Here's the second of my series commemorating the jiggly-wiggly substances known as hydrocolloids -- aka gelatin and its related substances. (The first of the series: The primal yet proper God of Gelatin.)
Agar is an Asian aquatic hydrocolloid derived from red algae. It makes a great vegetarian substitute for gelatin and thickener for soups and preserves, but is best known for its use in Asian sweets such as anmitsu (sort of a Japanese fruit salad with cubes of agar and red bean paste), yokan (Japanese blocks of sweetened red bean paste), sago gulaman (a Filipino drink), Vietnamese thạch (a layered jelly dessert), various Indian desserts (where it's called China Grass), and even in Russia, where it is used in ptich'ye moloko, a sort of jelly-custard that is often coated in chocolate.
Like gelatin, agar is used extensively in biology as a medium to grow bacteria, fungi, biomolecules, etc. In some ways it is even better at this than gelatin because it's often indigestible to organisms and porous, among other properties.
Lastly, agar is also known as kanten. It's mostly fibre, which makes it a great natural regulator of the digestive system. It expands in the stomach and makes people feel full and has a lot of bulk for relatively few calories. It might become the next big diet fad!
I dressed the agar-lady as a Japanese pearl diver with her goggles and net and wooden barrel. These amazing women dive deep into the sea, holding their breaths for two minutes at a time and coming up for air for only a few seconds before they go back down. Historically this job was performed by women because it was believed that they had greater lung capacity than men. To me, agar offers bounties far greater than pearls!