Carrageenan is a fibre extracted from red seaweeds. It is a water soluble fibre found abduntly in the nature specially in the oceanic region and the coastal. They are low cost easily available affordable fibres primarily used as a binding agent. Carrageenan production provides an essential livelihood for the sea-farming peasant community who cultivate seaweeds to manufacture carrageenan. This fibre stabilizes beverages and food. It also enhances the texture of it. Hence, it is of extreme importance for the food and beverage industry. Carrageenan is often regarded as a vegan alternative for gelatin. It is used in place of gelatin and as a preservative and food additive. This is a relatively new product, hence there are apprehensions regarding its health promoting qualities. The most often asked question regarding this matter is – IS CARRAGEENAN BAD?
Answering the question
The answer to this question lies in its efficiency and the recommendation of the scientific community. It is an effective preservative for food and beverages as certified by US Food and Drug Administration, the European Union, Food Additive body of WHO, Food Standard Australia and NewZealand and Health Canada. Nutritionists, Dieticians and Scientists swear by its efficacy. They recommend it over other preservatives and food additives. According to WHO it is the best available food additive which doesn’t possess the list bit of side effects. Even the most vulnerable class of people new borns and infants remain unharmed by it. Another potential area of concern is carcinogenicity. Whenever, a new product comes into the market people are suspicious of it.
Due to the cancer pre-disposition of some foods carcinogenicity is a major concern. Carrageenan isn’t a carcinogenic product. According to the International Agency of Research on Cancer , Carrageenan have no carcinogenic property. It isn’t harmful for the digestive system or our gastro-intestinal system. Hence, consumption of this food additive doesn’t lead to any stomach or intestinal problems. In addition to this, carrageenan isn’t associated with inflammation. Thus carrageenan is essentially a healthy compound.
Utility of Carrageenan
The effectiveness of carrageenan lies in its versatility. Though required in a small quantity it can affect the quality of food and beverages. Hence, lies its utility over other preservatives. It plays a variety of role as a food preservative. It is used as a thickener for low fat foods, as a stabilizer which maintains the consistency of drinks. It can enhance the moisture retaining capacity of food and thus help in keeping food moist. It acts as a gelling agent for desserts. It is widely used as a preservative which enhances the self-life of products. Its water retaining capacity and fat and salt content reducing effect is responsible.
Thus, it increases the self-life and retains tenderness of meat products. Its low fat content and low calorie helps in the dairy industry for the preservation of yogurts, cheese and other products. Carrageenan’s thickening property makes it the viable option as a preservative for dairy products. It doesn’t hamper the texture of the food and retains the low calorie content. When used as a preservative in jams and jellies it reduces the sugar content of these products. This doesn’t hamper their creamy texture. In non –dairy products like soy milk carrageenan enhances the product quality by stabilizing it. This doesn’t affect the fat content of the product. Carrageenan used as a stabilizer can keep food items viable for a longer period of time at the room temperature. Thus preventing food spoilage and wastage. It stabilizing also keeps nutrients in food intact and hence donot alter their nutritive value.
Misconceptions about Carrageenan.
There are certain anomalies regarding this product. Carrageenan is often confused with poligeenan. Poligeenan is a similar compound like carrageenan but it has no utility in the food industry. Poligeenanisn’t a food preservative or additive. It is not used on foods. Some scientists proclaim that carrageenan decompose in our body to form poligeenan. However, research doesn’t vindicate this point. It is virtually impossible to replicate conditions such as high temperature and strong acid essential for this break down process. Hence, carrageenan cannot degrade in our body. It is best to steer clear from these common misconceptions and myths.
Procedure of carrageenan
As seen earlier carrageenan is a water soluble fibre derived from red seaweeds. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t a new product. Traditionally, it has been in use for hundreds of years but commercially it is a newly approved preservative. It is quite easy to extract carrageenan from seaweeds and requires very little equipments or expertise. It can be easily extracted using basic ingredients in our home kitchen. Hence, lied their predominance from ancient times. It is extracted by boiling seaweed with a little quantity of salt. Then adding alcohol to this blend it in a blender or food processor to extract the carrageenan. This type of extraction by mild processing doesn’t hamper the carrageenan activity in seaweed and also preserves the seaweeds function. Thus, preventing any waste of the seaweed.
The easy abundant availability of seaweeds , the short and durable processing and the versatile utility – all provides negative answer to the “IS CARRAGEENAN BAD?” question.