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All You Need to Know About Degumming of Soy Lecithin

Over the years Lecithin has become a crucial material for multiple manufacturing industries. Manufacturers are keener towards utilising it for emulsification because lecithin also acts as a natural substitute for additives. 

Among the various sources it is acquired, the lecithin from soybeans remains the most in demand. Extracting lecithin is not that simple, however, it has to go through a complicated manufacturing process to become useable for the industries. 

Understanding the Composition

Every natural substance has an astonishing formation. Understanding their different fractional compositions enable technicians to determine their properties and their suitable usage. The same goes for lecithin. In its crude form, lecithin resembles an adhesive material.

Without degumming lecithin cannot be used for its intended purpose. In its degummed form, lecithin carries phospholipids; fat molecules that hold the properties to combine a mixture of oil and water.

Understanding the Science

Phospholipids contain two significant elements called glycerol and choline. When a fat molecule or a phospholipid is added to a water-oil mixture, the fatty acid chain of glycerol combines with the oil. Choline, along with the phosphate of a phospholipid, merges with the water molecule, creating an infusion.

But for all that to actually work, the crude soy lecithin, or lecithin sourced from any other plant for that matter, has to be degummed. Let’s learn what that whole process can entail.

The Degumming Process of Soy Lecithin

There are many natural sources of lecithin like eggs, peanuts, oatmeal, and wheat. But, among all, soybeans contain the most considerable amount of lecithin: from 1.48% to 3.08%. To extract commercial use lecithin, soybeans go through the following steps: 

Extracting the Oil

Soybeans are composed of proteins and oils. The initial stage of extracting lecithin is separating proteins and oil through pressing or extraction. This process is also referred to as distillation. After the distillation process, the extracted soybean oil is then processed to refine the quality of lecithin. 

Degumming the Crude Soybean Oil

When soybeans are crushed to extract oil, the process leaves behind something that can be best described as Gums. These gum deposits carry impurities like odour, solvent traces, oxidized products, and moisture. For the oil to be used all impurities must be removed through different degumming processes.

To degum different components of crude soybean oil, it goes through the following processes:

Water Degumming Process

The water degumming process is one of the oldest ways to refine crude oil. A calculated amount of water, at around 70 degrees hot, is added to hydrate phosphatides. The hydrated phosphatides become denser and oil-insoluble creating a sludge. The created sludge is separated through a centrifugal process.

Controlling the temperature and quantity of water in the degumming process is crucial. Higher temperatures and water quantity, or lower temperatures with lower quantity, can affect the solubility and quality of the oil. By the end of the process, the majority of the gum is removed.

The gum is later passed through an evaporator film to become soy lecithin. It is often bleached with hydrogen peroxide to lighten its colour.

Even after the water degumming process is completed, non-soluble phosphatides remain intact with the oil.  Crude soybean oil contains majorly soluble phosphatides, but a tiny amount of non-soluble phosphatides also exists. Ignoring it can affect the quality of the lecithin. To remove non-soluble phosphatides other degumming methods like acid and enzymatic degumming are used. 

Acid Degumming Process

The non-soluble components contain traces of magnesium and calcium salts that may have been produced during the water degumming process or possible mishandling of the degumming steps. 

The acid degumming process starts by adding citric and phosphorous acids as they help transform non-soluble components into hydratable form by lowering the phosphorous count to the desired ratio. The broken-down components are easily removed from the oil through the centrifugal process. The process is followed by a water wash to ensure all the gum is separated from the soybean oil.

Usually, it is not recommended to use acid degumming as it darkens the colour of soy lecithin.  

New- Degumming Methods 

Other than the aforementioned two processes, new ways of degumming are also now in practice. Two of the more popular ones are the modified-acid degumming and the enzymatic degumming. 

The modified-acid degumming includes neutralizing acid-treated soybean oil with Sodium Hydroxide. It solidifies the salts that can later be dried or filtered. Whereas, the enzymatic degumming enables the creation of stable emulsion and soluble lysophospholipids.

Significance of Degumming Process 

Various factors during the degumming process determine the quality of the soy lecithin acquired. One of the crucial objectives of degumming is to lower the FFA or free fatty acid percentage. A higher ratio of FFA can lead to lower quality soy lecithin.

Lecithin attained through mishandled degumming process can also be of bad quality. Bad quality lecithin will not be able to resist heat. Since it is used in different products, bad quality lecithin can create froth on heat exposure. It can lead to the release of possible impurities into the product. Contaminated lecithin can hinder the effectiveness of the product. 

LECITEIN’s Standardized Soy Lecithin

Choosing high-quality soy lecithin is crucial for sustainable business. LECITEIN is a global provider of high-quality lecithin. We provide unmatched value and quality as our lecithin goes through state-of-the-art degumming processes that are strictly monitored at every stage. What makes our product different is that we don’t just settle with the degumming process. To ensure the highest-quality product, we go a step further and invest in standardizing the lecithin.

Our dedicated team of expert technicians is driven to provide a sustainable business solution to our customers. From choosing organic soybeans to a hygienic refinery process, our products can provide more substantial growth and improved groundwork for your manufacturing process. 

Connect with us for advice, consultation, and your lecithin needs.

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