Believe it or not, it’s the magic of emulsification that you are able to enjoy most of your favourite snacks. The bread that you use to make yourself a sandwich is baked only after the dough is formed through emulsification. The processed meat that you put on that sandwich goes through emulsification. You won’t have mayonnaise without emulsification or your favourite ice cream.
In fact, some of the most consumed global foods are a result of the emulsification of ingredients that most likely will never mix without an additive to emulsify them. Emulsification is a process that enables two or more insoluble components to mix together. Such components are usually made up of water and oil.
Emulsification agents can be either natural or synthetic. Once added to a mixture, it links both oil and water droplets into a seamless combination. The process is core to the manufacturing of processed foods.
Once added, emulsifiers enhance many of the characteristics of the final product. Some of these include
Emulsification is not a man-made process. Nature does it all the time. And, milk and most of the products directly driven from it are its perfect example. The higher the fat content the richer the milk tastes. Cream, on the other hand, has the maximum amount of fat emulsified into it.
Unfortunately, processed food cannot be manufactured naturally. It does not mean that you cannot use a naturally extracted emulsifying agent to stabilise your mixture and get the desired emulsification.
The most commonly available emulsifiers in the market include xanthan gum, glycerol, and lecithin. The most popular one among these, however, is plant-based lecithin. If you are wondering what makes lecithin a good emulsifier, you will find answers to your concerns in one of our old posts.
Now, let’s talk about how the emulsification process works.
The F&B industry requires emulsification when usually a liquid like oil is dispersed into a watery mixture to reduce the size of water droplets so they can be evenly dispersed throughout the medium. There are two types of emulsions:
An oil-in-water, also known as an O/W emulsion is one in which water is the dispersion medium and oil is dispersed. Water can be technically referred to as the continuous phase in this situation.
An example of an oil-in-water emulsion is milk. Liquid fat globules are mixed with water and found in milk. The continuous phase is composed of water and lipids. But the lipids are equally distributed throughout this phase making milk proteins the emulsifying agents.
As the name suggests, the Water-in-oil or W/O emulsion is the opposite of O/W emulsion. In this process, oil becomes the continuous phase to disperse the water. Although the occurrence of this type of emulsion is not very common in the F&B sector. The most common examples of W/O emulsions are Margarine and Butter manufacturing processes.
Emulsifiers are amphiphilic compounds that have both hydrophilic and hydrophobic ends when amalgamated into two immiscible blends. The hydrophilic end binds with water droplets in the mixture and the hydrophobic end binds with the oil droplets to form a stable emulsion.
However, to achieve homogeneity, mechanical force is also applied to mix the ingredients and the emulsification agent together.
Many F&B manufacturers consider emulsifiers to be a cost-effective way to improve the quality of their products by making their texture smoother, flavour richer and more palatable.
In low-fat foods, emulsifiers like plant-based lecithin can be used to substitute the lack of fat while maintaining flavour and texture.
It’s no secret that plant-based lecithins like sunflower and soy lecithin are the most commonly used emulsifiers in the food industry. It’s the core ingredient in chocolate manufacturing as lecithin assists milk, sugar, and cocoa solids to cling to the cocoa butter, increasing the chocolate's viscosity or the flowability of its mixture.
Such emulsifiers also help with the dissolution and distribution of instant powdered formulas increasing their dispersibility and solubility in liquids. In baking, they help minimize the need for eggs and oil while improving the mixing and machinability of cakes, biscuits, and pastries. An emulsification agent like plant-based lecithin guards against oxidation and improves the flakiness of the dough in puff pastry by reducing shrinkage.
As the food industry moves forward with the aim of producing healthy and innovative products, emulsification remains an important part of the production process.
And, lecithin remains the most popular and widely used emulsifier in the industry. If you are in the market for plant-based lecithin, get in touch with us. Apart from our standard offerings of soy and sunflower lecithin, we also provide custom formulations exclusively prepared to best suit your products. Call or email us to find out more.