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Is Irish Moss the Same as Carrageenan? Is it Safe?

irish moss carrageenan-controversy

There has been some controversy around Irish Moss carrageenan which we hope to clarify in this post.

The word ‘carrageenan’ (also’carraigin’) – is the Irish name for a seaplant called Chrondus crispus, which we refer to as Irish Moss. This red seaweed has been used extensively in it’s raw form, for hundreds of years,  by various nations on the Atlantic shores (British Isles, East Coast North America) and appreciated for it’s versatility in the kitchen and therapeutic benefits.

In the last few decades, the same name has been (misleadingly) used for other products which have many different characteristics, such as commercial food grade carrageenan gum (which is derived from Irish Moss seaweed and other mucilaginous red seaweeds, but highly processed).  Carrageenan extract is used as an emulsifier, thickener & stabiliser in foods like yogurt, ice cream, dairy milk, and even organic boxed vegan milks to enhance the textures. It is also a common ingredient in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and toothpastes. The health concerns with this food additive have been the subject of much debate among health conscious consumers, as it’s been linked to a variety of gastrointestinal disorders including inflammatory bowel syndrome, intestinal ulcerations and tumour growths.  ‘Manufactured carrageenan’ or food grade carrageenan is treated with harsh alkali solutions like potassium hydroxide. During processing the all-important cellulose is removed from the seaweed, and 5–8% potassium hydroxide is used to process the substance. (Note:  Potassium hydroxide solutions with concentrations of approximately 0.5 to 2.0% are irritating when coming in contact with the skin, while concentrations higher than 2% are corrosive!) In an article provided by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, potassium hydroxide is referred to as a ‘toxic poisonous chemical that can have serious health effects if ingested’.) The amount of potassium hydroxide present in carrageenan extract remains to be proven, but it is definitely a factor to take into consideration given its side-effects.

Additionally, food-grade carrageenan can be degraded by acids in the stomach, turning it into poligeenan, a potential carcinogenic substance. According to the Cornucopia Institute and their Carrageenan Report, “degraded carrageenan is such a potent inflammatory agent, that scientists routinely use it to induce inflammation and other disease in laboratory animals, to test anti-inflammation drugs and other pharmaceuticals.” Other organisations advocate that the human body cannot turn degraded carrageenan into polygeenan.

So to summarise:

  1. Yes, carrageenan gum does come from Irish Moss & other red seaweeds
  2. Raw and unprocessed, consumed in it’s complete form, we believe Irish Moss offers remarkable health benefits and versatility in the kitchen, and has done for centuries
  3. When processed into a chemical compound (carrageenan gum), it is nutritionally diminished and a different product altogether.

Please read our sources and do further research to make your own mind up:  Sources:

Effects of isolated carrageenan
Review of harmful effects
A natural Food Additive that is making us sick
Potassium Hydroxide in carrageenan extract may be the culprit
Carrageenan extract vs poligeenan
Therapeutic importance of sulfated polysaccharides in seaweed
Thoughts from a Raw Food Chef
Addressing the concerns

Disclaimer: This material is provided for educational purposes only and IS NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This information is generic and should be verified by a qualified health practitioner for specific & individual needs & requirements.

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