Can a new ingredient change negative perceptions of carrageenan?

[USA] Cargill announced a new emulsifier similar to carrageenan that is made from cultivated seaweed, according to an article in FoodBev.

Cargill told FoodBev its new emulsifier, known as Satiagel ADG 0220 Seabrid, offers a “cost-efficient texturising solution” because of the way it is derived.

Cargill executives told Food Ingredients First the company is going to continue developing seaweed-based ingredients, and will be working to “revitalize” the segment.

Cargill’s development of a new carrageenan ingredient could be seen by some as puzzling. Carrageenan, which has been derived from seaweed and used in food products for decades, also has become controversial. Some contend it causes digestive issues.

Consumer activists, including farm policy group Cornucopia Institute and popular blogger “Food Babe” Vani Hari, have fought against use of the ingredient. Studies published by the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago have indicated carrageenan could cause gastrointestinal inflammation and lead to glucose intolerance, contributing to Type 2 diabetes. But other researchers have not been able to duplicate these findings.

Cornucopia Institute has several pages on its website dedicated to carrageenan, including a collection of personal stories from people relating health problems they say were caused by the additive and a listing of products made without it.

The negative attention led some food manufacturers to reformulate products made with carrageenan. For that reason, during a review of additives allowed in organic food last November, the National Organic Standards Board voted that it should not be permitted in organic products. The NOSB makes policy recommendations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has yet to take action on this vote.

While the USDA can ignore the recommendation on carrageenan in organic food, some believe that the ingredient’s heyday is over. With so much attention given to perceived health risks — proven or not — consumers and manufacturers may be looking for something else altogether. Cargill’s new ingredient does not appear to address these concerns. Company executives touted Satiagel ADG 0220 Seabrid as an inexpensive ingredient, but according to carrageenan supporters, the traditional wild-sourced seaweed version was never costly.

In an interview, Cargill global seaweed product manager Xavier Martin told Food Ingredients First he understands carrageenan’s negative perception, but “now is a good time to provide information our customers and consumers based on scientific facts.”

“Carrageenan is safe and functional in various applications and at Cargill, we are helping to develop an optimal ingredient with a minimal cost,” he said. “That is one of our key points for this new launch and why we think it’s important to balance this sort of information with facts based on science.”

Since Cargill’s new ingredient is cultivated, it will be interesting to see if it can be produced following organic standards, bypassing the recommended prohibition on using it in organic food. And close attention will be warranted to see if this new attention to carrageenan may change consumer perception of its potential health risks.

 

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