Carrageenan is a common name for a family of gel-forming and viscosifying polysaccharides that are extracted from various species of seaweeds, especially red seaweed.
A variety of plants have been known around the world for these characteristics, what species they are varies according to location. As an example, on the Atlantic coastline for e Europe & North America, Irish Moss has been prized for carrageenan. In South America & around Japan, we talk about Sea Chicory/yanaginori; in the Pacific Islands, Indonesia and Philippines, Coral grass is more popular. These plants all belong to the red seaweed group and, more specifically, the order of 'Gigartinales'.
What these plants have in common is that they contain carrageenan, a polysaccharide with viscosity & jellifying characteristics. It is made up of cellulose and sulfated polygalactan with 15% to 40% of ester-sulfate content. It has off-white to brown appearance and is commercially available in powdered form. It is also known as 'seaweed flour' or 'Irish moss'. What is confusing and even misleading is when the extract bears the same name as the whole plant while having the opposite effects om health! But the extract IS NOT the whole plant, and the effects on the human digestive system have suffered negative press.
As explained above, the carrageenan industry extracts from various plants, to different grades and produces with a number of different processes, so the resulting substances differ in their chemical structure and properties, and therefore, they have varying functions & uses in application industries.
A variety of compounds of commercial interest in three different grades: Iota (ι), kappa (κ), and lambda (λ). These are largely used as a gelling agent in the food and beverages industry. It has obtained approval from the European Union as a food additive with E-number E407 and is primarily used in industries such as pet food, meat & processed food, dairy products, air fresheners, pharmaceuticals, beverages, and others. Dairy products are the largest application segment of the carrageenan gum market as it prevents separation of fat from protein. It is used as a substitute for gelatin jellies in water-based foods.
It has gone through a wave of popularity with the famous Chefs under the concept of 'Molecular Gastronomy'. Molecular Gastronomy blends physics and chemistry to transform the tastes and textures of food. The result? New and innovative dining experiences.
Cocktails in ice spheres. Caviar made of olive oil. Disappearing transparent raviolis. Sound cool? Well these are all examples of Molecular Gastronomy. Click here for a video overview.
Because Carrageenan gum is obtained from seaweed it has never been suspected of haaving a negative effect on health. However, rising concern over gastrointestinal and inflammatory disorders among consumers has significantly hampered the carrageenan market. Read about the controversy.
Asia Pacific and Europe are key markets in the global carrageenan gum market. Rising demand for fast and processed food in Asia Pacific and significant consumption of dairy products in Europe is propelling the demand for carrageenan gum, will it continue?