What is Carrageenan?
Carrageenan is the name given to a family of linear sulfated food grade polysaccharides obtained from the red seaweeds.
There are 3 major types of carrageenan produced named kappa, iota and lambda which are well differentiated in terms of their gelling properties and protein reactivity. Kappa carrageenan derived from Kappaphycus Alvarezii form strong gels that fracture; whereas iota carrageenan derived from Eucheuma Denticulatum form softer elastic gels. Lambda carrageenan derived from Chrondrus Crispus do not gel in water but they interacts strongly with proteins to stabilize a wide range of dairy products.
Where does Carrageenan come from?
Carrageenan comes from the gelatinous protective layer in cell walls of several red seaweeds. Because red seaweeds must live in the violent intertidal ocean environment, their living cells must be protected from damage. Carrageenan gels serve this purpose in nature. After searching the world for several decades for natural stands of carrageeenan bearing seaweeds, the industry has settled on two Eucheuma species that thrive under cultivation in tropical waters and the abundance of naturally growing Gigartina species along the Chile coast line south of Santiago.
Kappa-bearing weeds are most important because kappa dominates in dairy and meat applications. Iota trails but is nonetheless important in toothpaste and special food applications.