Carrageenans are a class of molecule that is extracted from edible red seaweed. Processed eucheuma seaweed is another name for carrageenan. They are commonly used in the food industry for their gelling, thickening and stabilizing properties.


Carrageenan is a permitted food additive in Canada1, the United States2, the European Union (with exceptions for things like baby formula)3, and Australia4.

It is used as a thickener or gelling agent.  It is most often used in dairy and meat products because it binds well with proteins.  Sometimes it is used as a vegetarian substitute for gelatin.

There are three main commercial classes of carrageenans:

  • Kappa forms strong gels,
  • Iota forms soft gels,
  • Lambda does not gel but is used to thicken dairy products.


Most of the world’s carrageenan is produced in the Philippines.  The farmed seaweed is grown on nylon lines that are strung between bamboo floats.
Harvesting seaweed for carrageenan
By StinaTano (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

After the seaweed is harvested, it is washed, dried and baled. It is then sent to a carrageen manufacturer for processing. The seaweed is ground and sifted. It is then cooked in an alkali solution (usually potassium hydroxide). After cooking, cellulose is removed by using filters and a centrifuge. Finally, the carrageenan is concentrated by evaporating the remaining liquid.

Common Uses:

Some specific examples of carrageenan in food include:

It really seems to be everywhere.  Carrageenan can also be found in toothpaste, dog food, and cleaning products.  It is also used as a sizing for certain types of art work.

Health Issues / Side Effects:

Carrageenan is a controversial food additive.  It is very common and used in many products.  Yet, there are reports that it can cause intestinal damage.


The E number of carrageenan is 407.  Other gelling agents or thickeners include Algin (E400 – E405), Agar-Agar (E406), and Acacia Gum (E414).


  1. Canadian List of Permitted Food Additives
  2. FDA Food Additives Status List
  3. Current EU Approved Food Additives
  4. Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code

Further Reading

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