Label Decoder: Carrageenan

by in Grocery Shopping, Label Decoder, March 13, 2012
dairy aisle
Carrageenan is on the ingredients list of many products in the dairy aisle, but what is it?

This ingredient is found in foods like ice cream, jelly and even infant formula. Find out what it does and if it’s safe to eat.

What Is It?
Carrageenan is made from seaweed and was named after a small town in southern Ireland named Carragheen (it’s sometimes referred to as Irish Moss). It’s been used in food for several centuries. This additive is used as a thickening, gelling and stabilizing agent. It’s typically used together with other thickeners such as xanthan or guar gum.

You’ll find it in ice cream, jelly, chocolate milk, cottage cheese, infant formula, flan, custards, whipped cream and puddings. In cottage cheese, it helps improve the texture while in chocolate milk it helps stabilize the protein and creates a smooth mouth feel.

Is It Safe?
Studies have found that certain forms of the additive can cause intestinal cancers and ulcerations in animals. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) categorized carrageenan as safe in small amounts. Your best bet is to be mindful of the ingredient—and choose alternate products without it when possible.

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Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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Comments (635)

  1. […] Read at source website […]

  2. […] the original: Label Decoder: Carrageenan This entry was posted in Food Network and tagged cheese, chocolate, food, formula, infant, label, […]

  3. long says:

    Carrageenan is a food additive made from a purified extract of red seaweed, commonly used as a thickening agent.

  4. Lynn Buske says:

    Research suggests that the food ingredient carrageenan contains degraded carrageenan, which negatively impacts gastrointestinal health and is recognized as a possible human carcinogen. Yet it is a common ingredient in foods, including organic foods. While it is unlikely that the government will take action to protect our health and remove carrageenan from conventional foods, we do have a chance to see carrageenan removed from certified organic foods. At the end of May, the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board will be voting on whether carrageenan should be removed from the list of approved ingredients in organic foods. If you agree that organic foods should be free from potentially harmful ingredients like carrageenan, please send a comment to the USDA. The more comments they receive, the more likely they are to vote to remove carrageenan (the carrageenan industry will fight tooth and nail to keep it on the list of approved ingredients). An action alert, with instructions for submitting a comment to the USDA, is available at

    Best Regards,
    Lynn M. Buske – The Cornucopia Institute

    • ISI says:

      Scientists have determined that the carrageenan we use as a food stabilizer is safe, and does not contribute to the development or formation of tumors.
      It has no ill effects on the gastrointestinal tract, while allowing us to absorb essential nutrients in our food without altering taste.

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