Lecithin seems to be in everything: eggs, chocolate, ice cream. Why? What does it do? Essentially, lecithin takes fats, normally quite opposed to water, and lets them mix into water, so that your delicious treats don’t taste like separated vinaigrette.
Lecithin works by being a fat with a water loving section. Normally, the fats separate out of water, but this water loving end attracts small globules of fat into the water, forming a stable suspension. This is what keeps fats and waters from separating in mayonnaise and some salad dressings.
Making lecithin is a natural process. We do it inside our bodies for the purpose of emulsifying fats and waters. Many plant and animal cells contain lecithin, and there are many types of lecithin that can be made.
In cooking, one of the oldest sources of lecithin is egg yolk. It is the emulsifying properties of egg lecithin that make it perfect for mayonnaise. If you would believe it, mayonnaise is a lot of fat, suspended in a tiny amount of water, mixed with lecithin to support the structure and stabilize it.
Soy is another source of lecithin. Soybeans are a common source of non-animal lecithin used in many industries.
Molecular Gastronomists, chefs working with the chemistry of the food and flavors to create new experiences, can experiment with lecithin to alter the texture of fat and water suspensions, creating new food experiences as well.
Lecithin isn’t just for food though. It can be used anywhere that you need to suspend an oil in water. Lubricants and dispersants can use it, and it is non-toxic so it can come into contact with food. It works well in paints, plastics, and other industrial uses.
As a Supplement
Lecithin works to balance our cholesterol and choline as well. People who have diets or medications that reduced choline can take egg lecithin for supplementing the choline loss. People on high-dose Niacin often take lecithin for choline help.
Lecithin is considered GRAS, or Generally Recognized as Safe. Like most GRAS substances, research has occasionally shown weak links from high doses of it to some harmful side effects, but these have been generally quite low. Lecithin is natural and a safe thing to eat, and besides which, it is practically unavoidable.
Lecithin Guide: What is Lecithin?
Essortment: The Benefits and Risks of Lecithin