Is carrageenan natural?

FMC’s Seaweed Platform Marketing Manager, Bill Matakas and food scientist Kantha Shelke share their expertise on carrageenan

Source: NewHope360

What is carrageenan?

Red seaweed extract. Homemade versions using Chondrus crispus, a.k.a. “Irish moss” were used for centuries across Ireland for respiratory problems.

Today, two distinct varieties of carrageenan exist in U.S. manufacturing: Food-grade, or “undegraded,” is extracted with heat, water, and mild acids and alkali. “Degraded” carrageenan, a.k.a. “poligeenan,” is extracted by boiling it in much stronger acid “like battery acid” for long periods to reduce it to a small molecule, says William Matakas, marketing manager for ingredient supplier FMC. Poligeenan is used in medical imaging (to make shakes consumed prior to an MRI) and in animal studies to induce inflammation. Some health agencies characterize it as a potential carcinogen. “It is a completely different compound, and it is never used in food,” Matakas stresses.

What’s carrageenan used for?

Matakas estimates the food-grade carrageenan business to be worth roughly $1 billion globally. According to the Seaweed Industry Association, U.S. consumers ingest 30-50 mg per day. It’s used as a thickener to make low-fat yogurts, ice creams, dressings and sauces retain creaminess, a preservative to make products like protein beverages, jams, snack bars and infant formulas shelf stable, and a vegan alternative to gelatin.

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