Emulsifiers, Stabilisers, Thickeners
and Gelling Agents.
Carrageenan is a naturally occurring family of carbohydrates
extracted from red seaweed. This particular type of seaweed
is common in the Atlantic Ocean near Britain, Europe and North
America. The seaweed is boiled to extract the carrageenan.
Carrageenan is widely used as an additive by the food industry
for its gelling, thickening and stabilising properties.
Used in salad dressings, prepared meat and fish, flavoured
milk, processed cheese, ice cream, evaporated milk, cream, cottage
cheese, sour cream, infant formula, alcoholic beverages, sauces
Known adverse effects include gastrointestinal ulcers (but
it is also used to treat ulcers in humans) liver damage, effects
on the immune system and it is suspected to cause cancer.
The type of carrageenan that can be added to food in the EU
is very specific. It must not be in a chemically degraded (hydrolysed)
form. A recent review of animal studies suggested that degraded
carrageenan may be associated with cancer in the gastrointestinal
tract. But comparable evidence does not exist in humans. The
Food Standards Agency in the UK is currently carrying out toxicological
research on carrageenan and is developing a method to measure
levels of this additive in food.