Carrageenan is a gelatinous compound obtained from the processing of the thallus of various red algae or Rodoficee , such as Carragheen (also known as Irish Musco or Fuco crispo), from which it takes its name. This product is widely used in the food, medicinal and industrial fields; it swells in cold water and completely dissolves in hot water (around 50 ° C), giving a gelatinous mass, transparent, consistent and free of particular tastes or odors by cooling.
Carrageenan is widely used in the agro-food industry (E407) as a thickener , stabilizer, gelling agent and emulsifier; it is therefore added to jams, jellies , canned meats and ice creams( sodium carrageenates ). As a supplement, it finds space as an adjunct to restrictive diets (increases the sense of satiety ), but also for the symptomatic treatment of constipation (it is a mass laxative , which increases the volume of fecal mass ); in both cases, carrageenan must be taken together with a couple of glasses of water.
Carrageenan is widely used as an inactive excipient also in pharmaceutical techniques, for the preparation of pastes, gels and emulsions, and in cosmetics, where it is part of the composition of toothpastes , hair fixers and shampoos.
More than carrageenan, it would still be more correct to speak of carrageenans, since there are several compounds with similar properties, but with different characteristics depending on the source from which they are extracted and the manufacturing process; the most important are called kappa, iota and lambda. From the chemical point of view they are galactans, that is to say polymers of D-galactose.
Carrageenan is considered a safe additive, although some of its low molecular weight derivatives that form under conditions of high temperatures and acidity, can cause ulceration , inflammation and tumors of the gastrointestinal tract