Some of our favorite foods need a little extra help to taste as delicious as they do. Take almond milk, for example. If you think that it becomes smooth and creamy through grinding and magic alone, think again. In order for its nut solids and liquid to come together as one silky beverage, almond milk needs a stabilizer to hold each of its elements in place. Enter carrageenan: an ingredient that helps many foods achieve a better mouthfeel and consistency.
Obtained from red seaweed, carrageenan is a fiber that has been used as a thickener and stabilizer for centuries. Its powers lie in its abilities to latch onto food proteins and solids while also being soluble in water—you could think of it as the glue that holds many edible emulsions together. Without carrageenan, the foods it appears in would separate into something unappetizing. Think back to that almond milk: it wouldn’t be so tasty with a layer of nutty bits sunk to the bottom.
Carrageenan also has a number of benefits that distinguish it from other starches, gels, or gums used for similar purposes. Not only is it completely vegan, it can also be easily extracted from seaweed using simple techniques. Cultivated in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner, it is farmed and harvested without the need for fresh water or arable land. Additionally, carrageenan is flavorless and doesn’t feel muddy or pasty, the way starchy thickening agents do.