Jello salad is an American picnic and barbecue staple from Memorial Day until Labor Day (and beyond). But if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, the gelatin that makes Jello, well, a gel doesn’t exactly jive with your lifestyle. This weekend, why not try out one of these crowd-pleasing vegan gelatin alternatives to add to the spread?
First, there is such a thing as kosher gelatin, which is made in keeping with kosher laws and without animal products (I don’t know how they do it, but they do). Unfortunately, it can be hard to find; you can order it online, but that’s not very helpful if you’re looking to make something this weekend.
There’s also carrageenan, a soft seaweed derivative that isn’t perfect for Jello salads, but does work well for, say, pudding or custard.
But by far the most popular vegan alternative for making a Jello-esque dessert is agar-agar (or just agar). The gelling ingredient so nice they named it twice, this flavorless, often colorless is also made from seaweed, but is much firmer and comes in flakes, bar form, or powder like gelatin.
It’s loaded with protein, and though it’s not exactly a health food, you can easily find it at health food stores or Asian food markets. Then follow the directions that it comes with, exactly substitute agar for gelatin, and use the finished product it just like you’d use Jello (with fruit and yogurt, or whatever else you like). But if, for some reason, the package you get doesn’t have instructions, here’s basically what you need to know:
According to The Cook’s Thesaurus, 3 Tbsp of agar flakes is equal to 2 tsps of agar powder, which is equal to about one bar. Each of these measurements will set to a firm gel (even at room temperature!) after disolved in two cups of warm liquid (like water). Try out a few batches–and note that if you’re using an acidic fruit or flavor (like lemon), you may want a little extra agar to make sure your creation stays firm.
If you’re really pressed for time–or just feeling a little lazy–you can go on a hunt for pre-made vegan “gelatin” desserts, which come in boxes just like the real deal. Natural Desserts is a tried-and-true choice that vegans and vegetarians have been turning to for years, and available at a lot of natural foods stores.
Now go forth and create the vegetarian and vegan versions of all your Midwest summer salads.
Image: jon le-bon via Shutterstock