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What Are the Uses of Lecithin as an Emulsifier?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2016
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Lecithin is a type of fat produced naturally by plant and animal life, humans included. The substance can be found in various consumer products, not for flavor but as an emulsifier, or gluing agent, to keep the ingredients from falling apart. Also known as phosphatidylcholine, lecithin is typically derived from soybeans and can be found in products as divergent as mayonnaise, chocolate, moisturizer and baby formula.

The phospholipid lecithin is a primary source of choline, a nutrient grouped into the vitamin B12 family that is essential to brain and muscle function. The body typically gets enough choline through a balanced diet to supplement the small amount it makes in the liver. Those with choline deficiencies, however, regularly take lecithin supplements to bolster their supply. It is also used in treatment regimens for bipolar disease, Alzheimer's disease and liver disease.

Fortunately, not only organic, natural foods like meat and eggs are stocked with lecithin, but also many processed foods and other consumer products. These products use lecithin as an emulsifier to hold together the various constituents in them. According to several studies published by the National Institutes of Health, its use is considered safe and nontoxic — both orally and topically.

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One of the most recognizable uses of lecithin as an emulsifier is chocolate, which needs an agent like lecithin to naturally bind the milk, cocoa, sugar and other ingredients until consumed. It is also used to reduce viscosity during production to lessen splattering and waste. An added bonus is that using lecithin in chocolate saves money by minimizing the amount of cocoa butter needed.

Butter and baby food manufacturers use lecithin for an emulsifier too. It not only helps to keep the various ingredients together, but also to improve the texture, release of flavors, and reduces splattering when butter is thrown in a hot skillet. Other common foods with this binding ingredient are noodles, frozen pizzas, candy bars, cereal, gravy and dairy products like yogurt and processed cheeses.

Many bakery products also use lecithin as an emulsifier. These wares require an emulsifier to hold them together during storage, but they also need it to make them easier to remove from hot surfaces after cooking. In these products, such as processed biscuits or cinnamon buns, the manufacturers also can use less egg and fat as ingredients, since they are using lecithin as an emulsifier.

Lecithin also can be found in various cosmetic products like skin moisturizers and hair conditioners. As with food products, these moisturizers need binding agents. An added benefit is that lecithin has some moisturizing properties too.

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literally45
Post 3

@donasmrs-- Lecithin has many uses, but it's far from natural. It's extracted from genetically modified soybeans with the use of chemicals. Lecithin is actually the "stuff" that used to get thrown out when soybean oil was made from soybeans. Then, manufacturers found a way to use this leftover stuff as an emulsifier and made a bunch of money in the process. It's not natural, it's processed junk.

donasmrs
Post 2

@SarahGen-- I'm not an expert on this topic and as a mother, it's up to you to decide what to give your child. But the way I see it, lecithin is just an emulsifier. It prevents foods from clumping and makes them smoother and more tasty. If manufacturers weren't using lecithin, they would use something else. And it's not like it's made from something artificial. Soybeans are natural too.

Even if you stay way from lecithin in foods, you'll still be buying other things with lecithin in it. Lecithin is used in skin products and cosmetics too. It's in a lot of lotions because it's good for skin. It makes skin soft.

SarahGen
Post 1

I don't mind eating commercial foods with lecithin in them, but for some reason I'm not okay with my baby eating formula with lecithin. It's one thing to get lecithin through fresh foods, it's another thing to get it in processed food. I feel like there must be something wrong with commercial lecithin additives. I only buy formula that's without lecithin.

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