Carrageenan is a well-known food additive produced from a certain kind of red seaweed. It has a wide range of useful properties, and acts as a stabilizer and a thickener.
It also has a bit of a reputation for being harmful, however this is not actually true. Research that suggests that the ingredient is potentially harmful was actually conducted using poligeenan, which is a very different thing to carrageenan.
During processing, carrageenan is washed and treated in a gentle liquid, while poligeenan is put through a bath of very harsh acid. Unsurprisingly, poligeenan would not do your body any good at all, however it is never used in the food industry.
It is easy to understand why there is such confusion, however no valid research has found carrageenan to be harmful when consumed by humans.
The ingredient has such a wide range of uses, and without it, the food we eat wouldn’t be the same. Some of these foods include:
Carrageenan’s ability to gel at room temperature means it is perfect for use in Jell-O and similar products. Furthermore, as it is derived from seaweed, it is an ideal vegetarian alternative to gelatin, which is an animal product and cannot be eaten by many people for moral reasons.
Perhaps the best-known instance of carrageenan use is in almond milk. It is used to ensure the consistency throughout the bottle is the same, and that ingredients do not separate. This is where a lot of the rumors stem from; most people who drink almond milk are particularly wary of what they eat and drink, and so raised concerns about carrageenan. However, as mentioned before, these are not true. Carrageenan is also used in a whole range of dairy products, as well as non-dairy alternatives.
Carrageenan is also often used in lunchmeat. It offers a wide range of benefits, such as improving the mouthfeel of the meat making it more desirable to eat. It also allows the meat to retain more water during and after processing, keeping it moist and succulent. These benefits also improve the shelf life of the product, resulting in less food waste.
The ingredient provides a similar purpose in pet food, where it allows jelly to form around the meat, fish or vegetables within the food. It also adds richness and texture to gravy, prevents ingredients from separating, and allows the level of moisture to remain the same throughout the can.