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For the past month I’ve been experimenting with agar agar. Agar agar, a gelatinous substance derived from red algae, is popular in Asian desserts. It’s also used as a vegan alternative to gelatin. (While often used as a gelatin substitute, agar agar has a different texture and cooking properties – see cooking tips below.) The alcohol-free agar agar seen here was made with a Hibiscus and Mint herbal tea from Austin-based Nile Valley Herbs. The Hibiscus creates a lovely floral taste with a vibrant, all-natural red. The touch of mint and sugar provide a cool sweetness.

A few tips for making agar agar desserts from scratch:

  • Agar agar can be found at most Chinese grocery stores.
  • In my experience, alcohol prevents agar agar from setting. If anyone knows how to make boozy agar agar molds – please let me know!
  • Use 1-teaspoon agar agar for 2-cups liquid.
  • Using the 1-teaspoon to 2-cups of liquid ratio creates a stiff jelly, often too stiff to work with gelatin molds. Instead pour into a shallow pan, let cool, and cut into squares. To create a softer substance, increase liquid.
  • Agar agar sets faster than gelatin, and can set at room temperature.
  • Check out my other agar agar recipes: Blood Orange Agar Agar and Blackberry and Tea Agar Agar.

Recipe for 4-cups

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 hibiscus mint tea bags
  • ½ cup sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons agar agar

In a medium bowl, pour 2 cups of boiling water over 4 tea bags. Let steep for 15-minutes, remove tea bags. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the other 2 cups of water with sugar and agar agar. Boil for 15-minutes. Stir the boiling water with the tea. Pour into shallow pan to cool. Once set, cut into cubes.

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The mojito is one of my favorite summer drinks. Sweet, sour, minty, and bubbly. Here I suspended strawberries and mint leaves for visual interest, and added blueberries to create a patriotic theme for 4th of July.

Making cocktail-based molds from scratch is a challenge! I finally decided to steep lime zest and mint leaves in a hot lime syrup (water, limes, sugar). The lime/mint combination tasted great, but I was heavy handed on the rum. Even my alcohol loving friends admitted it was strong.  A bit more practice and I’ll hopefully unlock the secret to cocktail-based gelatin molds.

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