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Carrageenan Addition Ratio and Safety

Apr 24, 2024

Carrageenan is a collective name for a group of linearly sulfated polysaccharides derived from marine edible red algae, including Hordeum vulgare, Kirinia, Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Sarcophyllum. These polysaccharides are widely used in the food industry due to their ability to bind stably to proteins in food, e.g. as coagulants, thickeners or stabilizers for dairy and meat products. 

The chemical structure of  Carrageenan is a linear polysaccharide compound consisting of D-galactose and 3,6-anhydro-D-galactose residues. And according to the different positions of the semi-ester sulfate groups attached to the galactose, carrageenan can be divided into seven types: k-carrageenan, L-carrageenan, r-carrageenan, λ-carrageenan, ξ-carrageenan, φ-carrageenan, θ-carrageenan. And the current production and use of k-type, L-type and A-type carrageenan or their mixtures, especially to k-type is common.

Carrageenan is a safe food additive that has been confirmed through long and rigorous scientific research.

Carrageenan is currently certified by food regulatory agencies in China, the United States, Europe, Japan and Brazil, and is considered safe by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the Joint WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). Of course, there are still some studies questioning the safety of carrageenan, mainly focusing on whether overconsumption can affect intestinal health, but these views are currently controversial.

According to GB 2760-2014 “National Food Safety Standards for Food Additives” issued by the Health and Welfare Commission, carrageenan is only required to be “used in moderation according to the needs of production” in diluted cream, butter and butter concentrate, raw and wet noodle products, spices, fruit and vegetable juices; and the maximum additives in raw and dry noodle products, other sugars and syrups, and infant formulas, respectively, are not allowed to be added to food. In raw and dried noodle products, other sugar and syrup, infant formula, the maximum additive amount is 8.0g/KG, 5.0g/KG, 0.3g/L. This means that, carrageenan in most food categories, there is no “excessive additive”, which also proves that there is no evidence to prove that carrageenan additive amount has a food safety risk.

Degradable carrageenan has been found to cause intestinal inflammation and alter the microbiota, and has been found to be a trigger for inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Food carrageenan and degradative carrageenan are completely different products, sparking controversy over the safety of food additives. The safety of food-grade carrageenan has been confirmed through various studies.

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