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?