As a food additive, algin is used as a gelling agent. It is used to thicken and/or stabilize various foods.
Algin or alginic acid is a compound abundant in the cell walls of brown algae and certain forms of kelp.1
Algin and associated salts (sodium alginate, calcium alginate, ammonium alginate, and potassium alginate) are collectively referred to as alginates. They belong to a group of chemicals called polysaccarides. Other polysaccarides include gum arabic, sterculia gum, carob bean gum, guar gum, gum ghatti, gum tragacanth, carrageenan, methyl cellulose, and agar-agar.
They are used as a thickeners for colours in printing textiles, glazing and sizing paper, special printers’ inks, paints, cosmetics, insecticides, and pharmaceutical preparations. They are also used in making molds, castings and in taking dental impressions.
One unique use is as a hardener and thickener for joining threads in weaving. Once the fabric has been formed, the alginates may be dissolved, giving special effects to the material.
Alginates are commonly used in jams, jellies and marmalades.
They are used as stabilizers in prepared whipped-cream (pressure-dispensed whipped cream) where they help provide a creamy texture and prevent formation of ice crystals.2
They are used in making popsicles where they help provide a smoother texture by ensuring that the fruit flavors are evenly distributed in the ice crystals during freezing. They also help to stop dripping.
Ammonium alginate is commonly found in pie filling and gravy.
Calcium alginate is used in icings and imitation fruit pulp.
Sodium alginate is used in desserts (ice cream), puddings, sauces, toppings, and edible films.
Side Effects / Health Issues:
No known adverse effects, however large quantities may inhibit the absorption of some nutrients
In 1973, the FDA concluded that there was no public health hazard if sodium alginate was consumed at low levels. However, they could not make any conclusions about it’s safety if consumption amounts were increased.3
Algin (or alginic acid) has an E number of 400.
Sodium Alginate has an E number of 401.
Potassium Alginate has an E number of 402.
Ammonium Alginate has an E number of 403.
Calcium Alginate has an E number of 404.
Sodium alginate is commonly used in a technique called spherification. This technique is used to make faux caviar with some very unique flavours. The following video shows the process using blueberry syrup:
More information can be found at Khymos, the producer of the video.
Alginates are derived from algae and I suppose you could say they are somewhat “natural”. Still, it all seems a bit too industrial for my liking. I’ll probably still eat foods containing them (until I start making my own ice cream at least).
If you want to avoid these kinds of chemicals, buy and cook your own fresh unprocessed food. This is my preferred approach.
Do you have questions or comments about this post?
Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts. Thanks.