My wife treats it like the wellspring of life. Everything baked needs agar powder, because flour, egg, sugar, and then heat can’t possibly make all this stuff stick together and form something tasty and edible without it…
I’m sending her to APA (Agar Powder Anonymous), because she needs it. She needs a twelve step program so she’ll give up what will eventually ruin our union. I’m hiding all the agar powder. No, I’m tossing it out the front door into the weeds that grow wild near our house. She’ll never in a million years find it there, now that the rainy season is here and the weeds grow as fast as…well, as weeds!
Death to agar. I bite into a cake and it tastes funny. I ask her what it is, what makes it have the consistency of Jell-O, low and behold it’s the dreaded A word. Why does this stuff find its way into everything baked? Cookies, cakes, icing, and muffins…bread for God’s sake. What is it about Thai’s that they think this is the Holy Grail of baking?
—Well you know dear, without it the world will fly off its axis and crash into the sun. Then what would we do?
What is this stuff and why does it have such power over my otherwise sweet and mild mannered wife? I need to look into this mystery. Here is what I found.
Throughout history into modern times, agar has been chiefly used as an ingredient in desserts throughout Asia and also as a solid substrate to contain culture media for microbiological work. Agar (agar-agar) can be used as a laxative, an appetite suppressant, vegetarian gelatin substitute, a thickener for soups, in fruit preserves, ice cream, and other desserts, as a clarifying agent in brewing, and for sizing paper and fabrics.
Desserts throughout Asia, hmm, and so that nice lady on YouTube that’s making that thing she is making, whatever it is, and it looks vaguely western, has that funny powder in it. Why? Well, because it’s a dessert, and I’m Asian, therefore I must use it.
Stop. I tell her. Now I’m no dessert expert. No, I wasn’t trained in some fancy dessert school in some dessert loving country, a place where the dessert is sacrosanct. Not even close, but what I do know is that if I want to cook Thai food I’ll go to the source, that being someone Thai, or at least someone Asian. I won’t get my Thai recipes from Wanda Jean of Sheboygan, Wisconsin who confuses Thailand with Taiwan and still uses the word ‘oriental’ to describe anyone from over there past the pacific ocean—no further, like where Hawaii is…
The Agar powder goes.