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is vegan panna cotta possible?

After googling the query i've found some recipes but most call for a vegan gelatin substitute called agar agar which is not at all easy to find. I'm in LA county, san gabriel valley to be exact, and it's amazingly difficult to get my hands on.

However, I was thinking if it would be possible to use some pectin. I'm making a lemon mint panna cotta and was thinking the pectin would give just the right amount of firmness needed for the dessert. Especially since all the comments about the agar agar seem to point to a not so desirable firmness.

While I'm here the panna cotta is for a some friends which is for three omnivores a vegan and a pescetarian, what a venture right? Anyone have any ideas? I'm going for a spring menu something nice and colorful and not too heavy. thanks in advance

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  1. You shouldn't have any problem finding agar-agar in any Chinese market in the SGV. Sometimes it's in the same aisle as the almond-jello/pudding/jello packets. Sometimes it's with the corn starch. Usually they come in two forms: 1.) small flat packages of powder. Kind of like the small packages yeast comes in. and 2.) larger, long plastic-wrapped packages of clearish 'squiggly things'

    I suggest the powder because it's easier to measure and dissolve. The squiggly things you have to break up and then dissolve in water before using.

    I've tried making vegan panna cotta with agar, but grossly misjudged how much agar I needed and put too much. Instead, I got hard, coconutty jello. Be sparse with the agar-agar! I've had luck cutting agar-agar with corn-starch to make things that aren't *too* firm like vegan yogurt.

    Good luck!

    2 Replies
    1. re: PandanExpress

      I agree with cutting the agar-agar with cornstarch, at least for making panna cotta. Then, you'll get a softer texture, more reminiscent of panna cotta.

      I think the powder version is easier to work with because it "melts" into the liquid faster. I just saw it at Sprouts, as well as the other places mentioned on this thread.

      1. re: choctastic

        >>I agree with cutting the agar-agar with cornstarch, at least for making panna cotta. Then, you'll get a softer texture, more reminiscent of panna cotta.<<

        I was going to mention this - I think some of the really nice tofu puddings I've had are made in this fashion - very similar texture.

    2. Agar is super easy to get in the SGV... go to any Chinese or Vietnamese market and it's there... super cheap too. You will find it in the same place as the other jello type stuff - a lot of the time in small plastic bags. I think it should say agar on it in English somewhere or other; you may get a blank stare if you ask for it by name, so you might just have to do a little poking around. Most health food stores or Whole Paycheck should have it too (with better directions, but at a much higher price). It is tricky to use the right amount of agar - if you use too much, your dessert will come out really, really firm.

      While I applaud you for trying, I personally think that vegan desserts should stick to their strengths, and I think you may have limited success with trying to create a "panna cotta" -- it's something which is so dependent on milk / cream and eggs. If I *were* going to try to do one, I'd most likely try to do a raw nut-cream based one (soak raw cashews at least overnight, blend with water until you get a completely smooth consistency; you should be able to find some more details online). Most of the best desserts that are trying to imitate that kind of texture seem to have been nut-based. I have had some imitation creme brulée that are at least decent.

      1 Reply
      1. re: will47

        Whole Foods sells it. Its in the aisle along with all the japanese products.

      2. http://www.flickr.com/photos/melaniew...
        The link is for a photo of agar-agar commonly found in Chinese markets. I took the picture so that a non-Chinese friend could print it out and find it at a Chinese grocery store. He was successful although i do recall him saying that the store owner kept telling him that he wanted the rice noodles instead until he showed him the picture!

        You should have no trouble finding it in SGV.

        1. Hell, if I can get agar agar in Indiana (and I can), you should certainly be able to find it all over LA.

          1. A friend of mine from Scotland loaded up on agar at Whole Foods, because she cannot get it at home. It wasn't cheap and, next time she visits, I'm planning on taking her to Ranch 99 instead, but it definitely was available at Whole Foods.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Jwsel

              Thanks for the help everyone it seems my problem was that nobody knew what agar agar actually was. I just found some over in Marukai, a japanese store over in azusa, they had both they had the powder and the squiggly rice noodle kind. I'm gonna try out the recipe tonight just in case. Thanks again.

            2. You do know that panna is not vegan, right?

              1 Reply
              1. re: tmso

                The light bulb went on above my head during lunch today. I guess I was a little slow this morning....

              2. I tried using agar agar to make a (vegetarian) panna cotta. It was awful. I ended up using a vegan kosher for passover gelatin substitute. That worked perfectly. This is the right time of year to look for the kosher-for-passover stuff -- just be sure to read the box that you're getting the vegan one. (Oh and by the way, my post on subbing for gelatin in panna cotta is on CH here somewhere and I can't locate it right now.)

                5 Replies
                1. re: LNG212

                  Found my old post on substituting for gelatin in panna cotta : http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/605840 . Maybe some of the ideas there will help you.

                  1. re: LNG212

                    Kosher gelatin is *not* necessarily vegetarian; I'd say there's a good chance any given brand will not be. So beware unless the product is specifically marked as being vegetarian. If it is, there's a good chance it's more or less just agar anyway. There's a further discussion of this in the post LNG linked to.


                    1. re: will47

                      I realize that kosher gelatine MAY not be vegan - as it could technically be derived from the bones of a kosher animal - but I suspect that most kosher gelatin is also pareve, which means it contains neither milk nor meat ingredients. I guess you should look for the word "pareve" on the label - it won't have to say vegetarian, but unless there's something weird going on, there absolutely will not be any animal products involved. Since most gelatine is used for dessert preparation, I can't imagine there being much use for a kosher gelatine that isn't absolutely neutral.

                      The level of supervision and general neurosis that surrounds the labelling of kosher foods would make it a pretty reliable bet in terms of full disclosure of ingredients. The odd time you hear of some fracas caused by mis-labelling of a kosher product, but this kind of thing is so extremely rare as to be newsworthy.

                      1. re: Nyleve

                        I don't believe that is entirely true. There are loopholes which allow certain dead-animal-derived products to be still considered pareve. I don't claim to have an in-depth understanding of Kashrut law, but I have a friend who used to work as a rabbi certifying food for the OU, and he told me something along those lines. Also, see here:
                        http://www.ivu.org/faq/gelatine.html - quoting from an OU article:

                        "...since the gelatin product is from hides or bones - not real flesh - and has undergone such significant changes, it is no longer considered 'fleishig' (meat) but 'pareve', and can be eaten with dairy products."

                        So I would *not* assume that pareve products are always vegetarian, and of course they can also include egg ingredients.

                        1. re: will47

                          Thanks for the clarification - I had no idea. I guess I should have considered the possibility of fish though. My mistake.

                          I realize about the egg, though, but I can't imagine egg ever showing up in gelatine. But I guess stranger things have happened...

                  2. Look for kosher gelatin powder (easily found in any store that carries kosher products) and use coconut milk for the liquid. I think this could be very nice.