What’s that shine on your face?

Ever wondered why some people look fresher than others when arriving at work in the morning? Ever asked what it is that makes your toothpaste so creamy and your face lotion so smooth?

It was rather a small detail that called my attention when reading this article. To be honest, there is certainly something to the name “organic triple-strength seaweed collagen” but it wasn’t because of the triple-strength that I decided to have a closer look at the mentioned face cream. Given that I had the pleasure to visit some seaweed farming areas two weeks ago in Indonesia and the honour to meet and talk to some distinguished personalities within the sector, I was wondering what the word “collagen” was doing there.

Collagen, best known as Gelatine, is a gelling agent derived from animal proteins. Polysaccharides used as a hydrocolloids (gelling agents) won from seaweed are either Carrageenan or Agar. The ones used in industrialised countries predominantly come from Indonesia and the Philippines, where red seaweeds (agarophytes of the genera Gracilaria and carrageenophytes of the genera Euchema) grow in the warm waters surrounding SE Asia. Most brown seaweeds that have similar characteristics and are likewise used as gelling agents, grow in cold waters (e.g. Ireland, California, China).

IMG_8799Seaweed “farming area” near Makassar, South Sulawesi (Indonesia) Photo: globalvisionremixed.wordpress.com

IMG_8805

IMG_8808Harvesting is done in different ways and depends on the farming system (Photo: globalvisionremixed.wordpress.com)

After harvest, the seaweed is being dried, cleaned, washed, dried again and then processed to a powder which is commercially traded as an ingredient in various industries (see below).

IMG_8794Not only a natural ingredient but also a natural drying system (Photo: globalvisionremixed.wordpress.com)

There are typically two different processing methods to extract Carrageenan from the seaweed and one for Agar, which I won’t describe in more detail. For those interested in the processing methods, please read here for Agar or Carrageenan.

Agar and Carrageenan are not only used for gels and cosmetics, they find a variety of applications as thickeners and gelling agents in the food industry, in medicine, pet food or as lubricants in different sectors.
You might be surprised to hear that you likely use some seaweed every day when brushing your teeth in the morning? Not so much if you knew that the gelling characteristics of seaweeds have been appreciated for hundreds of years in Japan, where according to a legend the original manufacturing method of agar was presumably discovered in 1658, and also in Ireland, where the use of Irish Moss seaweed has first been documented at around 1810.

With that in mind doesn’t it disturb you that we know so little about the production of seaweed and the origins of ingredients in products we eat or apply on a daily basis? Isn’t it a pity that a company “specialised in organic mineral rich products” isn’t aware of the fact that seaweed and collagen don’t relate to one another?

IMG_8801This boy might not be wondering so much about the use of carrageenan but rather about what the plans of Tony Abbott to scrap the carbon tax in Australia will do to climate change and his future (Photo: globalvisionremixed.wordpress.com)

Well, at least you and I know a bit more now. And who knows, maybe tomorrow you’ll also have a smile on your face arriving at work and thinking about the carrageenan in your toothpaste or the people growing and harvesting seaweed to make it happen.


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About blaubear

Born in 1973 in a small village in rural Switzerland and into a society largely dominated by cows (not only was the human population of one-hundred-and-forty outnumbered by them, but politics driven by unreasonable subsidies for diary products) I was connected with nature from early age on. Observing nature on one hand and the deficiencies of a dysfunctional Swiss agricultural policy with farmers that had lost connection to the land that provided their income on the other, I soon started to question society and the meaning of life. Suffering also under a farcical public education I developed curiosity to discover on my own. That was how I soon learned that little of what I had been taught was true. Skepticism and interaction with people from for me new cultures fostered my interest for the world and eagerness to leave a life shaped by federalistic layman-ship. At the age of twenty-three I hit the road for the first time, an event that later translated into passion. Traveling between cultures has since become part of my life. At the age of thirty-three I finally realized my dream and did a degree in Environmental Engineering from which I graduated in 2009, only to leave Switzerland once more for my "real home" Spain. Unfortunately, the stay was a short one: a couple of months later I was offered a job in Southeast Asia, where I worked and also lived (with some interruptions, e.g. I live in Melbourne since late 2012) ever since. Having worked for a Japanese company earlier in my life, I soon felt captured again by Asian culture and thinking which makes a lovely contrast to my European heritage. My journey through different countries and cultures has taught me that regardless of how different our thinking and values are, no matter what approaches we take, we all can learn from each other. And if we are open enough to see the common instead of pointing out the differences, then we have a chance to live in harmony and peace: Life is all about integration, not exclusion! It's an old wisdom that "knowledge is power", as such I never get tired of being around new people, having interesting talks, and reading lots of good books. I hope that my blog can contribute to the conversation.
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