What Is Carrageenan?

What is carrageenan?

Carrageenan is a marine gum and a linear polysaccharide extracted from red seaweeds of the class Rhodophyceae, with no flavor or nutritional value. It is used as a suspending agent, gelling agent, bulking agent, stabilizer, and thickener in food and beverage products.


While carrageenan contributes suspension, mouthfeel enhancement and viscosity building characteristics, some customers are seeking carrageenan alternatives for their formulations”, TIC Gums, an industrial company with an expertise in gums and hydrocolloids.


Science Note: Carrageenan consists of repeating galactose units and 3,6-anhydrogalactose, both sulfate and non-sulfated join by alternating α-(1,3) and β-(1,4) glycosidic links. The difference in the molecules are in the sulfate groups and anhydro bridges.


What products commonly use carrageenan?

Chocolate milk, soy milk, almond mink, deli meats, puddings, flans, dressings, tomato sauces, fruit preparations, toppings, nuggets, hamburgers.




Where Is the Red SeAweed sourced?

The red seaweed generally comes from coastal regions such as: Philippines, China, Chile, Western Indian Ocean.


Original Photo Credit ©2013.


What FORMS Is Carrageenan available?

Carrageenan is commercially available in three different forms:

  1. Iota Carrageenan: Hot soluble gelling agent: cohesive & elastic gel
  2. Kappa: Hot soluble gelling agent: firm & brittle gel
  3. Lambda: Cold soluble thickener




Is CarRageenan safe?

Yes, carrageenan is safe. Numerous studies have been conducted by international, authoritative health groups and they have all concluded that carrageenan is safe. See below references:

The European Food Safety Authority determined: “There is no evidence of any adverse effects in humans from exposure to food-grade carrageenan, or that exposure to degraded carrageenan from use of food-grade carrageenan is occurring”.

The Joint FAO/WHO (JECFA)  stated in a July 2014 review: “That the use of carrageenan in infant* formula or formula for special medical purposes at concentrations up to 1000 mg/L is not of concern”.

*Note: Raw materials used in baby food products are some of the most highly scrutinized research studies, due to the inherently fragile and ethical nature of the food segment’s user demographic i.e. infants, babies, and young children.



Why is carrageenan being taken out of products?

A carrageenan safety report came out in 2013, that made carrageenan a hot topic in the food & beverage industry.

Because of this stir,  the National Organic Standards Board voted to remove carrageenan from a national list of allowed substances in organic food — a law that would go into effect in 2018. (The industry has the right to respond and request clarity on the ruling.)

Currently there is also no “100% Certified Organic Carrageenan”. Conventional carrageenan (aka “non-organic certified”) has always been used in “Organic Certified” products.

This is legal and allowed due to the complex nature of industrial ingredient supply chain. The government allows a food company to make a claim of “Organic Certified” while using up to 5% of ingredients that are “Conventional”— these conventional ingredients are deemed “Organic Compliant”, therefore allowed to be used in “Organic Certified” products. Click here to learn more about organic certification. 


Why isn’t an “organic certified” version available?

This is a tricky question.

According to a food science source in the GoCleanLabel network, “There is  currently no fully certified version of carrageenan available and never has been. Historically, carrageenan has been allowed to be used in organic-certified products because of the 95% rule.” Click here to learn more about the 95% rule and organic labeling. 


Is there an alternative to carrageenan?

No, there is no perfect replacement for carrageenan because it is an exceptionally unique ingredient — and that is why there is expected “push back” from manufacturers.


According to TIC Gums, “Formulating and reformulating various applications without carrageenan can create a challenge for manufacturers looking to achieve these same properties consumers expect. Carrageenan is responsible for a distinct set of textural attributes including mouth coating and viscosity for which there is no simple 1:1 replacement.” 





How is the industry addressing this?

TIC Gums is confident that with smart science and synergistic gum blends, there are “near” replacements for carrageenan.

The team explains that, “…With the help of trained professionals, basic functional and textural characteristics can be pinpointed then built back with an acceptable clean label blend of hydrocolloids. With the correct blend and appropriate usage levels, individual gum properties can be combined to produce a similar effect to that of carrageenan.”