The main red algal polymers are agar and carrageenan, and mainly porphyran in nori. All of these polymers are sulfated galactans. They are modestly water-soluble, partially digestible and easily extracted from red seaweeds by boiling .

Carrageenan was originally isolated by simply boiling red seaweeds for an hour or more , discarding the seaweed mass, and saving the usually thick mucilaginous liquid. It was used for soups, hot gruels when mixed with grains, seafood, and peas. It was drunk as a soothing treatment for sore mouths and throats and for constipation relief.

It was used by the poor starving Irish during the oppressive British occupation of Ireland for 800 years as an emergency food, filling if not totally nutritious.

Today, carrageenan is used in over ten thousand proprietary industrial, food, and health and beauty products as a thickener, gelling agent, meat and sugar extender, medicines, and paints. Red seaweeds containing carrageenan have been overharvested in many places, including the intertidal zones of the Canadian Maritime Provinces and many of the Carribean Islands. Now, to meet demand, the world’s largest aquaculture farms are located in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philipines, where the red alga Euchemia is grown on nets. Historically, it has been used as a sexual lubricant in China, Korea, and Japan for millennia.

Carrageenan eaten as red seaweeds such as dulse, Irish moss, and Euchemia, is partially digested and absorbed as small globular gel masses into the lymph and blood stream. It can provide sugar molecules for glycoproteins secreted by mucous membranes and for cell surface aminoglycan labeling.


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