens sauces, glazes, and fruit fillings.
How to use arrowroot:
- Use 2 teaspoons arrowroot for every 1 1⁄4 teaspoon gelatin powder.
- Mix into dry ingredients for baked goods.
- Make a slurry to add to hot liquids.
Arrowroot excels in:
- Fruit glazes
- Pie fillings
- Cheesecake fillings
Key Takeaway: Arrowroot creates glossy, thick fruit fillings and glazes as a substitute for gelatin.
Purchase arrowroot starch online or in the gluten-free section of grocery stores. It stores up to 1 year sealed.
Guar Gum for Structure
Derived from guar beans, this soluble fiber has powerful thickening and stabilizing properties. It helps provide structure in baked goods.
How to use guar gum:
- Use 1⁄2 teaspoon guar gum for every 2 1⁄2 teaspoons gelatin.
- Mix guar gum into dry ingredients before adding wet.
- No heat required.
Guar gum works well in:
- Quick breads
- Ice creams
Key Takeaway: In baked goods, guar gum adds structure and richness that gelatin otherwise provides.
Find guar gum with other gluten-free flours or online. Store for up to 1 year sealed.
What is the best overall substitute for gelatin powder?
For the most similar gel-like texture and versatility, agar agar is the best substitute for gelatin powder. It can mimic gelatin's gelling properties in nearly any recipe.
Which substitute works for vegan jello?
To make vegan jello desserts, agar agar and commercial vegan jel products yield the closest firm, bouncy texture to traditional gelatin-based jello.
What can I use instead of gelatin to thicken sauces?
Cornstarch and arrowroot thicken sauces well when substituted for gelatin. Make a slurry and simmer briefly to activate their thickening power without overcooking.
What powder sets up creamy desserts like gelatin?
For lighter, melt-in-your-mouth gels like mousse or panna cotta, try carrageenan or a commercial vegan jel product in place of regular gelatin powder.
While gelatin may have some unique properties, there are plenty of plant-based ingredients that can successfully substitute for it in recipes. Agar agar, carrageenan, and vegan jel make excellent gelling agents for firmer to softer dessert textures. Pectin shines in fruit applications, while guar gum adds structure to baked goods. Starches like arrowroot and cornstarch lend thickness to sauces, gravies, and pie fillings.
The options abound for creative cooks and bakers to adapt their recipes. With the proper techniques for preparing and incorporating substitutes, even the most gelatin-rich dishes can get a vegan makeover. A little experimentation with ratios may be required, but the end results will impress.