[USA] Today was a dangerous day at the grocery store– pints of Ben & Jerry’s were two-for-one. For me, that means Cherry Garcia (automatic pick, no decision necessary) and a wild card flavor (today, pistachio). But while I love the B&J’s, scanning the ingredients label raises a question — what exactly is carrageenan and why is it in my otherwise delicious, nearly additive-free ice cream?
You may have noticed that it shows up in several “organic” and “natural” foods. I’ve seen carrageenan on labels for half and half, heavy cream, almond milk and a few brands of Greek yogurt.
Here’s a definition snippet from Wikipedia:
Carrageenans or carrageenins 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.
So essentially, there’s seaweed in your ice cream.
If you search around a bit, you’ll find (as you’d expect to find for any additive) a few health concerns linked to carrageenan. The most alarming is that it’s potentially carcinogenic, but I’ve spent some time running that one to ground and don’t believe it’s credible. The research that sparked the concerns used a high percentage of a degraded form of carrageenan (called poligeenan) in animal studies, but the approved form as a food additive is undegraded carrageenan, and it does not produce the same results.
But there is some decent evidence that carrageenan may trigger intestinal inflammation, at least in some people. It’s not digestible, so unlike most everything else in your B&J’s, it’s going to rumble through your digestive system fairly intact. That’s also true of grain-based fiber, but usually that’s not going to show up in your ice cream. And since carrageenan provides zero nutritional value, its only purpose is “gelling, thickening and stabilizing.” Delicious.
I contacted B&J’s to find out why they include carrageenan in their ice cream, while several other brands do not, and they were quick to respond. According to Lindsay Bumps, Ben & Jerry’s PR media maven:
We use carrageenan as a stabilizer in our product. The purpose is to bond with water molecules and thereby inhibit the grown of ice crystals as the ice cream freezes. This helps to offer some protection from iciness due to temperature fluctuations during distribution. We use very small amounts of carrageenan and since it’s naturally derived from Irish sea moss, we feel it does not compromise the overall quality of our ice cream.
Irish sea moss is a type of red seaweed that grows off the shores of Ireland, Great Britain and the Atlantic coastlines of the U.S. and Canada. The whole sea moss does provide some nutritional value (apparently some folks like to boil it in soups and stews), but carrageenan extracted from it does not.
Full disclosure: No, I’m not going to stop eating Ben & Jerry’s. My relationship with the brand goes way back and we’ve established a level of trust that can withstand a little seaweed extract. If they start injecting other stuff in the Cherry Garcia, we may have to reevaluate. It’s worth noting, however, that some food companies, like WhiteWave (the makers of Silk soy milk), have removed carrageenan from their products under pressure from consumer groups.
The main takeaway: knowing what’s on the label of any food provides a basis for choosing whether or not to purchase it.
View original article at: Dear Ben & Jerry’s, why is there seaweed in my ice cream?