The Unexpected Reason Cinnabon Uses A Seaweed Derivative As An Ingredient

Just as Auntie Anne's and Panda Express nourish the salty and savory cravings of the local food court drifter or mall-walker, Cinnabon supplies the throngs of consumers with fresh, hot cinnamon rolls. With a menu of cinnamon roll-based products and cold drinks, you're not going to find anything related to seafood at your local Cinnabon. If that's the case, however, where exactly does seaweed fit into this? Is this some kind of promotion for a new cinnamon roll that has cinnamon-dusted seaweed baked into it? 

Not exactly. Before you think that you've been eating undersea algae every time you grabbed a box of cinnamon rolls, the truth is actually a bit less shocking. Cinnabon uses sodium alginate in their products, which is derived from seaweed and brown algae (via ScienceDirect). The reason Cinnabon — and other restaurants in the industry — use this underwater ingredient is because it acts as both a thickener and a stabilizer. Special Molecular Gastronomy explains that sodium alginate is used in everything from dairy products to emulsifying canned goods, jams, and even salads.  Fortunately, this thickener isn't known for tasting like the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, so you've probably eaten a variety of products with sodium alginate in them without even realizing it.

But what other sorts of agents are derived from the sea? If they can make a thickener out of seaweed, what other underwater flora and fauna have we been eating all this time?

Fish and underwater plants have been used as agents for years

The use of thickening agents derived from undersea plants and animals may sound like a relatively new concept, but the practice has been around for centuries. According to Smithsonian Magazine, isinglass, a type of jelly-like material derived from the dried bladders of sturgeons, was used in Europe as part of the beer-making process back in the eighteenth century and in certain breweries even today. In some cases, isinglass was used as a gelatin substitute.

Another common form of thickening agent derived from seaweed is carrageenan, which is derived from a type of red seaweed known as Irish Moss (via Scientific American). While carrageenan is used in a wide variety of foods, there are some who believe it is actually unsafe to consume. According to MedicineNet, individuals who have consumed foods with carrageenan experienced bloating and digestive problems such as cramps and diarrhea, which persisted until they cut the thickener out of their diets. Lack of clinical trials, however, has made these claims somewhat unsubstantiated, and the food industry has continued to use carrageenan in its products. 

While eating thickeners and emulsifiers made from seaweed may be off-putting to some, there are some benefits, although, not in their raw state. One particularly surprising benefit is that, when you eat seaweed-based snacks, you may actually be helping the marine ecosystem