Agar vs. Carrageenan

What's the Difference?

Agar and carrageenan are both types of hydrocolloids commonly used in the food industry as gelling agents and stabilizers. However, they differ in their sources and properties. Agar is derived from seaweed and is known for its strong gelling ability, forming a firm and brittle gel. It is also heat-resistant and can withstand high temperatures, making it suitable for applications like jellies and desserts. On the other hand, carrageenan is extracted from red seaweed and has a more elastic and flexible gel texture. It is often used in dairy products, such as ice cream and yogurt, as it helps improve texture and prevent syneresis. Overall, both agar and carrageenan play important roles in food formulation, providing unique functionalities and enhancing the quality of various products.


FunctionThickening agent, stabilizerThickening agent, stabilizer
TextureGels at room temperatureGels at room temperature
SolubilityInsoluble in cold water, soluble in hot waterInsoluble in cold water, soluble in hot water
ApplicationsFood industry, microbiology, pharmaceuticalsFood industry, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals
AllergenicityGenerally considered safe, but may cause allergic reactions in some individualsGenerally considered safe, but may cause allergic reactions in some individuals
UsageUsed in various food products as a thickener, stabilizer, or gelling agentUsed in food products, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals for thickening, stabilizing, and emulsifying

Further Detail


Agar and carrageenan are two popular ingredients used in various industries, including food, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. While both substances are derived from seaweed, they have distinct characteristics and applications. In this article, we will explore the attributes of agar and carrageenan, highlighting their differences and similarities.

Source and Extraction

Agar, also known as agar-agar, is obtained from red algae, specifically from the cell walls of certain species. The seaweed is harvested, washed, and then boiled to extract the agar. The resulting gel is then dried and processed into various forms, such as powder or flakes.

Carrageenan, on the other hand, is derived from different types of red seaweed, including Irish moss, Gigartina, and Chondrus crispus. The seaweed is collected, dried, and then ground into a fine powder. This powder is then mixed with water to extract the carrageenan, which is further processed and refined.

Chemical Composition

Agar is primarily composed of polysaccharides, specifically agarose and agaropectin. Agarose is responsible for the gel-forming properties of agar, while agaropectin contributes to its stability and texture. Agar also contains small amounts of minerals and trace elements, which can vary depending on the seaweed species and harvesting location.

Carrageenan, on the other hand, is composed of a family of linear sulfated polysaccharides called carrageenans. The main types of carrageenans are kappa, iota, and lambda, each with different gel-forming properties. These carrageenans are responsible for the thickening and stabilizing properties of carrageenan in various applications.

Physical Properties

Agar forms a firm and brittle gel when mixed with water and heated. It has a higher gel strength compared to carrageenan, making it suitable for applications that require a solid gel structure, such as in desserts, confectionery, and microbiological culture media. Agar gels can withstand higher temperatures and remain stable in acidic conditions.

Carrageenan, on the other hand, forms a soft and elastic gel when hydrated. It has a lower gel strength compared to agar, making it ideal for applications that require a more delicate gel structure, such as in dairy products, sauces, and processed meats. Carrageenan gels are more sensitive to temperature and acidity, and they can be easily disrupted by heat or acidic ingredients.


Agar finds extensive use in the food industry, particularly in the production of desserts, jellies, ice creams, and bakery products. It is also widely used in microbiology laboratories as a solidifying agent for culture media. Additionally, agar has applications in pharmaceuticals, where it is used as a binder or disintegrant in tablets and capsules.

Carrageenan, on the other hand, is commonly used as a thickening and stabilizing agent in a wide range of food products, including dairy alternatives, processed meats, sauces, and beverages. It provides a smooth and creamy texture, enhances mouthfeel, and improves the overall stability and shelf life of these products. Carrageenan also has applications in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, where it is used as a gelling agent or emulsifier.

Health Considerations

Agar is generally considered safe for consumption and is often used as a vegetarian alternative to gelatin. It is low in calories and contains some dietary fiber, making it a suitable ingredient for individuals following a low-calorie or high-fiber diet. However, excessive consumption of agar may cause digestive issues, such as bloating or diarrhea, due to its high fiber content.

Carrageenan has been a topic of debate regarding its safety. While some studies suggest potential gastrointestinal inflammation and other health concerns, the majority of regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), have deemed carrageenan safe for consumption in the amounts typically used in food products. However, individuals with known sensitivities or digestive issues may choose to avoid carrageenan-containing products.


Agar and carrageenan are both versatile ingredients derived from seaweed, but they have distinct attributes and applications. Agar forms a firm and stable gel, while carrageenan creates a soft and elastic gel. Agar is commonly used in desserts, confectionery, and microbiology, while carrageenan finds applications in dairy products, sauces, and processed meats. Both substances have their own health considerations, with agar being low in calories and high in fiber, and carrageenan being generally considered safe but subject to some controversy. Understanding the differences between agar and carrageenan allows for informed choices in various industries and consumer products.

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