Carrageenan has come into the public eye in recent years. You’ll likely see this ingredient on the labels of many of your favorite everyday foods – from those cold cuts that you use in your lunchtime sandwiches to the almond milk you drink. But what is this mystery ingredient? What is actually used for? And, more importantly, is it doing you any harm?
Starting with what it actually is. Although the name may seem rather long and scary, carrageenan is actually a natural ingredient that’s harvested from seaweed. It is extracted by simply boiling the seaweed in a broth, followed by a filtering and milling process. The whole thing involves no harmful chemicals, and is actually something you could do in the comfort of your own home!
So now we’ve established exactly what carrageenan is, lets take a look over what it is used for, and why it is such a popular ingredient in food today. Carrageenan is used as a food stabilizer and texturizer. For example, in chocolate milk it is used to stop the chocolate and milk separate. In almond milk it is responsible for the rich, creamy texture that we’ve all become accustomed to. It is also essential for retaining moisture in all your favorite cold cuts, without carrageenan, your sandwiches would be filled with dry and undesirable meat.
This all sounds great, but the big question is around the ingredients safety. There have been multiple reports that suggest carrageenan does you harm, and these reports have fueled widespread belief that it does. However, all the evidence shows that carrageenan is completely safe for human consumption. After all, it is approved by all the leading health authorities, including the FAO and WHO.
The confusion stems from flawed research and the mix up with an ingredient called poligeenan. Poligeenan is a completely different ingredient that is not safe to eat, however it is never used in human food, so there is nothing to worry about. It was used over 100 years ago, but is not anymore.
To summarize, carrageenan is a food additive that is extract naturally from seaweed. It used to make foods and drinks that we consume everyday better in terms of taste, texture and safety. It is completely safe for human consumption and poses no threat to your health. So you can stop worrying and continue to enjoy your everyday foods with peace of mind.