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Gulaman is a substance used in cooking throughout the Philippines, Japan, India and other Asian countries. In the simplest form, it is a type of unflavored thickener that can be used to make gelatins. Unlike true gelatin, however, it is extracted from seaweed and is completely vegetarian. The term also refers to a number of desserts that are made using gulaman in the Philippines. The gelatin-like substance is usually melted and then flavored with sugar before being added to a dish.
Agar is the carbohydrate extracted from seaweed that comprises gulaman. It is different from the animal proteins that form gelatin, because it is stable at room temperature and will not turn into a liquid unless heated; it also will solidify at room temperature after being heated, so it does not have to be chilled. The product is usually sold in the form of bars that have been dehydrated and is commonly found both uncolored and tinted with bright food coloring. The agar that forms the gelatin can be extracted from seaweed at home by boiling it in water until the solids have dissolved, leaving behind a liquid that will set once cooled to room temperature.
One popular use for gulaman is in a dessert or sweet drink known as sago at gulaman. This is made by reconstituting the gelatin and cutting it into cubes. Tapioca pearls are cooked and placed in the bottom of a tall glass. Equal parts of water and sugar are cooked together to form simple syrup. The syrup is poured over the pearls and the cubes are added to the drink along with ice.
Another use for gulaman is to make flan. The gelatin-like properties allow the flan to be made easily and inexpensively while also preventing the flan from melting or becoming mushy when served. One difference when using agar-based gelatin instead of protein-based gelatin is that it has a much firmer texture so the flan might be more stable, but it also will have a harder texture when eaten.
Several dessert recipes call for the gelatin to be combined with milk, cream or coconut. This creates a solid treat with a rich flavor. These recipes call for the dried gulaman to be cooked and reconstituted, after which sugar and the milk or coconut is added to the liquid. After cooling in a pan, it can be cut into squares that can serve as snacks or edible decorations. The same process can be used to make fruit salads encased in the gulaman.