It thrives mainly in Southeast Asia on the shores of the Indian Ocean, but also occurs off the coasts of California and Mexico. The algae are harvested in the summer from the seabed or collected at low tide on the beach, thoroughly cleaned and then laid out to dry. They are then boiled in water, dissolving the desired ingredient from the cell walls and turning the cooking water into a viscous gel.
This is dried or freeze-dried, often also bleached, and is then in the form of flakes or white powder. The name "agar-agar" comes from the Indonesian or Malay and means translated as "gelling food from algae". In addition to Gelidium, the red algae Garcilaria, Hypnea and Pterocladia are suitable for the extraction of the substance.
Already in the 17th century, the Japanese made agar-agar and used it in the preparation of food. To this day, for example, tokota noodles are popular as a low-calorie and refreshing snack. Even in Chinese cuisine, the odorless and tasteless algae powder is traditionally used, and even the western food industry has long since discovered its outstanding properties.
Since it is much more fertile than conventional gelatin, it serves as a thickener among other things in vegetarian soups, puddings, ice creams and pies. Under the approval number E 406 it is in the list of food additives. For the preparation of vegetarian and vegan dishes, one coated teaspoon of agar-agar is enough to replace as many as six sheets of gelatine. The powder is - depending on the recipe - cooked in broth, milk, juice or water for two minutes, so that its gelling effect can fully develop.
Another area of application for agar-agar is in microbiology. Here, the substance serves as a breeding ground for microorganisms. Their advantage over gelatine is, among other things, that it better withstands the high temperatures required for sterilization. The surface of the agar-agar gel also forms a thin layer of liquid on which solid objects can slide more easily.
This allows a more even distribution of test material using spatulas or cannulas. In gel form, agar-agar is used in laboratories as a substrate for the rearing of various plants and thereby influences the physiology of their cell cultures. Designers have recently developed a cushioning material for shipping packaging under the project name "Agar Plasticity" made of freeze-dried agar gel to replace environmentally harmful plastics.
The versatile algae powder is mainly available in health food stores, organic and asiatic shops, but meanwhile it is also found in the assortment of well-stocked supermarkets. Pure agar is offered in pharmacies and is often used as a natural anti-constipation bulking agent. As a homeopathic remedy in the form of globules or drops of the drug in the potencies D12, C6 to C200 and 1MK is used.
Agar-agar consists of indigestible fiber and therefore has a positive effect on digestion. In higher doses, it can also act directly as a laxative. Classic homeopathy uses agar-agar for symptoms that occur as a result of the suppression of secretions, perspiration, or skin rashes from externally applied preparations.
The symptoms mentioned in the corresponding drug picture range from emotional irritability and hypochondria to congestion, bronchitis and seizures. Also miraculous secretions, heat sensation and burning pain in individual body parts are on the list - if they are the result of the suppression of skin rash or nail fungus by ointments.
Not only with the isolated agar-agar, but also with a tea from the whole leaves of the red algae works the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It describes the active ingredients contained as detoxifying and cholesterol-lowering and assigns them to the functional circle of the stomach, liver, spleen, lung, kidney, bladder and intestines.
Agar agar powder stirred in water recommends it to regulate bowel movements with slowed intestinal peristalsis, hardened stool and constipation. Similar to homeopathy, Chinese medicine also uses the precious substance from red algae to eliminate heat and reduce fire.
From bronchial catarrh and pneumonia to gastritis, cystitis and even hemorrhoids, she targets many ailments and illnesses. Generally, in the Chinese tradition, agar-agar is considered to be tonic and is recommended for stimulating the metabolism. It is designed to help with overweight, edema and cellulite, counteract swelling of the testicles and get the kidney qi in motion.
The Indonesian folk medicine uses the algae powder in heart disease and also attributes it a beneficial effect in diabetes mellitus. Because of the great similarity of the algae protein with the cartilage substances in the human body represent some naturopaths in this country, the view that a corresponding dietary supplement to alleviate the course of osteoarthritis or - with early regular intake - even to a certain extent can prevent.