In the face of growing clean label baking trends, lecithin is widely used as a natural additive and emulsifier in the baking industry. Found in food products such as chocolates, bread, sweet confectionery, salad dressings and dips, processed cheese and more, there’s more than one reason to bake with it.
What exactly is lecithin?
Lecithin, Greek for “egg yolk,” was discovered and named by Maurice Gobley, a French scientist(1846). It is a group of chemicals belonging to compounds called phospholipids. It contains a phosphorus group naturally bounded with lipid structure, a desirable characteristic for any emulsifier.
Lecithin is found naturally in various food products such as green vegetables, red meat, and eggs. Soybeans, egg yolks, or animal products are the most common commercial ingredients. Lecithin is used in the food industry as well as for manufacturing eye drops and skin moisturizers.
Function in bakery
Lecithin is metabolized in humans, so it’s considered safe for human ingestion. The nontoxicity of lecithin leads to its use as a food additive. It finds a wide application in foods requiring a natural emulsifier or lubricant. Here are a few ways:
- Stabilizer: lecithin works well for reducing fat and egg content. It also aids in uniform ingredient distribution in dough, fermentation stability, increasing volumes, and protecting the yeast cells in the dough (when frozen).
- Viscosity regulator: lecithin can reduce viscosity, replace expensive ingredients, control sugar crystallization. The chocolate flow properties are regulated using lecithin. Lecithin also holds cocoa and cocoa butter together for use in candies.
- Mixing aid: lecithin helps in the homogeneous mixing of ingredients and improving shelf life. Lecithin reduces the spattering during frying, improves spreading texture, and controls flavor release.
- Releasing agent: lecithin emulsification properties act as a releasing agent to prevent sticking and simplify cleaning processes. It is an ingredient of cooking sprays to prevent sticking as a releasing agent.
How does lecithin emulsify?
Lecithin is a natural mixture of surface-active components glycerophospholipids and galactolipids (glycolipids). Despite low water solubility, lecithin has outstanding emulsification properties.
Phospholipids and galactolipids concentration and functionality are relevant. Unlike triglycerides, phospho- and glycolipids are bipolar and hence, behave as a natural surfactant. One or two fatty acids in these lipids have a hydrophobic moiety capable of interacting with oil (O/W emulsions) and gases (air/liquid). The polar region or water-loving moiety of these lipids completes their functionality as surface-active compounds. It improves the wetting properties of hydrophilic powders (such as low-fat proteins) and lipophilic powders (such as cocoa powder) and aids in complete water dispersion.
Find out more about the uses of lecithin, different varieties and application tips in our technical paper!