Answer: It depends.
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Is Lecithin Vegan?
I was looking through the list of ingredients for a salad dressing and noticed the word lecithin. I wanted to make sure the ingredients were vegan-approved, so I re-read it and saw it was soy lecithin confirming it is a plant-based ingredient.
Plant-based lecithin is a generic name for fatty compounds found in vegetables and plants like soybeans, peanuts, corn, cottonseed, rapeseed, soybeans, and sunflower seed. The most common is soy lecithin mixed with different ingredients.
Lecithin is present in many food items and as a food supplement for medical benefits. The presence of lecithin in many food products shows how vital this ingredient is in cooking and baking.
What Is Lecithin?
Lecithin, as an emulsifier, binds two liquids that do not mix because of their chemical properties. Lecithin has two elements, hydrophilic or water-tolerant properties, and hydrophobic or oil-tolerant properties, allowing the two to join together. Like oil and water do not blend when shaken together, lecithin prevents bubbles from separating and keeps the liquids mixed consistently.
Lecithin is an emulsifier or a generic name for fatty compounds found in animal and plant tissues. The first lecithin in 1845 was called lekithos, a Greek term meaning yolk. It has choline, glycerol, phospholipids, triglycerides, phosphoric acid, and fatty acids.
Lecithin is an additive to processed foods, supplements, and medicines. Lecithin breaks down the oil into smaller particles, giving the solution a smooth and even appearance called emulsification. Years after, the mayonnaise product emerged, one of the many products introduced to the market.
The vegan version is degumming water from a seed’s extracted oil. Soy lecithin is the plant-based version of lecithin instead of the animal source of egg yolks.
Types of Vegan Lecithin
- Soy Lecithin
Soy lecithin comes from soybeans and is raw in form. The oil uses hexane, a chemical solvent extracted to get lecithin, and then processed by degumming. Soy lecithin comes in liquid form but also in lecithin granules.
Soy lecithin is a mixture of oils and fats taken from soybeans. The phospholipids of the plant’s cell membrane and metabolism are essential to producing lecithin. The different kinds of soy lecithin in powder, granule, and liquid forms are vegan.
But, if it is enhanced to absorb fats to treat cholesterol as a gel capsule or supplement, this is not vegan. It has gelatin and glycerin components and is a by-product of animal tissues.
- Sunflower Seed
Sunflower lecithin uses dehydrated sunflower. It separates the plant’s three parts: the oil, gum, and solids. The gum part is processed through a cold press system to get the lecithin. Sunflower lecithin in powder, granule, or liquid form is vegan.
Sunflower lecithin has vitamins and minerals like phosphorus, potassium, calcium, iron, choline, inositol, omega-3 fatty acids, and omega-6 fatty acids. It reduces cholesterol levels, promotes better brain function, enhances skin health, and improves digestion.
Sunflower has a lower viscosity but high phosphatidylcholine content. It decreases the crystallization of sugars and increases the peak temperature of cream fat.
- Rapeseed Or Canola Oil
Rapeseed is the traditional name of the Brassicaceae oilseed crop. Rapeseed and canola oil are the same but have different names. Rapeseed is for industrial use, while canola oil is edible for cooking. Rapeseed or canola seed has an oil-rich content, and the extracted lecithin has a green-brown viscous fluid appearance.
Rapeseed lecithin is a cholesterol reducer, an immunity enhancer for diabetics, and prevents digestive problems. It emulsifies, stabilizes, blends, and softens different kinds of food, confectionery, and chocolates.
Uses of Lecithin
Lecithin is an emulsifier that allows you to mix oil and water. Food products such as salad dressing, ice cream, and baked goods use dough. Even thickened sauces and gravies need this to avoid breaking like hollandaise.
- An emulsifier fuses or mixes two liquids like oil and water for a long time.
- It is a lubricant in cooking and baking, making it a non-stick item.
- It is a mild preservative that extends the shelf life of baked goods and makes bread texture lighter and fluffier.
- It is a surfactant substance that allows better cellular health through hydration and fluid used by the cell body efficiently.
- It is a flavor protector that does not interfere with the food ingredients.
- Antioxidants and health supplements for the brain
Lecithin and Food Reaction
Lecithin has different reactions to food when mixed into the ingredients. It produces different results when cooking, frying, baking, candy-making, and mixing directly into the vegetable dressing or chocolate.
- Lecithin for candy making and baking reduces viscosity or internal friction.
- It helps in the homogenous mixing of combined ingredients.
- It improves the texture of creamy products and dressings by eliminating small bubbles.
- It lessens or neutralizes sudden spattering or fizzles when frying.
- It prevents sugar from crystalizing when mixed with chocolate and makes a smooth texture.
Caveat on Lecithin Labels
There is a big debate among vegans about whether a plant-based diet should be organic and grown in the wild or if biotechnology farming is acceptable. To harvest soybeans, farmers have opted to use genetically modified organisms to speed up and increase the yield at a shorter growing period. About 81% of the global soybean crop is genetically modified unless labeled as non-GMO.
Humanely Sourced Products
There are issues about the soy grown outside of the United States and the European Union. Plantations use the land and clear out of rainforests to grow this crop. Since rainforests are part of the ecosystem where living organisms and many animals are displaced, they die because of starvation and habitat disturbance. It is best to support brands that carry humanely sourced products.
Hexane solvent is used in the initial steps of the extraction process to get the soy lecithin from soybeans. It is a chemical solvent that dissipates from the soy lecithin when mixed with other ingredients. It is safe and approved by the Food and Drug Administration and tested by Swiss scientists to find no detectable hexane traces for food ingestion.
The Difference Between Soy Lecithin and Sunflower Lecithin
Both soy lecithin and sunflower lecithin are plant-based products available in the market. But what is the difference between these two types of lecithin? Below are the differences to help you decide what to buy on your next shopping trip.
|SOY LECITHIN||SUNFLOWER LECITHIN|
|Soy lecithin causes a food allergic reaction to soy.||No allergic reaction to sunflower.|
|Raw soy is genetically modified.||Sunflower is organic.|
|Soy is processed with hexane solvent, a chemical to extract the oil and get the lecithin ingredient.||Sunflower is processed by cold press method to extract the lecithin from the gum of the plant.|
|Soy lecithin is cheaper and widely used.||Sunflower lecithin is more expensive.|
Is Lecithin Healthy?
Lecithin is a non-toxic and natural ingredient with many health benefits. You can take this as a food supplement, but avoid the gel-soluble pills because it has some animal by-products. In many studies, the presence of choline in lecithin showed better memory performance and improved brain changes.
Other health benefits of lecithin are listed, but there are a few possible side effects of nausea, bloating, and diarrhea in cases encountered but considered non-conclusive.
- Improves cholesterol levels where soy lecithin plays an active role in processing cholesterol and fats. It reduces the excess LDL cholesterol and synthesis of HDL in the liver.
- Phosphatidylserine, a lecithin compound, aids the body with physical and mental stress. The cell membranes have a selective stress-dampening effect and natural treatment of stress-related disorder hormones and the human psyche.
- Lecithin can improve cognitive function using the supplement blend made from soy lecithin, improving memory while preventing winter blues.
- Lecithin can prevent osteoporosis with the active presence of isoflavones, which are part of the glycosides that make up the soybean. It has an antiresorptive and bone-enhancing agent with the estrogenic effects of soy.
- Relieves menopause symptoms improving vigor and blood pressure levels in menopausal women.
- It reduces the risk of breast cancer with phosphatidylcholine in soy lecithin.
Soy allergies are part of the top eight causes of food allergies. It starts in infancy with a reaction to a formula that is soy-based. But rare cases and severe conditions involve anaphylaxis with a rash, low-pulse, or shock that has to be treated immediately. Most children outgrow this allergy, but some bring it to adulthood with the signs to watch out for.
- Tingling in the mouth
- Itching, hives, scaly skin
- Wheezing or difficulty in breathing
- Runny nose
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, throat, face
- Flushing or skin redness
Lecithin in soy or sunflower mix is a vital food ingredient for different uses in cooking, baking, and even as a food supplement. It has health benefits that produce good results for the body and the mind. It is a natural and non-toxic product that mixes two liquids with an even smooth consistency.
Lecithin is an essential ingredient for dressings and sauces to add flavor to vegan meals. It is necessary for bread, homemade baked items, and chocolates.