Carrageenan is a versatile fiber used in a variety of foods, personal care products, pharmaceutical products and dietary supplements. It’s often used as a thickening agent in place of petrochemical and animal-based products.
Carrageenan is one of nature’s perfect stabilizers, offering benefits in texture, structure and physical appearance to foods and enabling the delivery of a more indulgent product, even for those food that may have lower calorie, salt, sugar or fat content.
It enables the suspension of chocolate in chocolate milk, a creamy texture in lower fat yogurt, lunchmeat that remains moist and fresh and the extension and protection of the nutritional value of protein.
Carrageenan requires minimum processing. You could extract it from seaweed in your kitchen, much like the Irish did hundreds of years ago, by cooking the seaweed with a little salt, adding alcohol then mixing it in a household blender to pull out the carrageenan. The process is mild and preserves the functionality already in the seaweed. The effect of processing increases the amount of usable carrageenan in the seaweed, minimizing waste.
Carrageenan has long been recognized by regulatory bodies around the world as a safe and natural food ingredient. It is approved for use in organic products and is non-GMO, free of gluten and animal fats and is approved for halal, kosher and vegan diets. Further, carrageenan is less expensive and more readily available than alternative ingredients, helping to keep natural and organic foods affordable for consumers.
Overwhelming data from dietary studies, particularly long-term oral feeding studies, on the consumption of carrageenan for the past 40 years has shown carrageenan is a safe ingredient. There is significant research attesting to the safety of carrageenan in food.
Many have confused carrageenan with poligeenan (or what’s known as “degraded carrageenan”). Poligeenan, made by boiling carrageenan in strong acid, is never used in food.
Regulatory authorities in every region of the world including the United States, Europe, China, Japan and Brazil have found carrageenan safe for use in food. This includes a July 2014 review by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), which “concluded that the use of carrageenan in infant formula and formulae for special medical purposes for infants up to concentrations of 1000 mg/L is not of concern”. The committee based their decision on the results of a new safety study that will be published in early 2015 and the results from numerous dietary studies that replicate the way humans ingest carrageenan to come to its conclusion.
An overwhelming body of evidence supports the conclusion that carrageenan is safe and suitable for use in food. It doesn’t cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract and it’s not a carcinogen. Experts from the World Health Organization placed carrageenan in the best possible category for any food additive.