What Is Carrageenan?

Good Questions

Q: Thanks for running such an entertaining and informative blog! I thought you might be able to answer a question for me. What is carrageenan?

I never heard of it until about a month ago, and now I'm seeing it all over the place — in ice cream, in candy, and in soy milk! So what is it?

Sent by Kate

Editor: Kate, carrageenan is an extract of seaweed or algae that is commonly used as a gum in many food products. A gum acts as a stabilizer and thickener. So you will often find carrageenan in ice cream, yogurt, and other dairy products — especially low-fat ones, as the thickener helps create a good texture in the absence of extra fat. Carrageenan can also be used to thicken vegan gelatins and puddings — it is very similar to agar.

The product itself is all natural — it is extracted from seaweed in a relatively simple process. (You could do it yourself, in fact.) But some people who have fish or shellfish allergies have complained about negative effects from carrageenan.

More about carrageenan at Wikipedia

Has anyone experienced those? And has anyone actually cooked with carrageenan?


Related: What's the Deal with Xanthan Gum?

(Image: eNasco)

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Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.