Carrageenan is a commonly used food additive that comes from certain red seaweeds, naturally occurring ocean plants that are grown and harvested by an estimated 100,000 family farms on five continents. The red seaweed used to produce carrageenan are farmed sustainably without the use of fertilizer, arable land, pesticides or fresh water. Carrageenan farming is ecofriendly and helps support thriving habitats for ocean creatures.
Carrageenan, from seaweed
All-Natural Seaweed Farming
How is it made?
Once harvested, processors extract carrageenan from the seaweed using a simple process that involves cooking the seaweed in water, filtering, adding alcohol to separate the carrageenan and isolating the carrageenan by squeezing and drying. The dried carrageenan is then ground to a fine powder.
Functionality: Carrageenan is an Extremely Versatile Additive
Carrageenan, or Irish Moss, has been eaten for centuries as a health food, usually in the form of a tea made by boiling red seaweed. Although first widely used after World War II as a food additive in the U.S. in chocolate milk (to help keep the chocolate mixed), food researchers have found that carrageenan is extremely versatile and it can be used to innovate and improve many familiar food products we love.
- Carrageenan helps to thicken and stabilize ingredients or nutrients in foods and drinks. In non-dairy milks, carrageenan adds the creamy texture of milk and enables manufacturers to add nutrients like calcium ‑ a mineral that would otherwise settle in a solid mass at the bottom of the container.
- Carrageenan also helps to protect the structure and stability of foods like ice cream, yogurt and some deli meats, ensuring a desired consistency and texture that consumers have come to expect. In these foods, carrageenan can also be used to add to keep food fresher longer, while reducing fat, sugar and salt content without impacting the qualities of the foods we love.
- Carrageenan can also be used when processing foods for extended shelf life. These process reduce food waste by extending their storage time or eliminating the need for refrigeration. However, sometimes these foods require stabilizers to maintain their texture. When we have to feed over 6billion people reducing food waste is key.
- Carrageenan is important when creating recipes that have reduced fat, or sugar, or salt content without impacting the qualities of the foods we love.
- It may be used as a thickening or gelling agent in many foods in place of animal-based products, like gelatin, which makes carrageenan suitable for vegetarian, vegan, and kosher diets. Some carrageenan types are even certified halal.
Keeping Food Safe
As with all other food additives and GRAS substances, safety is the paramount consideration when food producers consider using carrageenan in their products. Carrageenan has a long history of safe use, having been consumed for hundreds of years without any ill effects in a variety of preparations and traditional foods. Regulatory bodies around the world, including those in the United States, Europe, China, Japan and Brazil have reviewed studies on carrageenan and determined that carrageenan is safe for use in food.
Carrageenan has even been reviewed by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives, an international expert committee on food additives, and found to be safe for use in all foods, including infant formula—a product intended for the most sensitive human population. To be approved for use in infant formula, an ingredient must meet an extremely high burden of safety. Approval for use in products intended for such a sensitive population should give consumers of all ages confidence about the safety of carrageenan in food.
It’s on the Label
Like all other food additives and GRAS substances, carrageenan must appear on the ingredient list on all food labels when it is used in foods and beverages. While carrageenan is used at very low levels, just enough to achieve the intended effect, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies will take action against any company that does not disclose that carrageenan or any other ingredient is in its products and may order that their foods be removed from store shelves. Consumers do not have to fear that any ingredient is being secretly added to our foods.
Making Food Better Every Day
Carrageenan is one of many food additives that help to make the foods we enjoy every day better for us, remain fresher longer and have that familiar appeal that we have come to know and expect. Carrageenan can help reduce fat and salt content in deli meats and hot dogs while ensuring the texture we expect out of these lunch favorites. Food producers can also employ carrageenan to stabilize foods at room temperature, reducing food waste as well as transportation and storage costs, savings which can result in lower food prices. As we all seek to eat healthier foods, carrageenan can help reduce fat, sodium and sugar content while also keeping prices in check and offering a cost effective way to feed your family smarter.