E401 sodium alginate – properties, application

Sodium alginate is the sodium salt of alginic acid, an organic chemical compound of natural origin. The individual molecules of sodium alginate are connected to each other and form a macromolecule with a mass of 10 thousand to 600 thousand units.

What is sodium alginate

Sodium alginate is a polysaccharide obtained from the brown seaweed of the Phaeophyceae family, namely Macrocystis pyrifera, Laminaria Digitata, Laminaria Clouston and Ascophyllum nodosum. They grow off the coast of the United States and Great Britain.

Sodium alginate – properties

Sodium alginate has no smell or taste. It is white or yellowish-brown. It comes in the powdered or granular form. It dissolves slowly in water, forming a viscous solution. It does not dissolve in alcohol. In aqueous solutions, it shows gelling properties.

Sodium alginate and calcium chloride react with each other to form a gelatinous precipitate. This test distinguishes sodium alginate from Arabic gum, sodium carboxymethyl cellulose, carrageenan, gelatin and methylcellulose. Such properties of sodium alginate are also used in industrial production.

Sodium alginate – application

Sodium alginate is used in industry as a stabilizer, thickener, gelling agent and emulsifier. It can be found in pharmacies as an ingredient of medicines and is also used in cosmetics and food production. Pharmaceutical applications of sodium alginate and other alginates include the formation of thin films, disintegrating effects, controlled release of the active substance of the drug (e.g. in agents gradually releasing nicotine, helping to quit smoking), thickening and stabilizing the final drug.

The use of sodium alginate for heartburn is known because the substance alleviates symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux. Sodium alginate as a drug is also used to lower blood cholesterol levels, bind heavy metals and regulate the rhythm of bowel movements. It is used as an ingredient in some of the types of functional food such as dietary cookies that swell in the stomach and quickly give a feeling of satiety, thus reducing the intake of calories.

Sodium alginate in food – E401

Sodium alginate in food is an emulsifying, stabilizing and thickening agent. As a food additive, it is marked with the symbol E401. In food production, it is willingly used because it creates gels that are durable regardless of temperature treatment, and does not give products an unwanted taste or smell.

  • ice cream
  • jellies
  • marmalades, jams
  • meat preserves, cold cuts, minced meat
  • milk desserts, yoghurts
  • mayonnaise
  • cake fillings
  • bread

Is sodium alginate unhealthy?

Sodium alginate is a polysaccharide that swells in water, so it belongs to the soluble fibre fraction. For fibre, on the other hand, many positive health-promoting properties have been scientifically demonstrated. Sodium alginate is not harmful to the body.

The harmfulness of E401 can only manifest itself in such a way that its very high consumption limits the absorption of important minerals from food. They are bound by the gel formed in the dietary content by the presence of alginates. Nutrition and health organizations, including the FDA and the FAO/WHO Committee of Experts, have recognized sodium alginate as a safe food additive.