There are many, many reasons why people choose to substitute out ingredients for one reason or another. In some cases, it can simply be due to the taste of the person making the dish.
If someone doesn’t like a particular ingredient, then there’s no reason to include it if you can find a substitute.
Likewise, people will generally substitute ingredients that don’t fall in line with their dietary requirements. From allergies to intolerances to basic preferences and diets, there are plenty of dietary requirements out there that can call for substitutions of different ingredients.
Finally, some people simply do not want to support the use of a particular ingredient. When this is the case, it is still just as important to be able to find a substitute ingredient that can offer similar properties as the original, or else the whole recipe might fall apart, and nobody really wants this to happen.
With all of that being said, there can be some situations where you need to substitute an ingredient, but you may not be certain of what ingredients you can remove or change out.
After all, there are some ingredients that play a crucial role in the dish, you may not be able to change them out as easily as you otherwise would be able to.
For example, there are some variants of cheesecake that require gelatin to help keep the shape thick and steady. For a variety of reasons, there are plenty of people who are not particularly fond of adding gelatin to their food.
Because of this, you will want to do what you can to find substitutes that offer the same properties as gelatin.
Consider the Recipe Before Purchasing Ingredients
Not all cheesecake requires gelatin for it to stand on its own and be a successful cheesecake.
If you do not want to add gelatin to your cheesecake, and you are working with a recipe that says that you need it, you may want to consider searching for another recipe.
There are plenty of recipes out there, both the baking variety and the no-bake variety, that will not call for gelatin to be in the ingredients.
With that being said, some types of diets, such as vegan, may call for the gelatin because the substituted cream cheese will not be able to hold the structure of a cheesecake as well as standard cream cheese can.
In these situations, you may not be able to find a recipe that works with what you are looking for. It is important to do as much searching as you can before you invest in the ingredients you need to make the cake.
This is because some ingredients, particularly specialty gelatin substitutes, can be quite expensive, and everyone wants a chance to save their money.
If you can, you should see if there are any other recipes that do not call for gelatin that you can work with when making a cheesecake, as gelatin is not a pivotal ingredient as it can be in some foods.
Instead, it is just a helping hand when keeping the shape of the cake steady.
Finding an Alternative That Works for You
In the situation where you are not able to find a recipe that doesn’t call for gelatin, or you want to work with the recipe that does call for it, you are going to need to find a substitute.
For vegetarians and vegans alike, the standard gelatin substitute for these types of baked goods is known as agar agar. This substitute, sometimes referred to as just “agar,” can work well as a substitute.
Agar is a plant-based gelatin that is derived from seaweed, making it friendly to people who are vegan, vegetarian, and also people who are looking for a gluten-free thickener agent.
Even if you do not fall into these circles, agar is known for actually having a fair amount of nutrients in it compared to the rather empty gelatin that most people use.
If you are looking for a healthier variant of gelatin that fits within your dietary guidelines, then you are going to want to start with agar agar.
Agar does need a little bit of extra help if you want to work with it, because it is not exactly the standard thickening agent that most people use.
To make the most out of agar, you will want to first learn how much you will need compared to how much gelatin the recipe you are using calls for.
You will then need to learn how to properly dissolve it into the food you are working with, as well as the form of agar that you can purchase.
Using Agar Agar in a Cheesecake
For cheesecakes, whether they are vegetarian-friendly or completely dairy-free, can benefit greatly from using agar agar rather than the standard gelatin.
Generally, the standard amount that you will need will be about one teaspoon of agar powder for each teaspoon of gelatin needed.
If you are using agar flakes, then you will need about one tablespoon of flakes for each teaspoon of agar powder, which is all equal to about half of a standard sized bar of agar.
Now that you have your measurements ready, you will need to work on dissolving the agar so it can be mixed into the cheesecake recipe, just as you would mix gelatin in.
The key difference here is that agar will melt at approximately 185 degrees Fahrenheit (85 degrees Celsius) compared to gelatin’s 95-degree melting point (35 degrees Celsius).
This means that, naturally, you are going to need to heat the agar agar up considerably more if you want it to properly set into the recipe.
While this won’t take much longer when you are cooking, it is crucial to incorporate this aspect into the time it takes for you to cook and what cooking utensil you will need.
The good thing about agar agar is that it can set far more quickly than standard gelatin and it doesn’t require any refrigeration (especially given its much higher melting point).
Are There Other Substitutes?
For a cheesecake, there aren’t too many substitutes for both agar agar and gelatin. More often than not, agar agar is one of the only substitutes that you can use when you want to make a cheesecake that adheres to your dietary requirements.
However, there are a few other ingredients that you may want to consider working with.
Rather than agar agar, you can use another plant-based protein that is known as Carrageenan. It may also be found under Carrageen or Irish Moss as well. Rather than being an extract of a plant derived from seaweed, this product is generally all dried seaweed.
The biggest problem with it is that you need to let it soak in water for approximately 12 hours before it can be used in any recipe.
In some situations, depending on the contents of the cheesecake, you can also consider using tapioca flour, or a similar starch or flour substitute.
This should be compatible with most dietary restrictions, and it is considerably easier to find in stores compared to agar agar and Irish moss, meaning that you will have a much easier time making your cheesecake a bit more solid with the use of a natural starch or flour.
There are some cases where this may not work as well though, but it is always worth a shot to try something new.
Another product that you could consider trying commercially available versions of gelatin substitutes. These products are often found in the areas of stores where there are specialty foods, and contain a variety of ingredients ranging from vegetable gum, Carrageenan, and tapioca dextrin all mixed into one to provide the most gelatin-like substitute for most dishes.
The one problem with these is that they are often flavored, since they are commonly used for jello or jam recipes, and that flavor may not work well with a cheesecake that you are making.
And finally, you can work with pectin. Pectin is a natural fiber that is sometimes used as an alternative to gelatin to help foods retain their shape over time.
The one problem that comes with pectin is that it does not have a conversion rate to gelatin in a recipe in the way that agar agar does, meaning that it may be difficult to determine exactly how much you will need to reach the right consistency of your cheesecake.
In a worst-case situation where you cannot find any substitutes that fit your needs, or your local stores do not carry what you need, you can also consider adding more cream cheese and more eggs to the recipe.
Both of these ingredients play a major role in helping cheesecake retain its structure, allowing you to get away with not needing any gelatin or gelatin substitutes in your recipe.
In the end, using either Carrageenan, Agar Agar, or working to find a recipe that doesn’t call for any gelatin will work out well for you, as it will allow you several options of substitutes that you can use, or the chance to not need to invest in any of them and leaving you with a perfectly good cheesecake that your whole family can appreciate.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.