Organic food lovers tend to give multisyllabic ingredients the side-eye, so the natural stabilizer carrageenan—count ’em: four—raises flags as red as the seaweed from which it’s extracted.
The marine-sourced additive is used in many packaged foods like sauces, ice cream, and processed meats to help them thicken, gel, and stabilize. Natural and organic companies often favor it as a vegan alternative to gelatin, but consumers are wary because some animal studies suggest it causes gastrointestinal inflammation and ulcers.
Last year, Stonyfield Organic vowed to remove carrageenan from its products, and Friday, WhiteWave Foods followed suit, announcing that it’s nixing carrageenan from its brands which include Silk and Horizon Organic. The phaseout will begin with Silk soy milk and coconut milk and Horizon’s line of organic flavored milks.
“Many of our conversations have focused on the use of carrageenan,” reads a post published today on WhiteWave's blog by Sara Loveday, spokeswoman for the company. “Even though it is safe, our consumers have told us they want products without it.”
WhiteWave will retire carrageenan over the next two years. “We get a lot of questions,” Loveday tells TIME. “It’s definitely been a consistent area of concern for a few years.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared carrageenan safe many years ago, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO) echoed those safety claims last month in a joint statement on food additives. But the seaweed extract has drawn the attention of many consumers, notably by Vani Hari, who blogs under the name Food Babe and recently successfully petitioned Subway to remove the common compound azodicarbonamide from its bread. “I’m so thrilled that WhiteWave made this announcement,” Hari writes, “because this will likely lead to other companies following suit.”
Though science hasn't proven carrageenan to be unsafe in humans, major natural food brands are making those four little syllables easier to avoid than ever.