Is carrageenan harmful?

Chinese ice cream brand Zhong XueGao did not “completely melt” after being placed at room temperature of 31°C for 1 hour, or even burned. Carrageenan is referred to as the “culprit” by netizens, so what exactly is carrageenan?

The ice cream does not melt, is it because of the addition of carrageenan? Is this carrageenan harmful to the body?

When it comes to starch and lotus root starch, everyone must be familiar with them and not reject them. Well, carrageenan is actually somewhat similar, except that it is a seaweed extract. First give the conclusion: carrageenan is a very common and safe food additive. Carrageenan is added to many foods in daily life. If you still have doubts about this, after reading this article, you can decide whether or not to give up many of the delicacies.

1. Definition and role of carrageenan

Carrageenans, also known as carrageenan, carrageenan, Irish moss carrageenan, is a collective name for a group of linear sulfated polysaccharides extracted from marine red algae. As a safe natural food additive, the finished product of carrageenan is white powder, which is mostly used as a coagulant, thickener and stabilizer in the food industry, daily chemicals, pet food and other fields.

From form to function, carrageenan and starch are similar. Carrageenan and starch are both polysaccharides, which are also extracted from plants. When they meet water, they will form hydrocolloids, which have the effect of thickening. Carrageenan is also commonly found like starch. Just as cooking often requires adding starch to thicken it, it will always need to be thickened when making dairy products, yogurt, or when making meatloaf or sauces. At this time, it is necessary to add colloid, and plant-based colloids represented by carrageenan are often the best choice.

Carrageenan is extracted from plants, which is safe and reliable; secondly, it has low production cost, complete technological process, and is very easy to obtain; finally, because it can be combined with protein, it performs very well in food technology. Carrageenan is not without substitutes, but giving up carrageenan is equivalent to giving up many mature food recipes.

Back to the question at the beginning. The addition of carrageenan by Chinese ice cream brand Zhong XueGao is only part of the reason for “not melting”. In order to solidify and thicken, carrageenan also needs to be used in conjunction with ingredients such as sugar, fat, and other thickeners. Moreover, Zhong XueGao’s “not melting” is not really not melting, but it remains the same at high temperature and does not turn into water. This is more due to Zhong XueGao’s high proportion of solids and less liquid content such as water and emulsion.

2. How was carrageenan born?

Like starch, carrageenan has a long history of consumption and cultural accumulation.

Scholars believe that red algae have been used as medicine by the Chinese as early as 600 BC; and as early as 400 BC, the Irish began to use red algae as food, and the “cara” of carrageenan comes from Ireland. Irish Carraigín for red algae. Yes, carrageenan originates from the island of Ireland. They dried, washed and boiled the red seaweed, and added the resulting goo—carrageenan—to pies, desserts, and beer as an ingredient.

In 1819, the English botanist Dawson Turner recorded the function of carrageenan scientifically for the first time, and predicted that this raw material would be of great value in the future. He prophesied correctly. With the development of the food industry, the production and extraction technology of carrageenan became more and more mature after World War II, and finally became a reliable and common food raw material and was widely used.

3. Does carrageenan have food safety issues?

Carrageenan is a safe food additive that has been confirmed by rigorous scientific research for a long time.

Carrageenan is currently certified by food regulatory agencies including China, the United States, Europe, Japan and Brazil, and the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the WHO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives all consider carrageenan to be safe. Of course, there are still some studies questioning the safety of carrageenan, mainly focusing on whether excessive consumption affects gut health, but these views are currently controversial.

According to GB 2760-2014 “National Food Safety Standard Food Additive Use Standards” issued by the National Health and Family Planning Commission, carrageenan is only required to be used in cream, butter and concentrated butter, raw and wet flour products, spices, and fruit and vegetable juice “according to production needs. Use in moderation”; and in raw and dry flour products, other sugars and syrups, and infant formula food, the maximum addition amounts are 8.0g/kg, 5.0g/kg, and 0.3g/L, respectively. This means that carrageenan is not “excessively added” in most food categories, which also proves from the side that there is no evidence that the addition of carrageenan poses a food safety risk.

In food production, few manufacturers add carrageenan in large quantities. The thickening effect of carrageenan can only reach the best within a certain range, and adding too much or too little will not work. Researchers William R. Blakemore and Alan R. Harpell believe that the use of carrageenan in ice cream between 0.015% and 0.025% works best;

There are also overseas studies that this data can be amplified to 400ppm. This upper limit can be as high as 0.04%. And a 78 grams of Zhong Xue Gao ice cream only added 0.032 grams of carrageenan, which is exactly about 0.04%.

All in all, there are no studies that can shake the conclusion that carrageenan is safe and reliable. In fact, carrageenan is a soluble dietary fiber that can completely pass through the human digestive system, which means that in theory, carrageenan will not be absorbed by the human body.

4. Which food fields is carrageenan used?

As mentioned above, carrageenan is widely used in food, daily chemicals, pet food and other industrial fields because of its natural harmlessness, excellent functionality, reliability and applicability.

Carrageenan is even more valuable in the research and development of plant meat – in most cases, carrageenan can replace animal-based gelatin made from animal bones and skins. There is no thickening agent in making vegetable meat, so how can we make the processed vegetable protein into a firm piece of “meat”? Plant-based colloids represented by carrageenan can not only achieve the function of gelatin, but also ensure that the product is completely free of animal ingredients, thus making it possible to develop plant-based products.

In the food industry, carrageenan plays an outstanding role in the following areas:

Dairy: Mainly used to thicken and improve food taste

Ice cream: It can prevent the separation of whey and prevent the formation of water crystals, thereby improving the taste

Candy: Hydrocolloid made from carrageenan, one of the main optional raw materials for making fruit gummies

Sauce: acts as a thickener to increase consistency

Meat products: replace fat to increase the water holding capacity of the product

Beer: Used as a clarifying agent for flocculation

Soy milk and vegetable milk: thickeners

Sparkling Water: Enhances Taste, Preserves Fragrance

In short, almost every year’s reports are in summer, and they are also related to “ice cream does not melt”. And when we understand the facts of carrageenan, we will find that it is with a thickener like carrageenan that we can buy a wide variety of ice cream anytime and anywhere in summer, and can add a layer of coolness to the hot summer. .

Looking into the future, there are still many possibilities for carrageenan. As a natural food additive that can reduce the addition of food salt and fat, improve the shelf life of food, and at the same time be environmentally friendly, carrageenan still has great potential in the research and development of healthy food in the future.

It can be said that it is a “beneficial and harmless” carrageenan, should we really need to refuse for using?

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