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Carrageenan originated in Ireland from the use of a red seaweed that grows on little rocks (or carrigín in Gaelic) to thicken jellies and puddings; hence, it's alternative names: Irish moss, sea moss or pearl moss.

The main red algae used (Carrageen; Chondrus crispus) is found on rocky coasts of northern Europe and even used to be collected in New England, especially Massachusetts - where it was spread out to dry and bleach on local beaches; it was moistened with sea water and allowed to dry four or five times until a pale, yellow horny material called "moss" resulted. This contains "carrageenan", a mucilaginous substance that can be used as a gelling agent.

Carrageenan can be used:

  • To make panna cotta and thicken jellies instead of using gelatine
  • To make room temperature gels and will provide maximum flavour release

Overview of Carrageenan's Characteristics

Category Comments
Applications Fine ambient gels, milk-based gels, emulsions, suspensions
Rate of hydration Rapid
Gel strength Firm, elastic gels
Colour Cream powder
Solubility Hot
pH solubility 4.5 - 10.0
Dosage 0.2 - 2.0%

Traditional Cure for Coughs and Colds

Carrageen is an old Irish cure for coughs and colds - a curative draught is prepared by simmering some fronds of seaweeds in milk and water, after which the liquid is strained and sometimes flavoured with honey and lemon juice.

Further Reading

  • Dowell, P., Bailey, A. (1980) The Book of Ingredients, Dorling Kindersley. ISBN 0718119150.
  • Stobart, T. (1981) The Cook's Encyclopedia: ingredients & processes, Harper & Row. ISBN 0060141271.