Growing up in a very traditional Chinese family, I learnt from my mother and grand mothers that each kind of food is either cooling or heaty. Something related to Ying and Yang. Ying is male and cooling and Yang is female and heaty. If the weather is very hot, and you have a headache, you need a cooling food. If your teenager has acne erupted on her face, brew something cooling for her. Whether this is true or not depends on you. The Chinese regard Agar-agar as a cooling food. Agar-agar is served at 3pm when the heat of the afternoon is the strongest and it makes a very refreshing snack.
Agar-Agar which is a Malay or Indonesian name for jelly, though it is not exactly jelly or gelatine.
In Hokkien, a Southern Chinese dialect, it is called Chai Yen, and the Japanese call it kanten. The Chinese regard Agar-agar as a cooling food. It swells in size when soaked in water, and now popularly sold as a diet supplement or an aid to reduce obesity.
How does agar-agar work as a diet supplement? It swells in water, similar to the way psyllium husk does. Thus it makes the stomach feel full. It may make a person feel full when he is eating. But however, as the agar-agar is basically water, the false feeling of being full is just temporary. The person will become hungry very quickly and he will end up eating again.
Agar-agar is served two ways. One is dissolved in hot water, milk or juice and set like the way jelly is served, by itself or with fruit. The other way is to serve soaked one inch strands of agar-agar in a fruit salad. The agar-agar has a chewy texture, and when eaten, will sit in your stomach much longer than dissolved agar-agar. By it’s chewy nature, it means it takes much longer to eat the dessert, and again gives the illusion that there is a lot to eat from the bowl. So if agar-agar is served as a substitute to the rich creamy dessert, it may well be a good diet supplement.
If you are tempted to try this, do not buy from those expensive health stores. Go to an Asian store. Agar-agar comes in powdered form in packets, or in strands. Use them the way you do with jelly. If you are more adventurous, try making tofu or almond dessert with agar-agar.
Personally, I would enjoy this as a dessert, an alternative to jelly. I don’t think it will help you lose weight.