To start: what exactly is soy lecithin?
As many of you know from ourchocolate tastings : Dark chocolate ideally contains only 2 ingredients, cocoa mass and sugar. In fact, many manufacturers add lecithin to the chocolate during the manufacturing process. So what exactly is soy lecithin?
Lecithins in general are emulsifiers. Emulsifiers facilitate the mixing of water and fat, which is essential in the manufacture of many convenience foods. You can find (soy) lecithin in many pre-packaged foods such as bread, pre-mixed salad dressings or chocolate. In addition to soy, lecithins can also be obtained from egg yolks and sunflowers.
Soy lecithin is by far the most popular in the food industry. Because: Because soy elecithin is a waste product, or to put it more politely, a by-product, in the production of soybean oil, it is relatively cheap. One - or probably the main reason for many manufacturers who put profit maximization first.
What is lecithin doing in chocolate?But what exactly is soy lecithin doing in chocolate, which tends not to have a high water content?
Unlike other convenience foods, lecithin is added to chocolate to reduce the viscosity of the cocoa mass during the manufacturing process. The chocolate should therefore be more liquid and therefore easier to process. In fact, more industrial manufacturers that produce chocolate in very large quantities use soy lecithin. Because the more liquid the chocolate in the manufacturing process, the easier it can be fed through pipes and large machines and the easier it is to automate the process.
However, this effect could also be achieved by adding cocoa butter. However, there is also a high demand for cocoa butter in the cosmetics industry, which is why cocoa butter prices have shot through the roof in the past. The cheap alternative for many large chocolate manufacturers: soy lecithin. In order to achieve the desired effect, significantly less soy lecithin than cocoa butter has to be used. Only about 0.5 percent soy lecithin in chocolate has the same effect as when the proportion of added cocoa butter is between 3 and 4 percent.
In addition to the goal of making the chocolate more liquid, the emulsifier behavior of soy lecithin also plays a role. Of course, when adding other ingredients that tend to absorb moisture from the environment, such as milk powder, water can still get into the cocoa mass. Adding soy lecithin can help solve this problem. It also facilitates two other essential steps in chocolate production. Because chocolate with the vegetable emulsifier is easier to temper and shape.
Is soy lecithin unhealthy and what if I'm allergic to soy?
From a health perspective, the consumption of soy lecithin is considered harmless or even positive. The emulsifier contains, among other things, choline, the lack of which can promote the development of fatty liver. Soy lecithin can therefore contribute to a healthy fat metabolism and also – according to current studies – lower high blood pressure. In addition, there are assumptions from various scientific camps that the consumption of soy lecithin could promote brain performance.
But what if you are allergic to soy? There are two camps when it comes to the question of whether soy allergy sufferers should also avoid soy lecithin. One classifies foods containing soy lecithin as harmless for allergy sufferers. Because the soy allergens are mainly present in the proteins that are lost in the production of lecithin, no allergic reaction is to be expected. This assessment was supported, among others, by the Food Allergy and Resource Program of the University of Nebrasaka-Lincoln. The other camp recommends staying on the safe side and also avoiding foods with soy lecithins if you have a soy allergy.
So what speaks against soy lecithins in chocolate?Let's briefly summarize our findings: Soy lecithins are the cheap alternative to cocoa butter and help in the chocolate manufacturing process. In addition, they are more or less healthy and most likely edible for allergy sufferers. But, as is so often the case, not everything that glitters is made of gold.
Disadvantages of consuming conventionally farmed soy
Let's start with the problem of soy cultivation. Most soy lecithin comes from conventional soy cultivation. And only three countries - USA, Brazil and Argentina - alone produce 70 percent of the world's soybeans. Most of these countries rely on genetically modified varieties, most of which have developed strong resistance to glyphosate. Glyphosate is probably the most controversial weed killer, being sprayed on many soybean fields because it is unfortunately also very effective. This means that glyphosate residues remain in the soy and are thus ingested by the consumer. The effects of glyphosate on the human body have not yet been adequately studied scientifically, but there are suspicions that it could be carcinogenic.
In addition, every year tens of thousands of hectares of rainforest disappear for the cultivation of conventional soybeans. Another point that speaks against it.
All or much of this could be avoided if only organic soy lecithin were used in food production. However, this is significantly more expensive than conventional soy and cost minimization ultimately remains – unfortunately – the be-all and end-all for many large manufacturers.
Chocolate tastes better without soy lecithin
While soy lecithin is tasteless, it has a reputation for not necessarily improving the quality of chocolate. The texture of chocolate that contains soy lecithin is often slightly waxy and sometimes not as creamy as chocolate with added cocoa butter.
Another point against soy lecithin in chocolate: it tends to flatten out the chocolate's natural flavors. Here, too, the cocoa butter wins, the addition of which emphasizes the specific aromas and nuances of the respective chocolate.
Our conclusion: Soy lecithin in chocolate doesn't really have to beAs the last two points made clear, we're not necessarily convinced about soy lecithin in chocolate. Mainly because the addition of soy lecithin often also indicates that the manufacturer may not necessarily put the greatest focus on quality when selecting the ingredients, which just happens to have its price.
It is also important to note that some smaller, sustainably producing manufacturers also add lecithin to their chocolate. The reason for this is that smaller chocolate manufacturers in particular only have a few machines and cannot afford to wear out and break down faster due to chocolate that is too viscous. In this case, however, the sustainable alternative sunflower lecithin is used, which can also be enjoyed without any risk for soy allergy sufferers and, according to the manufacturer, is also better for the environment and soil.