Almond Milk’s Mystery Ingredient – What Is Carrageenan?

If you are a regular consumer of almond milk, chances are that you are pretty conscious about what you eat and drink. Whether you’re dodging the dairy due to being lactose intolerant, vegan, or just as part of a lower fat diet, almond milk is a great alternative to milk from cows.

Homemade almond milk is the purest form you can get, as you can ensure no ingredients are added. The kind you can buy from the store is convenient and tasty, although it does contain a few other ingredients too, including a seaweed extract called carrageenan.

Carrageenan has been the victim of some vicious rumors and criticisms that are entirely unfounded. Some of this comes as a result of innocent misinformation, and some is a malicious, deliberate tactic carried out by health food companies who stand to make more money as a result.

Firstly, let’s understand why carrageenan is even in our almond milk in the first place. It acts as a stabilizer, meaning that it prevents the products from separating in the carton and keeps it desirable in that sense. It also gives it a creamier consistency that it would otherwise have, creating the indulgent almond milk we know and love.

So, why do people think it’s dangerous?

Well, a lot of the misunderstanding is due to there being two kinds of carrageenan, degraded and undegraded. Degraded carrageenan, also known as poligeenan, is treated with harsh acid during the production process and is thus rendered unsafe for human consumption. However, it is never used in the food industry and is therefore of no concern. Undegraded carrageenan has no contact with this acid and is fine to eat.

There is a misguided rumor that carrageenan can become poligeenan inside the body, due to the acidic conditions of the stomach. However, there acid used to produce poligeenan is far more potent than that found inside the body, so this is not possible.

Much of this information comes from Dr Joanne Tobacman, who has been researching carrageenan and its impacts for many years. However, she routinely uses poligeenan in her research rather than undegraded carrageenan, and when she does test the type used in food, she does so in totally unrealistic quantities and concentrations. She has even made bold claims that the ingredient can cause cancer, which is entirely untrue.

Government bodies and food safety authorities recognise this, and dismiss her findings as invalid. It is unknown why Dr Tobacman maintains this unfounded smear campaign against a totally harmless ingredient.

In short, the type of carrageenan found in almond milk is totally safe for you to consume. Those eating dairy-free already have a tough time finding what to eat and drink, and misguided science like this is entirely unnecessary – enjoy your store-bought almond milk without any concerns.