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An Overview about Carrageenan and Its Uses

Carrageenan is an ingredient derived from various species of red seaweed and it has been used for hundreds of years as a thickener in foods and it was first made commercially in 1940 for chocolate milk and for some milk dessert similar to pudding. What is carrageenan? It is the common query among many. In the mid it was common for doctors to recommend carrageenan to reduce pain associated with peptic ulcers. The concentration is used to provide ulcer relief by creating a gel that was extremely viscous and unpleasant to consume. Subsequently, degraded carrageenan is also known as poligeenan. Degraded carrageenan is produced by hydrolyzing native carrageenan which cuts bonds and makes the molecules smaller thus by removing their thickening properties and it was found to be harmful hence its use for ulcer treatment was discontinued. Even though they are different, the harmful effects of carrageenan in its degraded from have been mistakenly associated with the food grade carrageenan. Although carrageenan were introduced on an industrial scale in 1930s, they were first used in china around 600 B.C. Carrageen gelatin can be prepared at home using the Diderot’s Encyclopedia and used for centuries. The important difference among the refining process is that the carrageenan is dissolved and it is filtered in order to remove cell wall debris. The carrageenan is then precipitated from the clear solution using isopropanol or by using potassium chloride. A hybrid technology is used by which the seaweed is treated heterogeneously in the semi refined process exists, but alcohol or high salt levels are used to inhibit dissolution.

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Importance of carrageenan:

The carrageenan is widely known for its inflammatory properties. To induce the inflammation and other diseases in lab animals the degraded carrageenan is commonly used in drug trails. Carrageenan is as an active ingredient used to treat everything from coughs to intestinal problems and helps to decrease pain and swelling. It is even reported that the acidic form is commonly used as a bulk laxative and to treat peptic ulcer. Unique chemical structure makes it exceptionally useful in a wide variety of foods and healthcare products even it does not add any nutritional value or flavor. The long safe history of this natural food additive is confirmed by negative results derived from sub chronic and chronic feeding studies in many animal species, mutagenicity studies and reproductive toxicity. Some studies also suggest that carrageenan promotes health. Shown to block human papilomavirus infection and the  researchers from the national cancer institute states that, Carrageenan is in widespread commercial use as thickener in a variety of fields like cosmetic and food products, ranging from sexual lubricants to infant feeding formulas. Food grade carrageenan has evaluated by the joint FAO*/WHO** expert committee on food additives which is an international panel of expert toxicologists that reviews the data and develop recommendations about food ingredients. JECFA determined that food grade carrageenan was safe food additives with no limits on its use in food. This is an incredible scientific breakthrough that can drastically improve the health and wellness.

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