Food & Beverage - North America

Carrageenans are polysaccharides (galactose) with varying degree of sulfatation (between 15% and 40%). They are extracted from red seaweeds and are used as thermo reversible gelling agents and thickening agents. Carrageenans can control syneresis.  Carrageenans can also be used as a binding agent and can improve texture and mouthfeel. Cargill is a supplier of carrageenan for the food industry.






Types of carrageenan

In general, three major types of carrageenans can be distinguished:

  • Alcohol processed refined carrageenans.
  • Potassium chloride processed refined carrageenans.
  • Semi-refined carrageenan, also called PNG (Philippine Natural Grade) or PES (Processed Eucheuma Seaweed). This has only more recently been approved for food applications.



  • Dairy Desserts (like gelled milks, flans, multi-layered desserts, mousses)
  • Ice Cream
    • In combination with guar gum, locust bean gum and alginates
  • Powder Products:
    • Dessert, Custard and Bakery Creams
    • Homemade Flans
    • Water Gel Desserts, Glazings
  • Stabilization of Chocolate Drinks and Creams

Meat & Fish

  • Injections (hams, poultry)
    • Canned Foods (in combination with locust bean gum for human and pet food)
    • Fat Reduction (hamburgers)


Structuring using carrageenan

Gelling carrageenans: kappa and iota

After undergoing the heat treatment required for dissolution, the macromolecules in carrageenan have a tendency to spontaneously associate during cooling, thus creating junction zones required for a gel.

The iota carrageenan network is formed by a series of double-helices and kinks that form a transparent, elastic gel. This loosely-connected network can easily be destroyed by mechanical action. However, it reforms quickly once the mechanical action has stopped.

This property is called "thixotropy" and is very useful in certain applications such as cold-filled dairy desserts.

Gelation of kappa carrageenan is particularly enhanced by the potassium ion. It induces gel formation at very low concentrations.


Kappa 1 Sulfate - Carrageenan  IOTA (ι) 2 SULFATE FOR 2 SUGAR UNITS

Iota 2 Sulfate - Carrageenan

Iota 2 Sulfate - Carrageenan

Thickening carrageenans: lambda

Mainly because of electrostatic repulsion, the chains of lambda carrageenan do not have a tendency to self-associate and can easily be separated from each other. Thus, lambda carrageenan acts simply as a thickening agent.


Lambda - Carrageenan

The structures described above are idealized implying that different carrageenans are perfect chains made up of identical repetitive units. In reality, carrageenan macromolecules are not homogeneous. They are heterogeneous either due to differing molecular structures within the chains or due to differing chains within the seaweed. For example, some carrageenans extracted from South American seaweeds are kappa and iota hybrids which may be called kappa 2 or weak kappa carrageenans.

Manufacturing Process

The process technologies involved in the production of lecithin are as diverse as the variety of different lecithin products available.

For lecithin of plant origin, the common starting point is the isolation of the crude lecithin from vegetable oil.

The basic steps are shown below:


Crude Lecithin Production

Plant lecithin is a by-product in the refining of vegetable oils. During the usual batch degumming process the crude oil is heated to about 70 °C, mixed with 2% water and subjected to thorough stirring for about half an hour to an hour. This addition of water to the oil hydrates the polar lipids in the oil, making them insoluble. The resulting lecithin is then separated by centrifugation.

This Lecithin is made up of water, phospholipids and glycolipids, some triglycerides, carbohydrates, traces of sterols, free fatty acids and carotenoids. The crude plant lecithin is obtained by careful drying.

The composition and quality of the crude lecithin product are considerably influenced by the quality and origin of the oilseeds, as well as the conditions during the de-gumming process.

In the further processing of lecithins, the following principal processes can be distinguished:

Modification of lecithin

  • Enzymatic modification
  • Chemical modification (in most countries, limited to non-food applications)

Solvent extraction

  • De-oiling with acetone
  • Fractionation with alcohol

Chromatographic purification

It is also possible to combine individual processes and to combine the products with other functional constituents.

The aim of these processes is to enhance the technical and functional properties of lecithin to meet specific application requirements.

Enzymatic Hydrolysis

The graphic below shows the basic effect of the enzymatic hydrolysis of phospholipids, resulting in a higher polarity of the phospholipid molecule, and enhancing lecithin’s emulsification properties (for example).


Plant lecithin contain about 30-40% neutral lipids, mainly triglycerides.

To improve the processing characteristics of high-viscosity crude lecithin and their dispersant properties, one can make use of the fact that while polar lipids (phospholipids and glycolipids) are almost insoluble in acetone, neutral lipids are readily dissolved.

Extraction with acetone yields deoiled lecithin with a residual content of only 2-3% neutral lipids.

These products can occur in powder or granulated forms.

Fractionation with alcohol

Today, the production of plant lecithin fractions largely makes use of ethanol or ethanol-water mixtures. The fractionation process takes advantage of the differences in solubility of the various phospholipids in ethanol.

Phosphatidylcholine (PC) in particular is readily soluble, whereas phosphatidylinositol (PI) and phosphatidic acid are virtually insoluble.

Phosphatidylethanolamine (PE), like the neutral lipids, is found in both fractions, which are of growing economic interest because of their different technological properties, in particular the alcohol-soluble fraction as an O/W emulsifier and the insoluble fraction as a W/O emulsifier.

For many years PC-enriched products have been of great importance for the dietetic sector.

The fractionation method with alcohol can be used on lecithins of natural composition, on modified lecithins and on de-oiled lecithins.

Certification system

Cargill has established a product portfolio that can supply, where required, lecithin originated from conventional (non-GM) sources using an Identity-Preservation supply chain program. With dedicated production lines, product segregation and documentation systems, Cargill’s externally audited processes can be considered an industry benchmark system for the production of conventional (non-GM) lecithin products. Lecithin produced through Cargill’s Identity-Preserved programs is in line with the EU regulatory requirements for exemption from mandatory labeling

Cargill lecithin is produced in the US and Europe and are Kosher and Halal certified. All regional, national and international certifications are issued by well-known official certification bodies and available upon request.

All Cargill lecithin production sites operate under Certified Quality Management Systems (ISO, AIB).  Our European sites are also certified under GMP.


European legislation clearly distinguishes carrageenan (E 407) from Processed Eucheuma Seaweed (P.E.S.) (E 407a - a semi refined carrageenan as described below), using the acid insoluble matter as the main criteria for differentiation.

FAO/WHO - Codex Alimentarius

Carrageenan and P.E.S. have been given an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) of “not specified” by the FAO/WHO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).

European Union

Carrageenan (E 407) and P.E.S. (E 407a) are listed in Annex I of the European Parliament and Council Directive 95/2/EC of 20th February 1995 on food additives, and may be used at “quantum satis” in many food categories.    

United States

The FDA recognizes carrageenan and P.E.S. as permitted for direct addition to food for human consumption in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR 21, § 172.620).

Cargill's global team of regulatory and food law experts will be glad to provide assistance on regulatory, nutrition-related claims and food law-related issues.

Some Cargill products are only approved for use in certain geographies, end uses, and/or at certain usage levels. It is the customer's responsibility to determine, for a particular geography, that (i) the Cargill product, its use and usage levels, (ii) the customer's product and its use, and (iii) any claims made about the customer's product, all comply with applicable laws and regulations.