Soy lecithin in chocolate

Let’s talk about soy lecithin this week.

Soy lecithin is a phospholipid (we could just call it “fat”) derived from soybeans. It’s an industrial waste product extracted from the sludge that is left after the soy oil undergoes a degumming process. This is why soy lecithin is the most common type of lecithin on the market; it’s a byproduct which is easily and inexpensively derived from soybean oil manufacturing (the lion’s share of vegetable oils in North America). Physically, it presents itself in liquid form as a yellow-brownish fatty substance with a fairly thick viscosity.

Soy lecithin is found in way more products than we might think, especially packaged foods. Manufacturers like this additive so much because it serves two convenient purposes:

  • it’s an emulsifier. The goal of an emulsifier is to bind somewhat equal parts of water and oil together, which they ordinarily would never do. That’s why we often see it in creamy salad dressings, mayonnaise, reduced-fat buttery spreads and other foods that have a hefty portion of oil.
  • it’s a surfactant. The goal of a surfactant is to reduce the surface tension of liquids, which allows them to spread out faster and be absorbed quicker. For this reason, soy lecithin is often added to cake and other baking mixes so that water stirs more easily, with fewer stubborn lumps in the batter.

The main purpose of adding soy lecithin to chocolate is to lower its viscosity. This gives a more workable consistency to the chocolate, which becomes easier to temper and to mold. The same result could be achieved by adding cocoa butter, which is unfortunately way more expensive. If you read the ingredients list of a chocolate bar, you will see that soy lecithin (if present) is listed among the very last ingredients. This is because a little lecithin goes a long way. Chocolate makers only need to add a tiny amount to their creations. If 3.0% or 4.0% additional cocoa butter is needed to thin down a coating, only 0.5% of lecithin would be needed to get the same result.

Do you avoid soy lecithin in chocolate or you don’t really mind?

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