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  • Matthew Smith

Why Lecithin Is the Best Emulsifier

You may not be sure what emulsifiers really are. But there is no doubt that you’ve been using them unknowingly all your life. An emulsifier is what keeps the dressing on your salad or the cream in your coffee from splitting. That means that it keeps the oil and water together so they can work as combined ingredients as opposed to repelling each other as they are naturally meant to.


If you’ve ever tried to mix oil with water, you know that it’s not possible to do so. It doesn’t matter how much you shake or stir the two ingredients together, the moment you stop, they’ll start separating again until all the oil is floating as a layer above the water.

The natural tendency of oil and water is to repel each other. This is due to the fact that the water molecules are attracted to each other more than they are to oil molecules, causing them to push the oil away. Even the tiniest drop of oil will be repelled by the water.

However, if the oil droplets are coated with a special ingredient to separate them from the water, they will end up floating around for a long period of time. The oil in mayonnaise is one good example of this.

The special ingredient that is used to separate the oil from the water is called an emulsifier.

Surface Active Agents

When water, oil and emulsifiers are mixed together, the emulsifiers quickly cover the oil droplets. Since their main job is to instantly cover the surface of the droplets, emulsifiers are also known as surface active agents or surfactants. It is possible that emulsions are given even more stability by the surfactants as they could possibly make the oil droplets repel each other.

What Is Lecithin?

Lecithin is one of the most important emulsifiers you can find. It is made up of about five smaller molecules. The backbone of lecithin is made of glycerol, which bonds up to three other molecules. Two of the molecules that are bonded are fatty acids, and these are hydrophobic. Due to this, the structure of lecithin is similar to that of fats or lipids. Phosphoric acid is the third substance that is attached to glycerol. The phosphoric acid also has an amino acid attached to it, also known as choline. This end of lecithin that has phosphate/amino alcohol is hydrophilic.

Shelly Schmidt, Ph.D., a professor in food science has explained emulsifiers by saying, “emulsifiers are molecules that contain both a hydrophilic, water loving, and hydrophobic, water hating, portion.”

So basically, one end of lecithin is hydrophilic and the other end is hydrophobic. The chemical name of the molecule is phosphatidylcholine.

Lecithin as an Emulsifier

The reason lecithin makes such a great emulsifier is because the hydrophilic end dissolves in water, whereas the hydrophobic end dissolves in oil. The only place the lecithin likes to be in an emulsion is at the edge of oil droplets; its hydrophilic end toward the water while its hydrophobic end in touch with the oil.

Since lecithin is a natural emulsifier, it allows substances in foods, such as bread and others to combine naturally. In fact, it even works the same way inside our bodies. In simple words, the purpose of an emulsifier is to allow normal ingredients to combine that would normally not be able to combine by themselves.

Aside from helping combine ingredients, scientists claim that lecithin may also help increase the “good” HDL cholesterol.

Regular consumption of the molecule may also help with weight loss. Gene Bruno of Huntington College of Health Sciences suggests that lecithin may work in helping your body break down the dietary and blood fats into small particles. This means that instead of being stored in your adipose, fatty acids are more likely to be metabolized and used for instant energy. This speeds up your body’s natural process of burning off fat.

Lecithin as a Fatty Acid

Since lecithin is a naturally fatty acid, and has a very similar molecular makeup to it, it can work as an excellent emulsifier in baking. It basically follows the same pattern that eggs do.

Think of it as a puzzle. The chemical structures of oil and water can be compared to the corner pieces of a puzzle. Without the middle pieces, there is no way for the two corners to connect and work together. Lecithin can become those middle pieces between the two corners of the puzzles so that they can connect and work together to form the bigger picture.

As an example, lecithin allows the particles in common ingredients such as water and oil to connect with each other and dissolve to become one compound. This allows the chemical structure of oil and water to be wrapped in a thin coating that allows them to change their connecting pieces so that are able to bond without repelling each other.

There are three types of lecithin that are commonly available to be used for household purposes:

· Eggs

· Soy lecithin

· Sunflower lecithin

The latter two of these can be consumed without disregarding your personal diet.

Each type of lecithin has it owns set of advantages that are exceptional and beneficial. It is true that the basic structure of all these is quite similar, and many of the characteristics in their chemical makeup can seem undistinguishable from another. However, all of them possess some unique features as well.

One the main differences among these three types is their taste.

How Does Lecithin Work Into My Diet?

If you are worried that adding lecithin to your lifestyle will be difficult because you are following a particular diet, then you don’t have to worry.

Lecithin can be worked into your personal diet no matter what lifestyle you follow. Whether it is vegetarianism, veganism, low-carb diet, Mediterranean diet, whole-food diet, gluten-free diet, Paleo diet, soy-free diet etc., lecithin can be worked into it somehow.

Sunflower lecithin are the safest bet, as they have no health restrictions on them. Soy lecithin is a close second, as the only reason you need to avoid them is if you are allergic to soy. Hence, even if you are diabetic, allergic to nuts, lactose intolerant, follow religious restrictions on your food or even suffer from celiac disease, you can add lecithin to your diet without any worry or any effect on your system.

Let’s take a look at all the three kinds of lecithin individually.

· Soy Lecithin

Are you a vegetarian who likes to eat slices of bread but then feels guilty because of the eggs in them? Or are you a vegan who absolutely refuses to use eggs in their bread? Do you suffer from Celiac disease but still crave bread now and then? If any of these are true for you, then soy lecithin is perfect for you. However, let’s clarify that you still have to make sure you’re using gluten-free bread if you’re suffering from Celiac Disease. But while you do make your bread using a flour that is safe for your consumption, you can safely use soy lecithin to combine it.

The purpose of soy lecithin is the exact same as eggs in a baking recipe. It allows the ingredients to combine in a more natural way, hence connecting the pieces together for a perfect mix. However, unlike eggs, soy lecithin isn’t restricted by any diets. Unless, you are allergic to soybeans, in which case sunflower lecithin is definitely the better choice.

Soy lecithin also works like a conditioner for the ingredients when it is used in a recipe. This process allows the dry ingredients to combine, evenly cook and retain the moisture in the end product. It is also very easy to use soy lecithin in your recipes. All you have to do is add ½ a teaspoon of soy lecithin for every one cup of flour you are using in your favorite bread recipe.

According to some claims, there are some natural benefits of adding soy lecithin to your diet. It is said to help with the digestion system, lower the levels of cholesterol, aid in the improvement of skin health, and may even contribute in strengthening heart health.

A scientific study performed in order to learn about the benefits of soy lecithin states, “Research on the effectiveness of [possible cholesterol reduction] is limited. In one study, animals treated with soy lecithin experienced reductions in LDL (bad) cholesterol, without reducing HDL (good) cholesterol. Another study found similar findings on humans, with 42 percent reductions in total cholesterol and up to 56 percent reductions in LDL cholesterol.”

So it is always good to consume ingredients that don’t only taste great, but have some health benefits as well.

Talking about taste, soy lecithin adds a touch of excitement to your bread. In fact, the bread made with it may taste crispier than bread made with eggs.

· Sunflower Lecithin

As talked about before, sunflower lecithin is the safest lecithin to consume no matter what diet you’re following or any health restrictions you have. However, it is the rarer kind of lecithin. When used in a recipe, it has more or less the same function as soy lecithin. It works best at retaining the moisture in batter and breads that are freshly baked.

Additionally, sunflower lecithin works as a natural preservative in your food. This means that adding this to your recipe will naturally increase the shelf life of your end product. Finally, it adds a hint of natural flavor to your breads, buns or anything you create in the kitchen.

Sunflower lecithin also carries all of the health benefits of soy lecithin. However, in addition to those benefits, it can also help in breastfeeding. It can additionally relieve some stress as you know that you’re cooking with a natural product that is organic and fresh.

The end result of whatever recipe you use sunflower lecithin in will have a calm and smooth taste to it, which can further help relieve some stress.

· Eggs

Now let’s talk about the classic emulsifier; eggs. Whenever you look at a normal recipe, chances are that eggs will be the go-to emulsifier listed in the ingredients. They are the most easily available lecithin of the three, and nowadays, you can easily find natural and organic eggs without any added GMO’s in most grocery stores and supermarkets. If you can’t find the organic kind in the grocery stores near you, you may want to try a farmer’s market instead of buying the non-organic kind.

When eggs are used as an emulsifier in a recipe, they help form the structure of the bread of any other baked goods. They help combine the batter and stay moist in the bowl even after it hits the cooling rack.

However, the problem with eggs is that they can’t be added to all the diets a person may follow. If you have any diet restriction that prevents you from having eggs or you follow a vegan lifestyle, then you won’t be able to use eggs in your recipes. Even though eggs are high in protein and fat, they don’t bring any flavor to the dish when used as an emulsifier. It is crucial to add salt whenever using eggs for this purpose.

Nevertheless, eggs still serve their purpose perfectly if only being used as an emulsifier. However, if you crave more flavor from your emulsifiers, then you may want to check out the above options.

Ultimately, the type of lecithin that you choose completely depends on your personal taste and preference. However, whichever one you pick, lecithin will always work in improving the quality of your dish.

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