About Lecithins

Lecithins are unique emulsifiers with wide-ranging uses in food, nutrition, industrial processes, personal care products and pharmaceuticals.

They also have nutritional value of their own, and hypo-allergenic or non-GMO grades are especially useful in food and nutrition applications.


The term “lecithin” describes a complex mixture of phospholipids and other naturally occurring components.* These include triglycerides, fatty acids, sterols and glycolipids.

For industrial production of lecithins today, vegetable oils from soybean, rapeseed (canola), sunflower and egg are the most important natural sources.

Different types of lecithin are characterized by the content of acetone insolubles, with phospholipids as the value-providing components. The phospholipid composition determines the functionality of lecithin in different applications. Different affinities for oil and water and low production costs make lecithins invaluable in a broad range of manufacturing processes.

Unless otherwise indicated, chemical characteristics, product attributes, classifications and labeling criteria on this website refer to soy-based products. For more information about canola, sunflower and egg lecithins, contact us at 203.262.7100.


* We recommend that your company make its own determination regarding the designation “natural” on product labels. The following information can help. “Natural” has not been defined in FDA regulations. But the FDA position regarding “natural” claims is available in FDA – 58 Federal Register 2407.

How Lecithins Work

Lecithins are used mainly as emulsifiers. They are surface active: simultaneously hydrophilic (water-loving) and hydrophobic (water-repelling).

This unique quality enables them to make stable blends of materials that otherwise do not mix easily and tend to separate.

Emulsions are produced by dispersing normally unmixable material into another by mixing, colloidal milling or homogenization. The surface-active properties of lecithins reduce mixing time and maintain the stability of the dispersion. The amount of lecithin needed to blend substances depends on the overall fat content in the end product.

In addition to emulsifiers, lecithins can be:
Wetting and Instantizing Agents

Lecithins provide fast, complete wetting of powders into aqueous systems.

Viscosity Modifiers

Lecithins greatly reduce the surface tension of fats, enabling particles of chocolate, sugar and milk products, for example, to be coated, improving flow and mixability. Typical usage levels are 0.2 – 0.6% of total product weight.

Release Agents

Lecithins promote separation of food from contact surfaces in dip tanks and spray applications. Water-filled dip tanks usually contain up to 10% de-oiled lecithin; pan or belt-release applications consist mainly of vegetable oil with approximately 2% lecithin.

Separating Agents

When applied directly to products such as processed cheese slices, lecithins help form a stable film barrier that prevents them from sticking together. When used directly in products such as baked goods, they enhance the ability to cut and shape products and reduce sticking to mixing vessels.

Extrusion Aids

Extrusion technology uses lecithin as a processing aid to enhance extrusion rates and throughput, resulting in more economical production. Examples of extruded products include fat-free pretzels, reduced fat snacks and pastas.

Anti-Dusting Agents

Lecithins enhance wettability; they reduce static interface and prevent fine dust particles.

Shelf- Life Aids

Lecithins can help prevent product degradation. They can, for example, interact with the amylose portion of wheat flour to slow starch retrogradation. This process helps extend shelf life.

Nutritional Supplements

Lecithins have nutritional value of their own. The phospholipids they contain, such as phosphatidylcholine (PC), phosphatidylserine (PS) and derivatives such as glycero-phosphocholine (alpha-GPC) have been widely acknowledged by nutritionists, and substantiated by numerous human clinical studies, as beneficial to the function of the liver, brain, heart, and other organs. American Lecithin Company offers three products, ALCOLEC® PC, ALCOLEC® PS and ALCOLEC® GPC, specifically for use in softgel, tablets, and hardcap nutritional supplements.

Delivery Systems

Lecithins enriched in phosphatidylcholine (PC) can be used in technologies that maximize the bioavailability of the vitamins and nutrients in tablets, granules, pellets and extruded shapes, liquid formulations, liposomal dispersions and micro-emulsions.

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