The Mystery Ingredient You Had No Idea Was In Your Ice Cream

No matter what flavor ice cream you treat yourself to, you can always count on there being cream, sugar, and some sort of flavor extract. Some ice creams have mix-ins like chunks of strawberry or crushed up Oreos, but typically all the ingredients seem predictable. What you might not know, however, is that unless you're making your own ice cream from scratch, there's a good chance it's also laced with carrageenan (via Good Housekeeping). 

Because it's technically a natural ingredient, even certified organic brands have been known to contain the additive. As Good Housekeeping explains, carrageenan is a derivative of red seaweed, and is considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That doesn't mean it's good for you, though. 

Regardless of being "natural," Healthline reports that carrageenan has zero nutritional value, causes inflammation, and can have damaging effects on your digestive system. Non-food-grade carrageenan, also known as degraded carrageenan, is actually carcinogenic, and unfortunately, food-grade carrageenan contains 5% degraded carrageenan (via Cornucopia).

Why is carrageenan in ice cream?

Carrageenan may contribute no nutritional value to ice cream, but it's essential to creating the consistency of store bought ice cream, Forbes shares. Without it, your favorite tub of the stuff wouldn't have the thick and creamy texture you've come to love. Ben & Jerry's PR maven Lindsay Bumps reveals that carrageenan is included in their recipe because it acts as a stabilizer.

Stability is necessary for store bought ice cream because as it gets transported from the manufacturer to the retailers, it also gets exposed to different temperatures in the process. Normally, going from hot to cold over the course of distribution causes the formation of ice crystals, but carrageenan prevents this by bonding with water molecules during the ice cream making process. As a result, the original texture of the ice cream remains unaltered. And that means if you want to enjoy ice cream as it was intended, you may have to make peace with a little carrageenan.