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Lecithin For Food

Lecithin functions as an emulsifier in many food products as well. The majority of food products tend to have blends of fats and water solutions present. An emulsifying agent is required to ensure that this mixture remains stable.

Especially when looking at the case of commercial food products which require product stability over a longer period of time, the requirement of the emulsifier becomes even more apparent.

Emulsifier Activity

Standard lecithin is a blend of PC, PI, PE, and other glycolipids. Modifying lecithins and changing proportions of components a wide range of HLB values can be achieved specially designed to suit the required emulsion properties or surface activity. Phosphatidylcholine (PC) has oil in water emulsion characteristics while PE, PI, PA have water in oil properties. Lecithin is used for interface activity, fat dispersion, emulsion stabilization purposes.

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Instantizer Applications

Hard fat powders are difficult to wet and disperse because they are hydrophobic & high protein ingredients are hydrophilic & they hydrate too quickly forming clumps. Lecithin with its instant zing properties is used in instant mixes.

Surface Activity

Lecithin is used for a wetting agent, homogenization, and dispersion agent and for water absorption.

Emulsions occur in two categories and both of these categories have examples in the food sector that we are all familiar with:

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Water in Oil

Water in Oil. Butte, Margarines, oil is in continuous form while water is dispersed in small droplets.

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Oil in Water

Oil in Water e.g. Milk, cream (buttercream). Milk and milk fat -water is the continuous phase and fat is in suspended form.

To keep both these phase combinations stable, emulsifiers are required. Emulsifiers have a water-stable component (in grey above) and an oil-stable component (in amber above). These allow emulsifiers to keep these oil-water mixtures stable.

Lecithin is one of the better emulsifiers available for food applications. First and foremost, it is a natural extract. It harbors very little of the risk associated with chemically synthesized emulsifiers. Lecithin is a molecule that was evolved in biological systems, and so it would be less risky to consume this in food products. Second, higher purity lecithin has a hydrophilic-lipophilic balance with an almost equivalent affinity to fats and water. This offers the user much better flexibility in application composition.

In the case of most commercial applications of food, there is a mixture of both of these types of emulsion along with a third solid phase present. Specific examples of applications of lecithin in the food sector are listed below.

For Toffee and Brittles
  • Decreases sticking between individual servings
  • Minimizes oiling out
For Caramels and Fudge
  • Facilitates cutting
  • Minimizes oiling out
  • Improves texture and chewiness
  • Reduces sticking to the wrapper
  • Prevents clumping in caramel corn
For Chocolates & Compound Coatings
  • Facilitates high-speed production by lowering the viscosity
  • Lowers cost by reducing cocoa butter requirement
  • Reduces effects of fat bloom
For Candy Applications
  • Provides moisture barrier to minimize sticking
  • Improves mixability
  • Prolongs shelf life
  • Improves flavor retention
  • Improves extrusion
  • Incorporated in spray oils for equipment release

Some of the Typical Applications of Lecithin are

  • Dispersions and keeping the consistency of batters. By adding lecithin one can reduce the fat content of cookies, pastries, etc. since it allows the shortening to disperse evenly through the dough during preparation, and keeps the dough from sticking.
  • Lecithin acts as an excellent separating agent, your product comes off baking sheets, molds, and conveyors, by reducing adhesion to surfaces.
  • Some foods need to be dissolved in water or milk before they can be consumed like milk powder, instant tea, chocolate and coffee mixes, coffee whitener, etc. Lecithin reduces the surface tension between the liquid and the powder so that the powder dissolves evenly. For infant or child health formulations no labeling as the allergen is required with sunflower lecithin.
  • Lecithin is used as an anti-spatter additive for fats and margarine. Frying fats enriched with lecithin spatter less and give foods an even browning.
  • An antioxidant that helps food stay fresh longer.
  • Lecithin for a flavor-keeping property. Lecithin has the property of enclosing oil droplets in a double layer of phosphatidylcholine, this encapsulates and transports flavors, retaining concentrated flavor in the final product, even in low-fat foods.
  • Lecithin is used in chewing gum manufacturing as a softener, a texture modifier, for gum base, and as an emulsifier or dispersing agent for flavor.
  • The addition of liquid lecithin in chocolates helps the production process by making a homogeneous flowing mix of cocoa components, sugar, and fat ready for a pour or pump into molds. Reduce conching times and fat blooming in chocolate manufacturing.
  • Dough improver for bakery products, lecithin forms a mass that retains gases very well. It gives higher volume, longer freshness, more even pores, less sticky doughs, better processing, and baking properties.
  • For stabilizing emulsions in fillings.
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