Agar-Agar

Botanical Name: Gelidium amansii
Family:    Gelidiaceae
Genus:    Gelidium
Species:    G. amansii
Kingdom:    Archaeplastida
Phylum:    Rhodophyta
Class:    Florideophyceae
Order:    Gelidiales

Synonyms:   Japanese Isinglass.

Common names:   Agar-Agar,
Japansche scheleiachtige mos, Steen-or klipbloem, Hay tsay, Olus marinus, Sajur laut, Tschintschau, Tschoo-hoae (Madlener 1977).

Chinese: Niu mau tsai (Madlener 1977).

Japanese: Tengusa, Makusa, Genso (Madlener 1977), Kanten (Rhoads & Zunic 1978), Oyakusa (Chapman & Chapman 1980).

Common names used in commerce, often for edible algae:  Shie hua ts’ai {China}; Shima-ten-gusa {Jap}

Habitat :  Gelidium amansii grows  in  Japan, China, India,Indonesia,Taiwan,  Ceylon and Macassar.

Description:
A genus of about 20 species of red seaweeds, found mainly in waters off Japan, Spain, Portugal, W Scotland, Ireland, N, S, and W Africa, Madagascar, California, and Chile. They are collected with rakes from boats or by divers from deep water, and are now cultivated by the Japanese on poles in coastal waters. Gelidium amansii is a source of agar or Kanten, a collodial extract used in similar ways to gelatin. The earliers observations of the properties of G. amansii (tengusa) are attributed to a Japanese innkeeper, Minoya Tarozaemon, in 1660, though seaweed gels have been eaten in Japan for over 1,200 years. Its use as agar, a culture medium for bacteria, was developed in the 1880s by Robert Koch, who thereby discovered the organisms that cause tuberculosis. Some 30 species of algae, belonging to about ten different genera, are used worldwide for agar production; the main ones are G. amansii (Japan), G. cartilagineum (USA), Gracilaria verrucosa (Australia), and Pterocladia pinnata (New Zealand). The 20th century saw demand for Gelidium increase in many areas, including medicine, dentistry, forensic science, and the food industry. It is prepared as strips of solidified mucilaginous extract, which gels at 32°C (90°F) and melts at 85°C (185°F). The high melting point makes agar useful in food that might otherwise melt in warm temperatures. In addition, its constituents are non-toxic and not absorbed from the gut.
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Perennial, tuft-forming seaweed, with pinnately branched, rigid, cartilaginous fronds, divided into thread-like segments. Found in intertidal and subtidal zones around China, Japan, Korea, and Pacific coasts of Russia. Width 10-30cm (4-12in).

A seaweed gathered on the East Indian coast and sent to China, it is derived from the various species of Sphaerococcus Euchema and Gelidium. It is brownish-white in colour with thorny projections on its branches; the best variety, known as Japanese Isinglass, contains large quantities of mucilage. The seaweed after collection is spread out on the shore until bleached, and then dried; it is afterwards boiled in water and the mucilaginous solution strained, the filtrate being allowed to harden, and then it is dried in the sun. The time for collection of the Algae is summer and autumn when the bleaching and drying can take place, but the final preparation of Agar-Agar is carried out in winter from November to February. The Japanese variety is derived from several kinds of Algae and comes into European commerce in two forms: (1) In transparent pieces 2 feet long, the thickness of a straw, prepared in Singapore by treating it in hot water. (2) In yellowish white masses about 1 inch wide and 1 foot long. The latter is the form considered the more suitable for the culture of bacteria.

Edible Uses:  Powdered or flaked agar is used to set jellies. Kanten is a popular food in Japan, made into a firm jelly or into tokoroten (noodles).

Constituents:  Agar-Agar contains glose, which is a powerful gelatinizing agent. It is precipitated from solution by alcohol. Glose is a carbohydrate. Acetic, hydrochloric and oxalic acids prevent gelatinization of Agar-Agar.

Properties:  A nutritive, almost tasteless, gelatinous herb that acts as a bulk laxative.

Medicinal Uses:
Agar-Agar is widely used as a treatment for constipation, but is usually employed with Cascara when atony of the intestinal muscles is present. It does not increase peristaltic action. Its therapeutic value depends on the ability of the dry Agar to absorb and retain moisture. Its action is mechanical and analogous to that of the cellulose of vegetable foods, aiding the regularity of the bowel movements.

Other Uses:   Used in invalid foods, and as a gelling and stabilizing agent in canned meats, ice cream, sauces, deserts, and dairy products.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Resources:
http://www.algaebase.org/search/species/detail/?species_id=1830
http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/a/agara012.html
http://www.prcupcc.com/herbs/herbsa/agaragar.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gelidium_amansii

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