Emulsifiers are important ingredients in many food and nutritional products, helping to mix oil and water ingredients. In fact, food and beverages account for nearly one-third of total global emulsifier consumption. Lecithin is one of the most popular emulsifiers. Based on the current global adoption and usage of lecithin, the food-grade lecithin market is expected to exceed 620,000 tons by 2028.
Lecithin is widely used in animal feed, nutritional supplements, and infant nutrition. In addition to its excellent functional properties, it also provides tremendous nutritional value. In addition, food experts hope to use lecithin to bring about entirely new benefits, such as improving texture or extending shelf life.
Lecithin has long been used as an emulsifier in infant nutrition and other food applications. But it is now also becoming increasingly popular in dietary supplements due to its nutritional properties.
What Is Lecithin?
Lecithin is a multifunctional additive. It has a wide range of applications in confectionery, dairy products, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, animal feed, and bakery products. It is one of the most widely used and popular emulsifiers, accounting for approximately 30%-40% of emulsifier consumption in the food and nutrition industry. Lecithin is widely used in the European market, accounting for more than 25% of total emulsifier revenue in the region, as demand for baked goods is high in the region.
On an industrial scale, lecithin is mainly derived from soybeans, sunflower, and rapeseed.
- Soybeans are the most common source of lecithin due to their excellent binding properties. South America is a leader in soybean production.
- Another is sunflower lecithin, whose prices have increased due to supply constraints caused by the war in Ukraine.
- The traditional method of producing lecithin from oil seeds involves using hexane. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies it as a neurotoxin, and the Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as a hazardous air pollutant. Therefore, the use of hexane in lecithin extraction is always a problem. In order to avoid this, hexane extraction can be replaced by mechanical extraction production methods. However, the price of mechanically extracted lecithin is higher than the regular price. The continued high demand for this ingredient makes it difficult for mechanically extracted lecithin to compete in the lecithin market.
Therefore, soy lecithin and sunflower lecithin are currently the main products on the market.
3 Major Nutritional Application Fields Of Lecithin Powder
Infant Formula Milk Powder
One of the most important applications of lecithin in the food industry is infant nutrition. Infant formula is usually formulated as an oil-in-water emulsion. Two types of emulsifiers are used in infant nutrition, including protein-based and non-protein-based emulsifiers.
- Protein emulsifiers include milk protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, skimmed milk powder, etc.
- Non-protein emulsifiers include lecithin, mono- and diglycerides, and gums.
Soy lecithin powder is mainly used in infant formula, especially ready-to-eat or concentrated liquid products. Its emulsifying, wetting, and dispersing properties help infant formula dissolve in hot and cold liquids, such as water, for reconstitution. Lecithin also improves the stability of these products by preventing surface oiling, emulsification, and precipitation.
Breast milk contains a variety of phospholipids, including phosphatidylserine, phosphatidylethanolamine, etc. These phospholipids are extracted from lecithin. Used to promote cognitive development in children through products such as infant formula and growing milk. Phosphatidylcholine is widely used in these products due to its high water solubility.
Lecithin is used in dietary supplements for its nutritional and emulsifying properties in capsule, tablet, and powder forms. Lecithin is primarily derived from unrefined soybeans and is used in dietary supplements. However, due to the allergenic potential of soy, sunflower lecithin can be used as a substitute for soy lecithin.
Lecithin can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in the body while increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Thereby reducing the risk of heart disease. Research shows lecithin can boost immunity, especially in people with diabetes. Due to its emulsifying properties, lecithin can also break down and dissolve fat molecules. It aids in the body’s fat processing and movement and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Lecithin powder is also a rich source of phospholipids such as phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine.
Phosphatidylcholine is known to have various health benefits, such as improving brain health. Since phosphatidylcholine is a major component of the intestinal mucosal lining, supplementing with it can support healthy digestion. It may also help people with ulcerative colitis by reducing inflammation.
Lecithin is also used to make phosphatidylserine PS, a popular ingredient in brain health supplements. It provides cognitive benefits such as enhanced attention, memory, concentration, and energy. It is popular for its light color and neutral flavor. Phosphatidylserine powder can also be used with other phospholipids, like phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidic acid. Both phospholipids are popular nootropic supplements.
Functional Food And Beverages
Lecithin powder is widely used to produce meal replacement drinks, functional foods such as fortified cereals and margarine, and health drink powders. It helps with cardiovascular health, which is why it’s popular in meal replacement products. As the demand for natural and organic products grows, natural ingredients such as lecithin are becoming increasingly popular.
Lecithin powder has long been used as an emulsifier in infant nutrition and other food applications, but now it is also increasingly used in supplements. Lecithin is also rich in phospholipids, including phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylinositol, and phosphatidic acid. These substances are known for their health benefits, which may help lecithin gain further popularity as a supplement.
On the other hand, Sunflower lecithin is expected to grow in popularity as a clean-label, non-allergenic alternative to soy lecithin. There are already many products on the market that involve the use of non-GMO grade lecithin. However, the main challenges with sunflower lecithin are supply chain disruptions and price fluctuations.
The numerous health benefits lecithin offers will spur the rapid growth of lecithin products in the coming years.
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