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Lecithin (lecite)

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Lecithin is an emulsifier used to stabilize recipes that mix polar and non-polar ingredients. That's because lecithin's molecule has both a polar and a non-polar end. Its polar end is hydrophillic (water-loving) and its non-polar is hydrophobic (water-hating). While this property makes lecithin an ideal emulsifier for oil-and-water vinaigrette, lecithin is more often used in molecular cooking to create light, airy foams and mousses. Lecithin is an important natural compound found in egg yolks, but commercial lecithin is soy-based, making it vegetarian- and vegan-friendly.

Lecithin Origin

Lecithin raw egg "Lecithin" is a generic term used to describe a wide variety of phospholipids. Several types of lecithins naturally occur in egg yolks. These lecithins, combined with lipoproteins naturally found in egg yolks, give egg yolks the ability to thicken and stabilize mayonnaise and sauces.

Lecithin also naturally occurs in avocado, hence the reason why you can add lime juice to avocado guacamole without the juice running out. Finally, lecithin is found in soy beans (soya beans in the UK) and most commercial lecithin products (including the food grade lecithin we carry) are made from soy, making them both vegetarian- and vegan- friendly.

Since the majority of molecular recipes use soy lecithin, the rest of this page will focus specifically on soy lecithin.

 

 

 

Lecithin Function

The lecithin in egg yolk has long been used to thicken sauces and mayonnaise. Soy lecithin is perhaps best known for its use in chocolate-making. In chocolate, lecithin helps sugar and cocoa particles (water-loving) bind to cocoa butter (water-hating), which makes for a creamier chocolate.

In the food industry, soy lecithin is used for a wide variety of applications. Think about it this way: lecithin makes it easier for oil-based ingredients to interact with water-based ingredients. That means that lecithin can be used to emulsify salad dressings, make icings silky smooth, or even improve the texture of shelf-stable baked goods.

Soy Lecithin Applications

Lecithin is best known in molecular cooking for its ability to create light and fluffy foams (or "airs") out of almost any water-based liquid.

Frozen Parmesan Air is a creation of molecular gastronomy Chef Ferran Adria and his El Bulli team. To make it, he combines a 0.52% scaling of soy lecithin with Parmesan cheese that has been melted into water. After blending with an immersion blender, a light foam forms over the liquid and can be used as-is or frozen for a delightful, unexpected treat. A photo is below.

Parmesan-air made with soy lecithin

 

For a simple, fun dish that can be made at home, try this Saffron Crème Anglaise with Coffee Air by Chef Alejandro Digilio. The air portion of the recipe calls for nothing more than coffee, sugar, and soy lecithin. The base is a simple Crème Anglaise that provides an interesting contrast of textures.

creme-anglaise-air made with soy lecithin
View recipes with Lecithin

Soy Lecithin Properties

Since lecithin is not technically a hydrocolloid, some of the characteristics we normally discuss in relation to hydrocolloids do not apply.

Temperature: Soy lecithin dissolves best in warm or room-temperature liquid, though it should function at any temperature. You may just need more mechanical power (such as blending) to get it to disperse properly.

Texture: If a recipe calling for lecithin ends up grainy, you probably haven't applied enough shear force. Try blending for longer or with a higher-power machine.

Appearance: Soy lecithin is sold as a powder and as a liquid. Always store it well-sealed and in a dry place, as it will bind to liquid and become clumpy.

Flavor release: Excellent.

Interactions and Tolerance of  Soy Lecithin

PH Tolerance: Lecithin functions best at a pH above 4.0.

Other Tolerances: Due to its unique molecular shape, lecithin forms protective rings around hydrophillic ingredients. This property is what gives lecithin airs their body and what helps to thicken sauces containing lecithin. The presence of another surfactant or emulsifier can inhibit the function of lecithin, causing lecithin-based recipes to collapse or lose their volume. Of note, olive oil contains naturally-occurring emulsifiers, so excess olive oil can cause poor texture. Simply adding too much lecithin to a recipe can also cause poor texture. To troubleshoot problems, simply try using less lecithin.

Synergies with other ingredients: There are no specific synergies identified between soy lecithin and other ingredients. However, a stabilizer or thickener such as xanthan gum will slow the movement of molecules in a sauce, which means that a recipe emulsified with lecithin will stay emulsified for longer. Lecithin will also work in the presence of other emulsifiers, such as Gum Arabic or Pectin.

How to use Soy Lecithin

Concentration Range: 0.2-1% for airs and froths. If the recipe does not end up as desired, try using less lecithin. Concentrations in the range of 2% can be used for texture improvement of baked goods.

Dispersion: Gently mix into target liquid. Use an immersion blender or other blender to fully disperse. Lecithin is likely to form clumps when first added.

Hydration: N/A

image credit: Steve Johnson

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  • Joey Bedrosian

    amazing info – thank you!! Im looking to use a combo of xanthium gum and soy lecithin to help emulsify a hot sauce i made. The finished sauce taste amazing and is spot on for flavor but Its terribly separated and id like for it to be less scary looking to offer as gifts in wozzy bottles. Im trying to find out how much soy lecithin to add per oz of finished hot sauce (Louisiana style – 1 part apple braggs cider vinegar and 2 parts processed pepper mash) i should use? any ideas?

    • QuantumChef

      You’ll probably have to test. I would start with small amounts and keep increasing it until you get the desired consistency.

  • https://twitter.com/KeenasKitchen Ikeena Reed

    I’m not clear on which form of lecithin to use for foams, do I use liquid, granules or powder? I’m making a parmesan foam using water/cheese (strained of course) but there seems to be no clues as to which form works best. Also wondering if a siphon would be easier for my first time rather than an emulsion blender?

    • QuantumChef

      Powder form is best and an immersion blender is the easiest way to create airs. This is the soy lecithin you should be using http://store.molecularrecipes.com/soy-lecithin/

      • https://twitter.com/KeenasKitchen Ikeena Reed

        Thank you QuantumChef; I’ll give it a whirl! ;)

  • kd

    How would I go about using sunflower lecithin powder in a baking recipe? I’m unclear as to whether or not the powder is “baking ready” or if I have to dissolve powder first?

  • Wasp

    Hello, egg yolk allows me to produce a mayonnaise that remains stable for weeks. So far, I haven’t been able to do the same with soy lecithin. I’ve been using similar amounts (1 egg yolk, about 20g vs. 20 g soy lecithin granulate dissolved in water). Can this be an overdose of lecithin?

    • QuantumChef

      Definitely too much lecithin. There may also be a problem with the recipe, you can’t just replace eggs with soy lecithin.

      • Wasp

        I will try to reduce the lecithin. What would be in the yolk then, missing in the lecithin? I can’t imagine the bit of cholesterol having an impact on the emulsion.

        • QuantumChef

          There is a lot of fat, water and proteins.

  • Στέλιος

    Hello I am using soy lecithin to try to make an ‘air’ in a solution of water and a fruit sirop..i have it very diluted (9 water:1 sirop)..I used 2 grams in 200ml total solution and I cannot make a solid air..I have some froath in the surface but the rest is still liquid while I keep and keep blending with a powerfull immersion blender..any idea?

    • QuantumChef

      Have you done airs before or is this the first time? Are you placing the blender on the surface like this video shows? http://www.molecularrecipes.com/emulsification/carrot-air-tangerine-granita/ If this doesn’t work, try using less lecithin, maybe half of that amount.

      • Στέλιος

        Hey thanks for the response..i managed to do it. I think the problem was that I was blending it in a big glass so a big part of the blender was sank in the liquid so there was not air coming within the liquid..when I did it in a bigger plate keeping the liquid in a lower level there was air formed..apparently it is not expected that all liquid will become a foam because I have to blend in the surface, is this right? And another question: how much I can store in the refridgerator for not immediate use? Thanks in advance!

        • QuantumChef

          Correct, you will have some leftover liquid. You can keep it for a couple of days usually but it may depend on the liquid.

  • Blake

    Can you use Soy Lecithin to help a butter emulsion from not splitting over a period of 4-5 hours?

  • Lily

    Why is it that the more soy lecithin i use to make coffee air, the less foam I get? Is that supposed to happen or am i doing it wrong?

    • QuantumChef

      Yes, too much lecithin can make the foam unstable.

      • Lily

        Whats the chemical or physical reaction that occurs between the soy lecithin and the coffee and sugar? is there an equation for it?