Gulaman, to those not in the know, is a Filipino gelatin-like substance made from dried and processed red seaweed. Gulaman may be better known in other parts of the world as Agar-Agar, agar, or carrageenan. Put even more simply, Gulaman can best be described as "Filipino Jello."
Wobbly cubes of Gulaman can usually be found in Filipino sweets, sitting atop tall glasses of Halo-halo, or mixed into cool drinks like Sago at Gulaman (a Filipino dessert kinda-sorta-but-not-really similar to bubble tea and jelly).
Although Gulaman, at first glance, does look a lot like American jello, there are some very key differences. Firstly, Gulaman is 100% vegetarian since it's made from seaweed, whereas gelatin is made from the crushed bones of puppies, kittens, and koala bears (a sad but true fact). Gulaman also sets at room temperature (and can be kept out at room temperature), while gelatin needs to be refrigerated. Lastly, gulaman does not melt in your mouth (or in your hand for that matter) like gelatin does. In fact, once set, gulaman will not melt again until it reaches 185 degrees F. So unless you're a dragon, you'll have to chew on gulaman a bit before swallowing. And if you are a dragon, hey man, that's cool.
In spite of the differences between gulaman and gelatin, gulaman can (and should) be used in many of the same ways as gelatin. For example, gulaman lends itself particularly well to the following gelatin-friendly applications:
While I would have loved to experiment with the first two items on that list (especially the wrastlin'!), I only had enough gulaman to try my hand at edible cocktails.
There's always room for G-U-L-A-M-A-N.
While this LA Times article provides great examples of edible cocktails, I used this recent recipe from Sunset Magazine as my inspiration for my own jellied cocktails. The Sunset recipe combined rangpur lime juice, gelatin, and tequila for a margarita-like gel cocktail, whereas I just subbed in Kalamansi juice and gulaman for the rangpur and gelatin.
"Gulaman" and "Agar" are technically the same thing (both being made from red seaweed), but I've found that they are usually packaged differently in stores. Gulaman can be found in various forms at most Asian markets. It can come in solid bar form, powdered, or even in flakes. There is even flavored gulaman in packages similar to jello boxes, emblazoned with whatever fruit it's supposed to taste like. However, I couldn't find any unflavored packages labeled as "gulaman" but I was able to find packets of a Thai brand of Agar-Agar powder that contained no artificial flavors or colors--it was just plain and simple agar powder.
Agar-agar powder powder
Generally speaking, 1 teaspoon of Agar powder is needed per 1 cup of liquid. But because I've never worked with gulaman or agar before, I was worried that the acid in the kalamansi juice or the alcohol in the tequila would interfere with everything setting up.
So I decided to double up on the Agar powder on my first run-through for my recipe (4 teaspoons of agar, 2 cups of liquid). Although everything tasted fine with this ratio, the texture was just too firm. So I made another batch, this time with 2 teaspoons of agar to 2 cups of liquid, and the texture was just right--lots of wobble and wiggle but still firm enough to grasp with the fingers. Ultimately, I found that neither the kalamansi juice nor the tequila interfered with the solution firming up into a gel.
I can certainly attest to the strength of these little shooters, I popped a few and did get a nice little buzz going. While I used tequila in my recipe, I think gin or vodka would work just as well--especially if you make your own Kalamansi-Infused Vodka.
And for those of you who only associate jello shots with college tomfoolery and shenanigans (ah, good times), well, I can't really blame you. But if you do your jelly shots right and dress them up a bit, you can serve them as fancy-pants hors d'oeuvres at your own fancy-pants dinner party.
Ooooh lar lar! Dixie cup upgrade!
Kalamansi Gulaman Shooters
2 teaspoons Agar-Agar powder (can be found at Asian market)
1/2 cup water
1 cup fresh kalamansi juice
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup silver tequila
Sea salt for sprinkling (optional), Ilocano sea salt if you've got it
In a small saucepan, combine the agar-agar powder and water and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the kalamansi juice and all of the sugar to the pan. Bring pan to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring continuously with a rubber spatula and ensuring the sugar dissolves.
Remove pan from heat, then pour contents into a separate bowl. Add the rest of the kalamansi juice to the bowl and continue to stir. Place the bowl over an ice bath and continue stirring vigorously until mixture cools to the touch, 1-2 minutes (you just want it to cool down enough so you can add the tequila without cooking out any of the alcohol).
Once the juice mixture has cooled to the touch (you can stick your finger in it without saying "ouch"), add the tequila. The mixture will immediately begin setting up and stiffening, but keep stirring vigorously to ensure tequila is incorporated.
Pour the mixture into a loaf pan lined with plastic wrap.
Allow the mixture to harden at room temperature, about 10 minutes. You can also place the hardened gulaman into the refrigerator if you'd like, but once set, it will not melt at room temperature.
When you are ready to serve, pull the gulaman out of the pan by lifting the plastic wrap. Slice the gulaman into bite-sized cubes and serve on a large platter, or in individual salt-rimmed shot glasses.