If you are a particularly eagle-eyed consumer, you may have noticed the word “carrageenan” on the ingredients list of your almond milk, lunchmeat or candy bar. What fewer people know is that carrageenan is an ingredient that is produced by boiling seaweed. It is then added to these foods that many of us eat regularly. But why?
Well, carrageenan is responsible for giving these foods the texture, moisture and consistency that we have grown used to. It is widely used in the food industry in a whole range of products.
Often when people read a long word that they
don’t understand on the back of a label, they immediately assume that it is some kind of unnatural, potentially harmful chemical. However, carrageenan is extracted gently from types of red seaweed, and no chemicals are added during production. In fact, the process is so simple that you could even replicate it at home!
Carrageenan has a whole range of benefits. It is used as a stabilizer and often as a vegan alternative to gelatin, in order to give food a desirable structure and keep it moist. It is also a thickener, and one of its most common uses is in low-fat dairy products, where it gives items the indulgent, creamy texture you would associate with full-fat milk or cream. It even makes foods last longer, reducing food wastage and potentially saving you money.
Furthermore, it is odorless, colorless and tasteless, and you don’t even realize it is there. Most importantly, it is completely safe for us to consume, contrary to what some scientifically flawed and invalid reports say.
The confusion behind the safety of carrageenan stems from the fact that it has been mistakenly confused with poligeenan. It has also been improperly referred to as degraded carrageenan. Poligeenan is not a food additive and has no functionality in food.
Poligeenan is boiled in a harsh acid bath at an extremely high temperature, rendering it unsafe for human consumption. However, it is never used in the food industry, and it is not possible for carrageenan to become poligeenan during digestion, as stomach acid is not nearly strong enough. Carrageenan, the type formerly known as undegraded carrageenan, is perfectly safe to eat.
Although it may seem a little strange to have a seaweed product in your milk and candy, you can rest assured that carrageenan is completely safe, and know that the foods you love just wouldn’t be the same without it.