If you read nutrition labels and ingredient lists, you’ve probably come across “soy lecithin” more than a few times. It’s actually a very popular ingredient – one of the top 10 most used ingredients in processed foods.
But what exactly is it? What does it do?
And most importantly, what are its health and nutrition characteristics?
What you need to know:
Lecithins are oily substances that occur naturally in plants (soybeans) and animals (egg yolks).
Soy lecithin (E322) is extracted from soybeans either mechanically or chemically. It’s actually a byproduct of the soybean oil production.
Some people use it as a supplement because it’s high choline content. Choline is a micronutrient that is good for heart health and brain development.
But that’s not the reason soy lecithin is used as an additive in foods. It possesses emulsification properties. This means it can keep a candy bar “together” by making sure that the cocoa and the cocoa butter don’t separate. It is also used in bakery items to keep the dough from sticking and to improve its ability to rise.
Since soybeans are one of the cheapest crops in the US (thanks in part to federal subsidies to growers), it makes sense to use a cheap, natural soy derived emulsifier in food processing.
Most people with soy allergies needn’t worry about products containing soy lecithin, because it is derived from the soybean oil, whereas the allergy itself relates to the soy protein. However, if you read though the comments below, you’ll see that some people with soy allergy are sensitive to soy lecithin as well.