Revisiting the carrageenan controversy: do we really understand the digestive fate and safety of carrageenan in our foods?

Food Funct. 2018 Mar 1;9(3):1344-1352. doi: 10.1039/c7fo01721a. Epub 2018 Feb 22.


Carrageenan (CGN), a family of marine polysaccharides isolated from seaweeds, has been at the heart of considerable debate in recent years. To date, CGN is generally recognized as safe based on a history of safe use, various acute toxicology studies and some recent chronic toxicology tests. This review offers readers an overview of evidence on CGN characteristics and digestive fate that highlight various gaps in our understanding. Specifically, three unresolved gaps are identified. Firstly, little information can be found on the current levels of public exposure to CGN. Secondly, the link between CGN physicochemical properties, its impact on digestive proteolysis, the colon microbiome and inflammation are yet to be fully resolved. Thirdly, scant scientific evidence exists on the differential digestive fate of CGN in the gut of liable and predisposed populations, such as elderly people or IBD patients. Altogether, revisiting the scientific evidence indicates that more research is needed to elucidate the possibility that continued exposure to increasing levels of CGN in the human diet may compromise human health and well-being.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carrageenan / adverse effects*
  • Carrageenan / chemistry
  • Carrageenan / metabolism*
  • Digestion
  • Food Additives / adverse effects
  • Food Additives / chemistry
  • Food Additives / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Plant Extracts / adverse effects*
  • Plant Extracts / chemistry
  • Plant Extracts / metabolism*
  • Seaweed / chemistry
  • Seaweed / metabolism*


  • Food Additives
  • Plant Extracts
  • Carrageenan