Carrageenan is a versatile, natural fiber used in a variety of foods, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and dietary supplements. Carrageenan is found in a number of everyday foods including dairy products (particularly chocolate milk), non-dairy milk products (such as coconut and almond milks), soy-based products, deli meats, cheeses, yogurts, and more. It’s also often used as a thickening agent (meaning that it makes thin, watery foods — such as many soups and sauces — thicker), and a stabilizer (meaning it keeps the chocolate from collecting at the bottom of that glass of chocolate milk your child loves). Additionally, carrageenan can help maintain a decadent full-fat texture in low-fat foods, improving product nutrition without sacrificing experience. Carrageenan is particularly useful as a vegan alternative to animal or chemical agents and is widely used in organic foods.
A product of red seaweed, FMC's carrageenan is kosher, halal, and vegan. Furthermore, carrageenan is extracted from seaweed. Seaweed’s abundance and relatively low farming costs make it an ideal crop for developing coastal nations. Other names for carrageenan include seaweed carrageenan, red marine algae, and Irish moss extract. There are three common types of food-grade carrageenan: Kappa carrageenan, Iota carrageenan, and Lambda carrageenan.
When it comes to carrageenan safety, a number of tests and studies have proven conclusively that food-grade undegraded carrageenan is safe and suitable to eat. This holds true regardless of type; Kappa carrageenan, Iota carrageenan, and Lambda carrageenan are all equally safe. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the World Health Organization (WHO), and several other globally-recognized food safety authorities have repeatedly confirmed that carrageenans as food additives meet the strictest food-safety standards.
To really understand carrageenan, there are five things that you should know:
- Carrageenan is completely natural.
Carrageenan consists of soluble seaweed fibers that are used as food additives. Carrageenan is a natural alternative to many synthetic thickeners and stabilizers, and can be found in a variety of foods such as dairy products, desserts, milk substitutes, lunch meats, and even baby formula. Carrageenan includes no foreign chemicals.
- Food safety authorities agree that carrageenan is safe to consume.
Despite some unfounded concerns regarding carrageenan safety, food-grade carrageenan is defended by respected food safety authorities such as the FDA and WHO, and is also recognized as a non-carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
- Carrageenan is not poligeenan.
Carrageenan requires very little processing, and can be easily extracted from seaweed with little more than a blender. Poligeenan (formerly and inaccurately identified as degraded carrageenan) is much more difficult to produce, requiring extremely high temperatures and acidity. Poligeenan is not approved for use in any foods, and does not share the stabilizing or thickening properties of undegraded carrageenan.
- Carrageenan farming is sustainable and economical.
The low cost of production makes carrageenan farming a viable solution for small family seaweed farmers around the world. The process of farming carrageenan is environmentally friendly; it requires no arable farmland, needs no pesticides or special fertilizers, helps protect coral reefs and fish populations, and the seaweed itself actually helps clear excess carbon and nitrogen from the oceans. Carrageenan also helps increase food shelf life, making it possible for remote locations to enjoy nutritious foods that might otherwise be unavailable.
- Carrageenan is an integral ingredient in many foods.
Carrageenan is widely used throughout the food industry, thanks to its proven effectiveness as a food additive (seaweed has been safely used in foods for thousands of years, with the earliest accounts dating back as far as ~12,000 B.C.). Carrageenan is a natural ingredient that serves many essential purposes. Those looking for a carrageenan replacement often have to rely on multiple less-appealing ingredients to achieve the same benefits carrageenan provides. Carrageenan is essential in delivering health conscious, convenient, appetizing food options for people around the world.