indian Iraqi agar agar jello recipe
Photo credit Joanna Nissim
Prep Cook Yield Ready In
10 minutes 10 minutes 35 pieces 20 minutes

For Indian Iraqi Jews, No Celebration Is Complete Without This Fancy Jello

This nostalgic treat is flavored with rose water and sprinkled with nuts.

Ask any Jewish Indian Iraqi, or anyone descended from these lands, about their memories of agar agar jello and they will nostalgically recall it being served at family gatherings. From bar mitzvahs to Shabbat tables and everything in between, you will be told of the brightly colored sweets flavored with rose water and decorated with almonds, pistachios and sometimes fruit completing any meal or taking pride of place on a buffet. 

The jello are named after a food thickener called agar agar that has the same gelatinous property of gelatine, but is made from seaweed instead of animal collagen. This is easily available in specialist Indian stores or on Amazon. Before kosher gelatine was widely available, agar agar allowed observant Jews to make these brightly coloured sweets. As they can be made with cow milk or pareve nut milk, they were considered the perfect end to any meal. Plus, back in India, not everyone had access to refrigeration, so agar agar’s fast setting time at room temperature was an advantage.

The fast-acting agar agar means that these jello do not take long to make, but it is customary to serve many varieties on the same plate, which can be time consuming! Pink, green, white and clear colors (dyed with a little food coloring) are traditional, but yellow and blue are sometimes used. Some cooks also served intricately layered jello, formed by leaving one layer to set before gently pouring on another color and so on, creating a vibrant zebra pattern. Sometimes, the finished sweets are dusted in icing sugar, giving the appearance of Turkish delight. My husband, whose parents came from India, has childhood memories of walking around the buffet table when no one was looking and licking the icing sugar off before placing them back on the tray. 

I served agar agar jello recently at a family gathering and loved the nostalgia that was evoked. As I walked around the room, I treasured hearing the stories that each guest  —many of whom grew up eating them in India  — recalled of days gone by. I will certainly be keeping them as a regular on my table.  

You can make this dessert with agar agar powder or seaweed strands known as China grass, which have been left to soak beforehand. This does take some time, but then it is simply a case of boiling the powder or strands in milk or water with sugar to form the base of the jello, and takes only a few minutes. Note that the texture of this jello is slightly firmer than the jello we are familiar with today. 

Note: The jello will keep for a week in an airtight container in the refrigerator  — if they last that long. 


  • 28.5 g agar agar (China grass or powder)
  • 230 g  granulated white sugar 
  • 1.2 liters water, milk or oat milk
  • a few drops of food coloring of your choice
  • 4 Tbsp flaked almonds, crushed almonds or crushed pistachios (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp rose water (optional)
  • icing sugar, for serving (optional)


  1. Soak the agar agar in the milk or water for 2 hours.
  2. Once soaked, bring to a gentle simmer in a medium-size pot.
  3. Add the sugar and wait for everything to dissolve fully, stirring every few minutes. This should take around 5-10 minutes. 
  4. Add the food coloring and rose water, if using, and mix well.
  5. Once mixed, pour into a Pyrex dish through a sieve to ensure that no lumps are left.
  6. At this point, mix in your nuts, if using. Alternatively, wait for a skin to form on top of the jelly, which should happen after 5-10 minutes, and sprinkle with your nut topping of choice. 
  7. Leave to cool at room temperature, and then store in the fridge. 
  8. Cut into squares or diamond shapes and dust with icing sugar (optional) before serving.

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