Carrageenan is a hydrocolloid, derived from red seaweed. It is used as an ingredient in various food products, such as bakery, dairy, sauces and meat products. Carrageenan has no nutritional value, and on processing, it forms a gel. It has many functions, which differ from application to application. For instance, in ice creams, carrageenan prevents meltdown, in chocolates it provides body & the texture, acts as a thickening agent in custard and a stabilizer in whipped cream.
There are three main commercial classes of carrageenan available, namely, kappa, iota and lambda. Kappa is the most used carrageenan in food, where it acts as a stabilizer, bodying agent and emulsifier in cheese, ice cream, chocolate and puddings. Iota is used for ready-to-eat meals, whereas, lambda is mostly used for whipped cream. The food grade carrageenan is often mentioned in processed food ingredients as E407 or E407a, which means it has processed seaweed. In few food products, carrageenan mentioned as a dietary fiber. Carrageenan can be classified as:
- Degraded carrageenan: Low molecular weight carrageenan is recognized as a carcinogen in lab animals, and is therefore classified as a “possible human carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
- Undegraded carrageenan: High molecular weight, and the food grade carrageenan belongs to the undegraded category.
Carrageenan, gets its name from ‘carragheen’, a village in Ireland, where seaweed grows along the coast. Carrageenan, which is used in food processing, is mostly grown in Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and other nearby Asian countries.
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One of the major drivers of the food grade carrageenan market is the rising demand of processed foods. With increasing awareness about the ingredients of processed foods, the demand for organic ingredients is also on the rise. Other very important factor for the growth in carrageenan market is the multi-functionality of the product. It acts as a thicker, stabilizer, texturing and gelling agent. This replaces a lot of other products used in processed foods. In various studies, it has been found that with food-grade carrageenan (undegraded), a small percentage of degraded carrageenan was present. This resulted in health problems like colon inflammation and ulcers. Due, to this, there goes a controversy, whether carrageenan is good for consumption or not.
The food grade carrageenan market is segmented on the basis of application, function and source. On the basis of application, the market is segmented into dairy, meat & meat products, bakery, confectionary, beverages, sauces and others. On the basis of the function, the food grade carrageenan market is further divided by gelling, thickening, stabilization and coating. And, the source of deriving carrageenan is segmented by marine, animal and plants.
The food grade carrageenan market is segmented on the basis of regions into North America, Latin America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Asia-Pacific excluding Japan (APEJ), Middle East & Africa (MEA) and Japan. Asia-Pacific is estimated to hold the largest share in the industry, with rising number of applications. European Union and Latin America are also large producers of food-grade carrageenan, which is exported all over the world.
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The major players in the food grade carrageenan industry are, DuPont (U.S.), Cargill (U.S.), Kerry Group (Ireland), CP Kelco (U.S.), Ashland Inc (U.S.), Ingredion (U.S.), TIC Gums (U.S.) and Tate & Lyle (U.K.). Cargill and DuPont are estimated to be the leaders in the industry, with major production in Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and Philippines. Carrageenan’s, are mostly purchased on the basis of their functionality in specific food applications and not as commodities. Most of the major carrageenan manufacturers concentrate on investing their budgets to maintain active applications in food industry and technical marketing groups to serve the ever-changing needs of their customers.