Q: "Can you tell me something about agar powder, which is extracted from red algae? Friends who travelled to Japan came back talking about its high fibre content. Are there benefits in consuming it?"
Cecilia Japhar, Casula, NSW
A: Your friends are correct. Agar is more than 80% dietary fibre, which is around double that of unprocessed wheat bran. But unlike bran, agar is a thick jelly. Food manufacturers love it, and you will see it used as a thickener and gum in jellied sweets and marshmallow (under the additive code 406). You could dissolve agar powder in hot water. It's rich in soluble fibre so works in the same way as oat bran and psyllium. Just don't overdo it, as it's so concentrated. Start with a small amount and drink plenty of water with it.