You study a list of ingredients in the supermarket and stumble across a term: carrageen, what is that? We’ll tell you. Read on – because it pays to know about the thickener!
What is carrageenan? The most important information
Carrageen refers to long-chain carbohydrates that are naturally found in red algae. The food industry extracts it from this raw material and uses it as a thickener and stabilizer, with carrageenan being vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free. The additive is alternatively declared with the number E 407 on the packaging of foods with carrageenan – or cosmetics. It is approved for use in food, including organic products, with no quantitative limit. Here is a brief overview of where carrageenan is found:
- fresh and UHT cream
- cream cheese
- ice cream
- dressings and sauces
- canned meat
- pudding powder
- light products
- plant drinks
- wine (to clarify)
- shower gels
Is Carrageenan Harmful?
The (partial) list already shows that carrageenan is hard to avoid. Similar to pectin and other thickening agents, carrageenan is a very common additive that can be used to achieve certain consistencies. This is how cream would cream without carrageenan. Despite this, some manufacturers of organic food refrain from using it, since there is intensive scientific discussion about the health-impairing effects of carrageenan. The fiber is excreted from the body undigested, but that doesn’t mean that carrageenan can’t have side effects. In animal experiments with a certain type of carrageenan, scientists showed that the cells of the immune system were affected, leading to ulcer formation in the intestine. Direct transmission to humans is not possible. But the Scientific Committee on Food of the European Commission (SCF) considers the lowest possible consumption and the avoidance of carrageen in baby formula to be advisable.
How does an intolerance manifest itself?
Healthy people usually tolerate carrageenan without any problems. However, if you suffer from inflammatory diseases – especially in the intestine – or intolerances, you may experience symptoms. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and irritation of the mucous membranes. The consumer center also points out that people with thyroid disorders should be careful with carrageen due to the high iodine content in red algae. So study the list of ingredients of food carefully and, if in doubt, opt for the carrageenan-free alternative. Creamed cream, for example, can also be homogenized again by shaking. And as a gelatin substitute, there are many other options.