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Irish Moss: Carrageenan Controversy

irish moss carrageenan-controversy

Carrageenan GUM has been used extensively in the food industry for decades

The controversy that has arisen a few years ago about Irish Moss carrageenan seems to be the result of misleading semantic. The word "carrageenan" - also 'carraigin' - are Irish words for a plant scientifically called Chrondus crispus. This plant has been used extensively by various nations on the Atlantic shores (British Isles, East Coast North America) for its culinary attributes and its therapeutic properties.

Relatively recently (last decades), the same name has been (misleadingly) used for other products which you will understand, may have very different characteristics:

THE REAL/ORIGINAL IRISH MOSS

As described above, "carrageenan" is the common name for Chrondus crispus, which has been used for centuries in Ireland and other places on the Atlantic ocean for its culinary attributes and its therapeutic properties.

THE COMMERCIAL FOOD-GRADE GUM

'carrageenan' is also used to call the commercial gum derived from Irish Moss and other mucilaginous red seaweeds. It is found in many commercially processed foods. Carrageenan extract is used as an emulsifier, thickener & stabiliser in foods like yogurt, ice cream, dairy milk, and even organic boxed vegan milks to enhance the textures. It is also a common ingredient in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and toothpastes. The health concerns with the food additive has been the subject of much debate among health conscious consumers for its studied links to a variety of gastrointestinal disorders including inflammatory bowel syndrome, intestinal ulcerations and tumour growths. There has been quite a lobby of people, including the Cornucopia Institute, protesting the FDA's approval of carrageenan as a safe food additive for these reasons.It turns out that 'manufactured carrageenan', also called 'food grade carrageenan', is an isolated compound extracted from red seaweeds and treated with harsh alkali solutions like potassium hydroxide. During processing the all-important cellulose is removed from the seaweed and the use of 5–8% potassium hydroxide is employed. It is also interesting to understand that Potassium hydroxide solutions with concentrations of approximately 0.5 to 2.0% are irritating when coming in contact with the skin, while concentrations higher than 2% are corrosive! In an article provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, potassium hydroxide is refered to as a toxic poisonous chemical that can have serious health effects if ingested. The amounts of potassium hydroxide present in carrageenan extract remains to be proven, but it is definitely a factor to take into consideration given its side-effects.
Moreover, another important concern is that food-grade carrageenan can be degraded by acids in the stomach, turning it into poligeenan, a potential carcinogenic substance. According to the Cornucopia Institute and their Carrageenan Report, "Degraded carrageenan is such a potent inflammatory agent that scientists routinely use it to induce inflammation and other disease in laboratory animals, to test anti-inflammation drugs and other pharmaceuticals." Other organisations advocate that the human body cannot turn degraded carrageenan into polygeenan, see Science of Poligeenan.

ARE THE OTHER TYPES OF PLANTS THE SAME?

'carageenan' also has recently refered to other plants from totally different genuses showing similar attributes to Irish Moss on the surface. They are sometimes called 'Sea Moss' or 'bird's nest' but calling them carrageenan has instantly tagged them with a similar  historical credibility to Irish Moss. Although their use has increased dramatically with the popularity of raw foods, the availability of anecdotal & scientific information about their medicinal qualities is not the same as it is for Irish Moss.

CONCLUSION:

So to summarise, yes, carrageenan gum does come from Irish Moss & other red seaweeds.  But it has been highly processed into a chemical compound that is nutritionally diminished and that is not the same substance as whole Irish Moss seaweed.  There are still some questions about Carrageenan gum health safety and it is important that you do your own research if you are at all concerned.

On the other hand, we believe the wholeplant Irish Moss to be a beneficial functional food; it has been used for generations in Ireland and other localities along the Atlantic coast as a nourishing tonic and energizing food source. Consumed in its complete form as a broth or gel, it actually "aids/soothes" gastrointestinal issues and inflammation in the body - contrary to isolated carrageenan extracts that can do quite the opposite.

Sources:

Effects of isolated carrageenan
Review of harmful effects
A natural Food Additive that is making us sick
Potassium Hydroxide in carrageenan extract may be the culprit
Carrageenan extract vs poligeenan
Therapeutic importance of sulfated polysaccharides in seaweed
Thoughts from a Raw Food Chef
Addressing the concerns

Disclaimer: This material is provided for educational purposes only and IS NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This information is generic and should be verified by a qualified health practitioner for specific & individual needs & requirements.

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