Better Fruit Gel-Oh

Today’s vegans can choose among decadent and delicious dessert recipes for cookies, cakes, puddings, frozen desserts – the list goes on.  If you have been reading my blog or have read my cookbooks – and I sure hope you have! – or if you’ve taken any one of my cooking classes, you know my mantra is desserts are treats, they are not one of the food groups. I don’t include calorie or fat counts because desserts = treats.

Today, when thinking about the ever-growing requests for no-sugar added, no oil, salt-free (SOS), and gluten-free desserts, I decided to revisit a dessert that I used to eat often. Simple to make, and simple to dress up too, its the Better Fruit Gel-Oh from More Great Good Dairy Free Desserts Naturally. Learn to use agar, the sea vegetable that replaces bovine gelatin, and you’ve got a real secret agent on your side. Agar, which is also known as agar-agar, or kantan, is sea vegetable that gels and has been used traditionally in Asian cuisine for centuries. In addition to being healthier and safer than bovine gelatin, and more compassionate too, it is easier to use than gelatin. Gelatin is usually obtained from cows or pigs and is made by boiling skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones. I don’t know about you, but that’s not something I want in my food.

My instructions for agar recipes always start with soaking the agar off heat. This is equivialent of blooming gelatin and will ensure it dissolves thoroughly and easily.

Agar sets at room temperature and, unlike gelatin, it can be reheated, meaning a softer or firmer gel than you may have intended can be fixed. Testing the gel by refrigerating a tablespoon before you finish the recipe will show you the final consistency in 5 minutes. Make Better Gel-Oh and add lots of seasonal fruit or your favorite vegan cream and some cookie or cake crumbs to make a parfait. When I was pastry chef at Angelica Kitchen, this was our standard gluten-free, sugar-free dessert.

I enjoyed eating this apple juice Better Gel-Oh today with sliced strawberries. And just look what I did with the strawberry hulls. I made strawberry water and suggest you do too. (One word about strawberries: EWG just cautioned that strawberries have taken the number 1 spot on the dirty dozen list, long held by apples.) Pictured are some tests – I always test, plain gel, set with raspberries and creamed too.


Better Fruit Gel-Oh

It’s easy to avoid the sugar, artificial color, and additives found in packaged gelatin desserts. Make gels instead with organic fruit juice, agar, and arrowroot.

Notes: One agar bar can replace the agar flakes in this recipe. Soften the bar in a bowl of water for 1 to 2 minutes. Squeeze to remove the excess water, tear the bar into pieces, and stir into the juice. Proceed with the recipe as directed in step 1.

To achieve the firmer texture of commercial gelatin desserts, omit the arrowroot and add 1 additional tablespoon of agar flakes. Proceed with the recipe as directed.


  • 4 tablespoons agar flakes
  • 4 cups fruit juice
  • 4 teaspoons arrowroot
  • 4 teaspoons cool water
  • 2 cups fresh berries or sliced fruit


  1. Measure the agar into a medium saucepan. Pour in the juice, but do not stir or heat. Set aside for 10 minutes or longer to allow the agar to soften. (This will help the agar dissolve thoroughly and easily.)
  2. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, and stir to release any bits of agar that may be stuck on the bottom of the saucepan. Cover and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring a few times.
  3. Uncover and check the juice in the saucepan, examining a large spoonful for specks of agar. If necessary, cover and simmer longer until the agar has completely dissolved.
  4. Combine the arrowroot with the water in a small bowl and stir with a fork to dissolve. Add the dissolved arrowroot to the simmering juice mixture, whisking constantly. Cook over medium heat only until the liquid boils. Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat. (If you cook or stir arrowroot-thickened mixtures after they have boiled, they are likely to become thin again.)
  5. Pour into a serving bowl or individual dishes. Cool 15 minutes, or until the mixture is beginning to gel. Stir in the fruit, and refrigerate 30 to 40 minutes, until set. Refrigerate leftover gel in a covered container; it will keep for two to three days.



Recipe from More Great Good Dairy Free Desserts Naturally, © 2006 by Fran Costigan.


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