You may have heard of lecithin, or perhaps seen it listed on a chocolate bar wrapper — but what exactly is this mysterious ingredient?
In this article we’ll explain the different kinds of lecithin and why we use it to make our chocolate.
Why is lecithin in chocolate?
As a liquid, lecithin is a fatty substance derived from soybeans, sunflower, or eggs. Long story short, it is an emulsifier — an additive used in certain foods to stabilise other ingredients that don’t fare too well when mixed.
In the case of chocolate, it binds the cocoa solids, sugar and milk so they stick to the cocoa butter.
It is a crucial ingredient in chocolate as it reduces viscosity, improves its flow properties and extends its shelf life. While this can be done with cocoa butter or other fats and oils, it takes less lecithin to achieve the same result. The substance helps to keep production costs down, but it’s also an advantage for any chocolatier hoping to create thin chocolate shells or coatings. A lower viscosity makes chocolate easier to temper, so more straightforward to work with during the process.
Plus, a little really does go a long way. For example, while you need 3 or 4% cocoa butter to thin a coating, you’ll only require 0.5% lecithin. As such a small amount makes up the total weight of the finished chocolate, it’s usually one of the last ingredients on the list.
What kinds of lecithin are there?
There are many sources, including egg yolk, soya, sunflower, and rapeseed. Today, it usually comes from either soya beans or sunflower oil.
The earliest known reference to lecithin is from Switzerland in 1889, leading to the filing of the first patent for the use of soya lecithin in chocolate in 1930. Soya remains the highest-yielding source for the production of lecithin, with many chocolatiers using it in their cocoa creations.
To produce lecithin from soya, the soybeans are first squeezed or pressed to extract the oil. The soybean oil is then added to water and a centrifuge is used to separate the degummed soybean oil from the soy muds. After this, some drying needs to take place, then ta-da! There you have it.
As soya lecithin is high in choline (an essential nutrient) some people even choose to take it in supplement form!
Sunflower lecithin behaves in a very similar way to its soy counterpart. It is more popular than rapeseed sources due to the presence of unhealthy trans-fatty acids in the erucic oil of the seed. As mentioned, it is also a great soya alternative for Free From chocolates.
Sunflower lecithin is also increasing in popularity due to some people’s concerns about soya. However, no scientific studies support these claims.
Do you need to use lecithin if you’re making chocolate at home?
While you don’t have to use lecithin when making homemade chocolate, it’s very simple to add. If you’re just getting into making your own chocolate, we recommend experimenting with batches with and without. You’ll be able to compare the qualities of each and see which one you prefer!
As too much lecithin can actually increase viscosity instead rather than decrease it, you’ll need to work out how much is optimal for your recipe.
You might be thinking ‘ah, well it’s just another ingredient to buy — I can go without’. Still, keep in mind that it substantially reduces the amount of cocoa butter you need in your chocolate. As cocoa butter is more expensive than lecithin, you’ll find that adding it will keep your chocolate-making hobby much more wallet-friendly.
The take-home? Lecithin is a common chocolate ingredient that aids manufacturers in the making process by improving the consistency of your chocolate. It’s completely safe to consume and should be seen as a handy tool for making quality chocolates. While it’s not necessary to use it when making chocolate, we use a tiny amount in lots of our recipes — and think they’re better off for it!
Not so mysterious after all, is it…