Sources of Food Ingredients: Soy lecithin

From the Farmer’s Field

Soy lecithin is one of the many substances added to foods which begin as seeds planted and harvested on farms. Soy lecithin is made from soybeans, one of America’s most common and important crops. Once harvested, soybeans are sold to processors who crush the beans so that they can be used in a variety of products, including oil, soy protein, soy lecithin, and others. Soy lecithin is made by mixing soybean oil and hot water and spinning the mixture to separate the lecithin.

Functionality: Food Additives Impart Unique Characteristics

Researchers working in test kitchens spend years studying the potential uses and functions of food ingredients in food.  This important research allows manufacturers to innovate and improve their products to make food more affordable, sustainable, convenient, healthful, consistent, and enjoyable for consumers.  For example, soy lecithin helps bond oils to other ingredients and ensures that liquid foods, such as salad dressing, stay mixed.  Lecithin also enhances the elasticity and quality of baking dough.  Additionally, soy lecithin can be substituted for certain unhealthy fats in many foods.  And, for those who love a good cocktail, lecithin helps bartenders create foams to make mixed drinks more enjoyable and reduces the need to incorporate raw eggs.

Keeping Food Safe

When making any kind of food, whether in a manufacturer’s test kitchen or in your home, the most important consideration is and always will be safety.  Food additives, GRAS substances, and other ingredients are no different, and the makers of these substances always put safety first.  Before a substance such as soy lecithin is added to a food, it is thoroughly tested by the producer of the substance as well as the manufacturer of the finished product to ensure safety and quality.  This may include identity, purity, and other tests to confirm the substance will impart its intended characteristics in the finished food.

Full Transparency

Food additives, GRAS substances, and other ingredients added to food are required by U.S. law to be listed on the ingredient label, like the one shown here.  Soy lecithin, for example, may be familiar to many consumers because it is present on the label of many foods we commonly purchase and enjoy.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies will take action against any company that does not disclose the ingredients in its products and may order that their foods be removed from store shelves. Consumers can feel confident about what is in the foods they buy and should reject misguided claims that ingredients are being secretly slipped into their foods.

Making Food Better

When we sit down and eat a meal with our families, we all benefit from the contributions that food additives, GRAS substances, and other ingredients make to the food we eat.  The foods we serve our families are safe, appetizing, familiar, consistent, tasty, and enjoyable in part because of the functional additives and ingredients used in our modern food supply.  Food can be produced far from our homes, but still arrive on our dinner tables fresh.  As our lives become increasingly busy, these ingredients make food more convenient, giving families more options that last longer in the refrigerator or on the shelf and look homemade when prepared.  Additives like soy lecithin help ensure that salad dressing has a consistent creamy texture and prevents the cheese slices we love in our sandwiches from sticking together in the package.  Soy lecithin can also help disperse powders when mixed with water – think of the gravy you made last Thanksgiving from that gravy packet that tasted homemade but was done in a quarter of the time.  Soy lecithin can also help replace less healthy fats without changing the texture of the food, an important consideration for many of us who are trying to lose a few pounds.