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The carrageenan controversy

Abstract

Except for Japanese nori, the production of seaweed hydrocolloids consumes the largest amount of macroalgae annually, and carrageenan is the largest consumer of this group. However, carrageenan has run into rough water with food processors and consumers, especially those who read ingredient labels. Carrageenan is being singled out on the Internet as being unsafe for human consumption, even though it is approved for food use by all major food regulatory agencies worldwide. Most recently, it has been approved for use in liquid infant formula, a particularly sensitive application when it comes to food safety. How did this negative attitude toward carrageenan evolve? It can be traced to a research group at the University of Illinois who claim that carrageenan upregulates inflammatory genes of the intestinal epithelium. There is no evidence that this in vitro model applies in vivo and a growing body of research is showing it does not. Nevertheless, it was picked up by various bloggers feeding on contradictory issues and quickly went viral. This paper describes the evolution of the “carrageenan controversy” and provides information for food producers and consumers on new more robust studies confirming that it is safe to consume foods containing carrageenan. This article also presents actions being taken by carrageenan producers and users, to reduce the noise in the public domain from the controversy.

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Acknowledgements

The author wishes to offer his most sincere thanks to Ms. Deborah Young for her work on the references that came from sources not usually found in this journal.

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Correspondence to Harris J. Bixler.

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The author has spent 48 years in the carrageenan industry in capacities ranging from R&D Director, President, Company Owner and Consultant. He is also an active member of Marinalg and IFAC.

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Bixler, H.J. The carrageenan controversy. J Appl Phycol 29, 2201–2207 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10811-017-1132-4

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Keywords

  • Carrageenan
  • Hydrocolloids
  • Tobacman
  • Cornucopia
  • Seaweed