Carrageenans are a family of linear sulphated polysaccharides that are extracted from red edible seaweeds. They are widely used in the food industry, for their gelling, thickening, and stabilizing properties. Their main application is in dairy and meat products, due to their strong binding to food proteins. Carrageenan is also a vegetarian and vegan alternative to gelatin in some applications, in some instances it is used to replace gelatin in confectionery. In the meantime, carrageenan is considered a dietary fiber technically.
There are three main varieties of carrageenan, which differ in their degree of sulphation. Kappa-carrageenan has one sulphate group per disaccharide. Iota-carrageenan has two sulphates per disaccharide. Lambda carrageenan has three sulphates per disaccharide. As for properties, Kappa forms strong, rigid gels in the presence of potassium ions; it reacts with dairy proteins. It is sourced mainly from Kappaphycus alvarezii. Iota forms soft gels in the presence of calcium ions. It is produced mainly from Eucheuma denticulatum. Lambda does not gel, and is used to thicken dairy products. All of them are soluble in hot water, but in cold water, only the lambda form (and the sodium salts of the other two) are soluble. When used in food products, carrageenan has the EU additive E-number E407 or E407a when present as "processed eucheuma seaweed".
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