Humans evolved from marine organisms millions of years ago, and are still very much attached to their roots, which caters to their ever-demanding “needs”. The vast potential of the richness of marine world has in fact taken care of the daily dietary requirements of human beings, on a daily basis… this article is about exploring one such potential!
The Marine ecosystem is dynamic and complex with a vast potential beyond human comprehension. This ecosystem is one of the most productive bio-diversities providing a variety of useful resources, the applications of which go beyond basic dietary needs. Carrageenan or carrageenins – a popular natural food additive – is extracted from the red algae species (chiefly Kappaphycus and Eucheuma spinosum) known for its wide application spectrum in the food & beverage industry.
Carrageenan is defined as a family of linear sulfated polysaccharides (carbohydrates) extracted from red edible seaweeds. It is a colloidal substance obtained from a purplish-brown, cartilaginous seaweed, primarily used as an emulsifying and stabilizing ingredient in foods, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals.
What are the market sentiments for Carrageenan?
A report by a market research firm estimated the global carrageenan market value at USD 762.35 million in 2016. Carrageenan has around 13.3% share of the global food & beverage hydrocolloids market.
Today, natural ingredients account for one-third of the total food & beverage market. There is a growing demand observed globally, for natural additives in processed foods to meet the clean label requirement. This particular trend has been a crucial driver for the overall carrageenan market, as it is recognized by different regulatory bodies’ world over as a non-synthetic food additive.
Synthetic (artificial) additives are cheaper, easily available and efficient in function, and thus, they are preferred over natural additives by food manufacturers. Nonetheless, the growing health-consciousness associated with economic empowerment has enabled consumers to opt for natural alternatives even though they are costly. This is due to the deleterious health effects associated with artificial additives as reported by many scientific research papers, coupled with various forms of side-effects and allergies.
There are three main types of carrageenan: kappa, iota, and lambda, based on elemental differences that are commercially employed. The widely prevalent type in the market is the kappa, which is being increasingly utilized in the food industry, where it functions as a bodying agent, stabilizer, and emulsifier in meat and dairy products.
There are three important application areas of carrageenan: food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetics. The food industry leads the market with applications in dairy, meat, beverages, etc. There are three most important functional roles exhibited by carrageenan as a food additive: Firstly, it is widely employed as a thickening agent, particularly in low-fat or no-fat foods, like cottage cheese or sour cream, and as a substitute for fat. Carrageenan thickens foods making them creamier, with a fuller taste.
The second important functional role of carrageenan is that of being used as a stabilizing agent for beverages, like chocolate milk or shakes, which separate if they are not shaken. Carrageenan is also used as a gelling agent, particularly in dairy and confectionery products, to make them stay firm for longer and retain their shape.
Regionally, Asia-Pacific and Europe are considered as the primary markets for carrageenan due to the increasing demand for processed food and meat products in Asia-Pacific and the high preference given by Europeans to dairy products, respectively. Moreover, Asia-Pacific is poised to dominate the global market for carrageenan with a lion-share by 2022, owing to the high cultivation rate of carrageenan producing seaweeds and low cost of labor.
Main Hurdles for the Market – Carrageenan as a food additive, faced a major setback recently in the United States, where many food manufacturers decided to stop using it as a food additive, particularly in infant formulas owing to its carcinogenic potential.
In some animal studies, the additive has been linked to destructive gastrointestinal issues, including inflammatory bowel disease and possibly even tumor production. Thus, the associated safety concern among the consumers is restricting the growth of the global carrageenan market.
Way Ahead: The growth trajectory of the carrageenan market is expected to be moderate in the near future, if not high, as the available alternatives are not as efficient as carrageenan, particularly in the meat and dairy industries. Carrageenan exhibits excellent ability to bind with water and the syneresis control is important in processed meats. Moreover, a unique property of carrageenan is its ability to interact with milk proteins, which form a particularly strong bond with carrageenan.
The principal regulatory agencies of the world (US FDA, FAO/WHO JECFA, EU EFSA, etc.) continue to approve the usage of carrageenan as a food additive due to its natural source, as well as its extensive, well-established, and safety profile, which is evident from its decade-long application. The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has concluded that the use of food-grade carrageenan in infant formula, at concentrations up to 1,000 milligrams per liter, is “not of concern.”
Thus, a more pro-active approach in utilizing this food additive, by keeping a safety margin by manifold, coupled with a clean label assurance, will pave the way for its sustainable market growth.