Alginic acid, also called algin or alginate, is an anionic polysaccharide distributed widely in thecell walls of brown algae, where through binding with water it forms a viscous gum. In extracted form it absorbs water quickly; it is capable of absorbing 200-300 times its own weight in water. Its colour ranges from white to yellowish-brown. It is sold in filamentous, granular or powdered forms.


Alginic acid is a linear copolymer with homopolymeric blocks of (1-4)-linked β-D-mannuronate (M) and its C-5 epimer α-L-guluronate (G) residues, respectively, covalently linked together in different sequences or blocks.

The monomers can appear in homopolymeric blocks of consecutive G-residues (G-blocks), consecutive M-residues (M-blocks) or alternating M and G-residues (MG-blocks).


Commercial varieties of alginate are extracted from seaweed, including the giant kelp Macrocystis pyriferaAscophyllum nodosum, and various types of Laminaria. It is also produced by two bacterialgenera Pseudomonas and Azotobacter, which played a major role in the unravelling of its biosynthesispathway. Bacterial alginates are useful for the production of micro- or nanostructures suitable for medical applications.

The chemical compound sodium alginate is the sodium salt of alginic acid. Its empirical formula is NaC6H7O6.Sodium alginate is a gum, extracted from the cell walls of brown algae.

Potassium alginate is a chemical compound that is the potassium salt of alginic acid. It is an extract of seaweed. Its empirical chemical formula is KC6H7O6.

Calcium alginate, made from sodium alginate from which the sodium salt has been removed and replaced with calcium, has the chemical formula C12H14CaO12.


Alginate absorbs water quickly, which makes it useful as an additive in dehydrated products such as slimming aids, and in the manufacture of paper and textiles. It is also used for waterproofing and fireproofing fabrics, as a gelling agent, and for thickening drinks, ice cream and cosmetics.

Alginate is used in various pharmaceutical preparations such as Gaviscon, Bisodol, and Asilone. Alginate is used extensively as an impression-making material in dentistry, prosthetics, lifecasting and occasionally for creating positives for small-scale casting. It is also used in the food industry, for thickening soups and jellies.

Calcium alginate is used in different types of medical products, including burn dressings that promote healing and can be removed with less pain than conventional dressings.

Also, due to alginate’s biocompatibility and simple gelation with divalent cations such as Ca2+, it is widely used for cell immobilization andencapsulation.

Alginic acid (alginato) is also used in culinary arts, most notably in the Spherification techniques of Ferran Adrià.

Sodium alginate is commonly used to synthesise the yolk and white of fake eggs in China.

Due to its ability to absorb water quickly, alginate can be changed through a lyophilization process to a new structure that has the ability to expand. It is used in the weight loss industry as an appetite suppressant.

In March, 2010 researchers at Newcastle University announced that dietary alginates can reduce human fat uptake by more than 75%.

Sodium alginate

As a flavorless gum, it is used by the foods industry to increase viscosity and as an emulsifier. It is also used in indigestion tablets and the preparation of dental impressions.

A major application for sodium alginate is in reactive dye printing, as thickener for reactive dyestuffs (such as the Procion cotton-reactive dyes) in textile screen-printing and carpet jet-printing. Alginates do not react with these dyes and wash out easily, unlike starch-based thickeners.

Sodium alginate is a good chelator for pulling radioactive substances from the body, such as iodine-131 and strontium-90, that have taken the place of their non-radioactive counterparts. It is also used in immobilizing enzymes by inclusion.

As a food additive, sodium alginate is used especially in the production of gel-like foods. For example, bakers’ “Chellies” are often gelled alginate “jam.” Also, the pimento stuffing in prepared cocktail olives is usually injected as a slurry at the same time that the stone is ejected; the slurry is subsequently set by immersing the olive in a solution of a calcium salt, which causes rapid gelation by electrostatic cross-linking. A similar process can be used to make “chunks” of everything from cat food through “reformed” ham or fish to “fruit” pieces for pies. It has the E-number 401.

Nowadays, it is also used in the biological experiments for the immobilization of cells to obtain important products like alcohols, organic acids, etc.

In recent years, sodium alginate has been used in molecular gastronomy. Ferran Adrià pioneered the technique, and it has since been used by chefs such as Grant Achatz and Heston Blumenthal. Sodium alginate is combined with calcium lactate or similar compound to create spheres of liquid surrounded by a thin jelly membrane.

Potassium alginate

Potassium alginate is widely used in foods as a stabilizer, thickener, and emulsifier.

Its use as a pharmaceutical excipient is currently limited to experimental hydrogel systems. The viscosity, adhesiveness, elasticity, stiffness, and cohesiveness of potassium alginate hydrogels have been determined and compared with values from a range of other hydrogel-forming materials. The effect of calcium ions on the rheological properties of procyanidin hydrogels containing potassium alginate and intended for oral administration has also been investigated.


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