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GELLING AGENTS

Gelling agents are used to thicken and stabilize various foods, like jellies, desserts and candies. Listed below are some basic gelling agents, most of which are used in Finnish cooking and in the recipes of this site.

See also:


Gelatine
Sheet gelatine
Leaf gelatine
  Granulated gelatine
Granulated/powdered gelatine

Gelatine is a colourless, odourless mixture of proteins extracted from pigs' skin or bones and cartilage. It is used to thicken and stabilize various jellies, desserts etc. In Finland, gelatine is usually available in granulated/powdered form or pressed in thin, translucent sheets, called sheet or leaf gelatine. In some dishes, gelatine can be replaced with agar-agar (see below).

Leaf gelatine
Before use, the gelatine sheets are first soaked in cold water for about 5 minutes or until they become pliable. Then they are squeezed dry and thoroughly dissolved in a small amount of hot, but not boiling liquid. While still slightly warm, the gelatine mixture is added to other ingredients in thin stream, beating vigorously to prevent the forming of lumps.

Powdered gelatine
Gelatine powder is soaked in cold water until it swells and dissolved in a small amount of hot, but not boiling liquid. It may also be directly added to a small amount of cold water or other liquid and heated gently until dissolved. While still slightly warm, the gelatine mixture is added to other ingredients in thin stream, beating vigorously to prevent the forming of lumps.

The food in which gelatine has been added is let to set in refrigerator for several hours. Various gelatine products may have different gelling properties, so always follow the instructions on the gelatine package to determine how much gelatine to use in a certain recipe, in order to achieve the desired degree of firmness.

In the recipes of this site, the gelatine amounts given are for gelatine products sold in Finland (see the table below).

Amount of gelatine to use in proportion to liquid
Degree of firmnessLiquidLeaf gelatinePowdered gelatine *)
Soft jelly (spoonable)500 ml5 - 6 sheets1¼ - 1½ tbsp
Firm jelly (sliceable)500 ml8 - 9 sheets2 - 2¼ tbsp
*) One (1) tablespoon of powdered gelatine equals to four (4) sheets of leaf gelatine


Agar-agar
(Gelidium spp.)

Agar-agar powder and flakes Agar-agar (E406) is a viscous, tasteless material extracted from several species of red seaweed (Sphaerococcus euchema, Gelidium spp.). Available in bars, strands, flakes and powder, it is used as a stabilizer in the food industry. Agar-agar dissolves in water when heated, and sets to a jelly when cooled to below 40 °C.

In Finnish home cooking, agar-agar is mainly used to make marmalade confections and to replace gelatine (see above) in jellied dishes, nowadays especially in vegetarian cooking. Here in Finland, agar-agar is sold in pharmacies, ethnic food shops and well-equipped grocery stores. The long agar-agar strands sold here are usually soaked in their cooking water overnight before use.

Since specifying the suitable amount of agar-agar needed in a certain recipe depends on the type of agar-agar product used and its gelling properties, it is best to follow the measuring and cooking instructions on the agar-agar package.


Gum arabic
(Acacia senegal)

Gum arabic (E414) is a viscous gum secreted from certain species of acacia trees, growing mainly in Sudan. In food industry, it is used in making chewing gums, candies and soft drinks, among other things.

In Finland, gum arabic is rarely used in home cooking. It is sold here in pharmacies.


Pectin

Pectin is a water-soluble fibre found in plants, acting as a natural gelling agent. In Finland, pectin (E440) is sold in pharmacies and well-equipped grocery stores. It is used mainly added to jams, jellies and marmalades to improve their gelling properties.
Read more about pectin here.


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