FAQ-33: What is carrageenan?

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33. What is carrageenan?

Carrageenan is the name given to a family of linear sulfated food grade polysaccharides obtained from the red seaweeds. They have the unique ability to form an almost infinite variety of gels at room temperature, rigid or compliant, tough or tender with high or low melting point. The gelation requires no refrigeration and the gels can be made stable through repeated freeze-thaw cycles. Carrageenan solutions will thicken, suspend, and stabilize particulates as well as colloidal dispersions and water/oil emulsions. The solutions shear thin (providing ease of pumping), but quickly rebuild viscosity and suspending power on standing. The carrageenan family has three main branches named kappa, iota, and lambda, which are well differentiated in terms of their gelling properties and protein reactivity. Kappa carrageenans produce strong rigid gels while those made with iota products are flaccid and compliant. Although lambda carrageenans do not gel in water, they interact strongly with proteins to stabilize a wide range of dairy and nondairy products.

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