What is Lecithin?

What is Lecithin?

Lecithin is a food additive that is coded as E322 in the EU. It is found in egg yolk, nuts, meats, and it is extracted from vegetable oils such as soy and sunflower oil [1]. Emulsions are a mixture of water and oil which cannot be mixed liquids, but emulsifier helps keep them together and does not allow them to separate. Therefore, in the food industry, it is generally used soy lecithin and sunflower lecithin as an emulsifier. However, the sunflower lecithin is preferred more because there are concerns about GMOs in soy and soy is an allergenic product. 

Lecithins are mixtures of glycerophospholipids including phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylinositol, phosphatidylserine, and phosphatidic acid [2]. However, the composition of lecithins and their phospholipids depends on their source. Vegetable lecithins are high in phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylinositol, and phosphatidic acid, but very low in phosphatidylserine and sphingomyelin [3].

Lecithin is an emulsifier that stabilizes the water-oil mixtures by reducing the surface tension between immiscible liquids [4]. It is used in a wide range of food products, including margarine, baked goods, chocolates, candy, macaroni, ice cream, instant cocoa beverages as an emulsifier and if emulsifier isn’t added, there will be defects in the products such as tough, dry, phase separation [3].   

Lecithin is a wetting agent because it reduces the viscosity in baking, candy production [3]. 

Lecithin is a good surfactant. It reduces the surface tension of a liquid in which it is dissolved, so the cells in the body utilize better fluid and it increases the nutrient capacity of the body.

Lecithin is a natural preservative in the bakery. It helps retain and hold the water that’s why commercial bread does not dry out as quickly as homemade bread.

Lecithin is a crystal inhibitor. It inhibits the crystalizing of sugar and helps to form of chocolate.

To sum up, lecithin provides a dozen functions in the food industry for various purposes. It is consumed in different products by the public every day. Nevertheless, excess intake of lecithin into the body might be harmful. It is recommended a moderate consumption of lecithin.






  1. Partridge, D., Lloyd, K. A., Rhodes, J. M., Walker, A. W., Johnstone, A. M., & Campbell, B. J. (2019). Food additives: Assessing the impact of exposure to permitted emulsifiers on bowel and metabolic health–introducing the FADiets study. Nutrition Bulletin, 44(4), 329-349.

  2. Merino, D., Ollier, R., Lanfranconi, M., & Alvarez, V. (2016). Preparation and characterization of soy lecithin-modified bentonites. Applied Clay Science, 127, 17-22.

  3. Szuhaj, B. F. (2016). "Phospholipids: Properties and Occurrence

  4. Caballero, B., Trugo, L. C., & Finglas, P. M. (2003). Encyclopedia of food sciences and nutrition. Academic.