Agar Agar is not the same as Agak Agak… Agar Agar is Red Algae !!

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INTRODUCTION

Agar Agar is a Malay word for red algae, apparently it has been accepted as an English word. It is hard for a lay man like me to explain agar agar, so  as usual, I will quote Wikipedia’s explanation of agar agar for reader’s understanding.

Per Wikipedia:

“The word “agar” comes from agar-agar, the Malay name for red algae (Gigartina, Gracilaria) from which the jelly is produced. It is also known as kanten, China grass, Japanese isinglass, Ceylon moss or Jaffna moss. 

Agar-agar is a natural vegetable gelatin counterpart. White and semi-translucent, it is sold in packages as washed and dried strips or in powdered form. It can be used to make jellies, puddings, and custards. For making jelly, it is boiled in water until the solids dissolve. Sweetener, flavouring, colouring, fruit or vegetables are then added and the liquid is poured into moulds to be served as desserts and vegetable aspics, or incorporated with other desserts, such as a jelly layer in a cake. “ (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agar)

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Agar agar is one type of traditional dessert commonly found in Singapore and Malaysia. It is easy to prepare and is a common item being served during Chinese New Year and other festivals. To make it requires no complicated kitchen utensils, just need to boil and mould. Traditionally, households used dried agar agar as shown in this illustration as the raw ingredient. However, in recent years, most households have started to use agar agar powder instead of dried agar agar.

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Traditionally, due to the lack of weighing scales, sophisticated kitchen utensils and written recipes, housewives usually prepare agar agar based on words of mouth using common kitchen items such as cups as the unit of measurement.

I was told that previously, the recipe is 1 cup of soaked agar agar will requires 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water. I liked this type of simple ratio recipe, however, when I tried out, it just turned out to be extremely sweet and tough.

Well, that type of recipe may not be acceptable nowadays since we have so many resources available. In olden days, the challenge to make a good agar agar is to get hold of the correct ratio of water to agar agar. The end product shall be slightly chewy and not to soft like the current jelly. In order to achieve such texture, housewives some times dried their agar agar under the sun. They believed that the less water content in the agar agar, the better it is. In fact, some house hold cut it into one bite size, dried it under the sun until it is very chewy, store in a container and eat it as a snacks or sweets!

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In recent years. preparation of agar agar is not entirely based on texture since all ingredients can be measure rather accurately. It is rather easy but the challenge had shifted to the colour combination and moulding. If you have the relevant mould, you can create your own design based on your creativities. One of the most trendy agar agar moulding will be agar agar moon cake where the agar agar were mould into a moon cake shape. Inside the agar agar moon cake, there is a yellow colour balls resembling the egg yolk.

Again that is deal with planning, making and moulding. It can be rather stressful if there are no prior planning on the colour selection and mould selection. Of course, it can be as simple as just a single colour one flat piece of agar agar. The taste will definitely be the same but of course it is less impressive to your guest.

This illustration will only provide you with the simplest layered agar agar procedures. You can chose your own colour and shape of your mould. I have use some heart shape mould and the colour is purely selected for this illustration only. At home, we will not go until this extent and usually have one to two colours plus 2-3 layers of agar agars.

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NATURAL COLOUR SELECTION

There are a lot of natural colour available and you can totally throw away the artificial colouring, if you wish. Suggested colours are:

  • White and milky – condense milk, coconut milk, fresh milk
  • Chocolate – instant coffee paste, chocolate  paste or powder
  • Red colour – red colour dragon fruits paste
  • Yellow – mango paste
  • Green – pandanus paste
  • Violet or blue – pea flowers
  • Purple –black currant drink
  • Red – strawberry paste
  • Dots in the agar agar –  dragon fruits

Besides the above colours, many varieties of cut fruits can also be included. For example, yam cubes with coconut milk is a good combination. Coffee with milk is another welcoming combination to make into agar agar. Canned Longan or lychee with black currant flavoured agar agar is also a presentable dessert. All this is very much depend on reader’s creativities to prepare one that is acceptable to the guest or family members.

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WHAT IS REQUIRED

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I have intentionally left out the quantities as it is best that you follow the instruction on the the package of agar agar that you bought. Be it dried agar agar strips as shown above or agar agar powders, they will have detail instructions on the quantity of water required. It is best that you follow these instruction as every brands of agar agar will requires different liquid to reach the desired textures.

  • 1 package of agar agar strip (about 38g)
  • Some water (refer package)

  • Some sugar (refer package)

  • Some permitted food colouring of your choice or the type of natural colouring ingredients as mentioned above.

  • Some moulds of your preference

  • Few leaves of Pandanus leaves – bundled (optional)

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STEPS OF PREPARATION

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  • Wash the dried agar agar by soaking in clean water for 1-2 minutes.

  • In a pot, put in the water as stated in the package and add dried agar agar. Use medium heat to bring the water to boil. Continue stirring until all the agar agar are dissolved.

  • Add in the required sugar into the agar agar solution and stirred until dissolve. Turn the heat to the minimal. You just need the heat to prevent the agar agar from solidifying while you do the layering. Alternatively, you can put your agar agar in a big basin of hot water.

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  • Take out some container of your choice, add in your preferred colouring and  pour into the mould.

  • Once done, put it in the freezer or chiller or under the fan and once it is set on the top, you can pour the second layer. How long will it take will depends on your room temperature, the concentration of your agar agar and the types of you container. For my today’s illustration, it is rather fast because the container is very small and my agar agar is quite concentrated.

  • Repeat the same for different layers until all the agar agar were used up.

  • Put in the fridge for another 10-15 minutes.
  • Remove from the mould, cut into your desired size and shape and put in your preferred serving plate.
  • Best served cold as a dessert.

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CONCLUSIONS

This is extremely simple. It is best that you based on what is stated in the package label to prepare the agar agar. Different brands will have different instructions.

Though this illustration is using traditional dried agar agar, you can use agar agar powder instead. The price for both dried agar agar and agar agar powder is rather economical and in my humble opinion, it is still a good choice of snacks or desserts. Variations are many and you have full flexibility to choose your desired flavour, colour and moulding. You guest will surely be impressed by your creativities.

Try this traditional Asian dessert and I am sure you wouldn’t regret preparing it. Hope you like the post today. Have a nice day and cheers.

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Snake Tongue Tea? Gosh.. I Am Going Away……白花蛇舌草罗汉果茶

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Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that the body is in its best condition when the Yin and Yang is balanced. I am no expert in this field but being  a Chinese, I was “brainwashed” about the need to cleanse /balance your body with some foods and drinks such that your body is in the top notch condition.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditional_Chinese_medicine

One of cheapest way of “self medication” or “self balancing” about your body’s Yin and Yang is preparing some herbal drinks at home. There are many many herbs that sometimes i seriously doubt that the grass/weeds that I stepped under my feet are edible and are types of herbs.

In fact, today, one of the herb that I wanted to share with all is a common grass that can be found in many countries. But don’t simply pluck from the streets and cook it unless you are 100% sure of that is exact the plant. Eating plants that have toxins can be disastrous to your body!


WHY THIS DRINK?

Last week, I am eating a lot of baked pastry, according to TCM, it brought heat to your body. I am having a bit of sore throat and today when I am doing the marketing,  I saw these plants. It is in a store selling all sort of herbs in a wet market. Beside selling this herb, they also sell other types of “body cooling” herbs such as purple cane, rhoeo tricolour and other general cooking herbs such as Thai basil, mint leaves and etc..

I WAS TOLD THAT IT IS A COMMON ITEM AND IF YOU CAN GET THIS HERB IN ITS RAW/FRESH FORM, YOU CAN TRY THE DRIED VERSION IN THE TRADITIONAL CHINESE VERSION MEDICAL SHOP.

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This herb is called Hedyotis Diffusa (白花蛇舌草)scientifically and literally translated from Chinese language as White Flower Snake Tongue Grass! Don’t asked me why this name, Ha-ha.

As Hedyotis Diffusa sound so alien to most readers, shall we have a simpler name Snake Tongue Grass? So, from this point onwards, Hedyotis Diffusa and snake tongue grass shall be used interchangeably.

As per Wikipedia on Heydotis Diffusa, it was written that

Hedyotis diffusa (Chinese: 白花蛇舌草; pinyin: báihuā shéshécǎo; literally “white flower snake-tongue grass”, sometimes abbreviated to 蛇舌草 shéshécǎo) is a kind of herb used in traditional Chinese medicine. It is sometimes combined with Siraitia grosvenorii (simplified Chinese: 罗汉果; traditional Chinese: 羅漢果; pinyin: luóhànguǒ) to make hot drinks like Lohoguo of Guongsei (simplified Chinese: 罗汉果蛇舌草精; traditional Chinese: 羅漢果蛇舌草精; pinyin: luóhànguǒ shéshécǎo jīng) or Luohanguo Pearl and Sheshecao Beverage.

Therefore, in this illustration, I have combined with Siritia Grosvenorii (罗汉果), hereinafter refer to as Lohanguo), another common traditional Chinese medicine ingredient.  It is a natural sweetener and is used to treat diabetes in TCM. This combination is nothing raw, you can see it in Chinese Provision shops that sell in instant form.

Source: http://www.fjzzyy.cn/product.asp


BENEFITS OF SNAKE TOUNGE GRASS (HEDYOTIS DIFFUSA)

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Snake tongue grass is believed to have inflammation properties and ability to prevent tumour growth. In addition, it is used to clear heat, counteract toxins, remove damp, treatment of boils and abscesses, snake bite, sore throat etc..

If you goggled heydyotis diffusa, you will note that there are lots of research relating to studies on its role on cancer prevention. The articles below list out the major health benefits of snake tongue grass which includes mostly inhibit cancerous growth of many types of cancer- Chinese herbs in Western View – Baihuasheshecao – health benefits and side effects.

 Sourcehttp://www.baike.com/wiki/白花蛇舌草

In another study to study the anticancer properties of Oldenlandia Diffusa published by US National Library of Medicines in 2004, it was concluded that:

“Oldenlandia diffusa extract effectively inhibited the growth of all the eight cancer cell lines and induced significant increase of apoptosis. The extract exhibited minimum toxic effect on normal pancreatic cells. Furthermore, there was a significant inhibition of lung metastases in the animal model with no noticeable adverse effects. The herb extract could be a potential anticancer agent.”(Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15273074)

As with other herbals, it is advisable that PREGRNANT WOMEN SHALL REFRAINED FROM DRINKING THE TEA UNLESS WITH ADVISE FROM MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS.


As with my other drink series, since this is a Chinese herbs, for the benefits of my readers who are Chinese speaking, I have specifically include this excerpt. Note that the Chinese and English versions are not the same as they are from the different source.

  • 痈肿疮毒,咽喉肿痛,毒蛇咬伤。本品苦寒,有较强的清热解毒作用,用治热毒所致诸证,内服外用均可。如单用鲜品捣烂外敷,治疗痈肿疮毒,也可以本品与金银花、连翘、野菊花等药同用;用治肠痈腹痛,常与红藤、败酱草、牡丹皮等药同用;若治咽喉肿痛,多与黄芩、玄参、板蓝根等药同用;若用治毒蛇咬伤,可单用鲜品捣烂绞汁内服或水煎服,渣敷伤口,疗效较好,亦可与半枝莲、紫花地丁、蚤休等药配伍应用。近年利用本品清热解毒消肿之功,已广泛用于各种癌证的治疗
  • 热淋涩痛。本品甘寒,有清热利湿通淋之效,单用本品治疗膀胱湿热,小便淋沥涩痛,亦常与白茅根、车前草、石韦等同用。” (Source:中医e百网页)


BENEFITS OF ARHAT FRUIT OR LUOHANGUO (SIRITIA GROSVENORII)

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Luohanguo is also called arhat fruit or monk fruits. The plant is cultivated for its fruit, whose extract is nearly 300 times sweeter than sugar and has been used in China as a natural low-calorie sweetener for cooling drinks, and in traditional Chinese medicine to treat diabetes and obesity. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siraitia_grosvenorii). It is very common and you can easily purchased it in any Chinese herbal shops at a very reasonable price.


WHAT IS REQUIRED

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  • One bunch of fresh snake tongue grass of about 500 g. Usually it comes with root and cost about SGD1.20 for it (this price is for estimating the quantity of your fresh snake tongue grass)

  • 6 dried lohanguo

  • 400 gram of rock sugar (can be adjusted according to individual preference)

  • 4 litres of water.

STEPS OF PREPARATION

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  • Soak your snake tongue grass in clean water for 15 minutes

  • Clean thoroughly the grass and watch out for the root portion which may have some soils stuck to the plants.

  • Use clean water to rinse the cleaned snake tongue grass.

The soaking of the snake tongue grass is requested by my mother in law which i think it make sense. Be it commercially cultivated or “plucking” from the wild, we will never know if there are any pesticides, therefore like other vegetables, it is a precautionary steps to wash away the pesticides (if any) by soaking in the water.

You may need quite a lot of water to clean the natural herbs. It is my usual habit to recycle  these water for watering my plants! These are just muddy water and throwing away is a waste. If you do have a lot of plants at home, I would encourage to use this to water your plant or flush your toilet, if you want. You know, I am just a stingy old man! Ha-ha

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  • Break open the lohanguo and look out for any mould in the shell!

 

NOTE

Note that it is not necessary for you to break your lohanguo like the picture above. I do have the habit to break it and see what is inside. There are a few experiences that I saw mold settling insides the seeds. If it is dry with small patches, i will just wash with cold water. Otherwise, I will throw away. The usual ways of cooking this is just use some hard object to break but not open the lohanguo, throw it in the herbs that you are cooking.

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  • Put 4 litres of water in a big pot. Add in snake tongue grass and lohanguo and bring to boil under high heat!

  • Once boiled, turned to medium heat and boiled for another 15-20 minutes.

  • Add in rock sugar and let it boiled for another 5 minutes.

NOTE:

The preparation of this drink is rather flexible, be it the use of main ingredients (snake tongue grass and lohanguo) or side ingredients (rock sugar) and water, You can always adjust to suit your family’s taste buds. Personally, I will start with less water and some rock sugar. If i find it too sweet or concentrated, i will just dilute with water.

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  • Strain the herbal teas and store in a glass bottle (preferred if you have). Though it is not advisable to keep this overnight according to TCM, however, if needed, store in fridge in a clean (preferred if sterilized with hot water) bottle.


VARIATIONS

  • As the drink can be slightly bland, you can add in a small quantity of dry longan to add flavour to it. I have added this to make my kids drinking this tea.


CONCLUSION

I am eating a piece of my zebra patterned pound cake with a glass of this tea as a snack this morning. Chinese believed that all oven baked pastries are “heaty” to your body. There is a constant need to have some drinks to “cool” your body. Too much “heat” in your body will cause acne, sore throat, boils, abscesses and etc.. (In Western terms : inflammation). This is pleasant drink and is a choice among many body cooling drinks that are cooked by Chinese households. You may also interested in my other drink series here:

Have a nice day and don’t forget to cleanse your body! Hope you like the post and cheers.

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