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Don’t be afraid of emulsifiers in chocolate

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Any product always contains ingredients that can easily scare off the consumer, even if something completely harmless is hidden behind a strange name. Chocolate is no exception. Probably the most unknown thing for the consumer in the composition of chocolate are emulsifiers.

Emulsifiers are substances that provide the formation of emulsions from immiscible (unmixable or unblendable) liquids. Natural emulsifiers (e.g. egg yolk) have traditionally been used as an ingredient in many foods. Modern industry more often uses synthetic substances as emulsifiers, as well as lecithin (soy mainly). These two can be found on chocolate labels: E322 and E476.

No worries. The first is just lecithin, a natural food additive. The second is polyglycerol polyricinoleate (PGPR). It didn't get easier…okay, let's talk about everything in order.

E is just a letter code assigned to all the food additives.

​​Regular apple contains at least five «Ez».

Behind this supposedly terrible letter can be hidden quite harmless substances. Unfortunately, the average consumer thinks in such a way that regular salt is good and natural for him, but if you call it «sodium chloride» (or even worse NaCl) — already a chemical weapon. E-haters like to ignore the fact that even the most natural fragrant apples contain a bunch of «Ez» inside: E440 (pectin / emulsifier and thickener), E140 (chlorophyll / a famous natural food coloring), E181 (tannin / also a natural food coloring), E296 (malic acid / acidity regulator) and E270 (lactic acid / preservative and antioxidant). At the same time, no one questions the composition of some, you know, «organic» products, full of dubious ingredients, but described avoiding the letter E on the label, otherwise it’s no longer BIO, ECO, RAW, and so on. But writing a couple of paragraphs in the product description about the deadly harm of gluten, lactose, sugar, emulsifiers and other «Ez» is great. Why, though?

​​Emulsifiers are added to chocolate to reduce viscosity and improve flow.

Let's go back to our «Ez»: lecithin E322 and polyglyceryl polyricinoleate E476. Emulsifiers are added to chocolate to reduce viscosity and improve fluidity (or rheology, as we pros call it). Fluidity is needed so the thick chocolate mass won’t get stuck in the pipes of the equipment (especially important on large manufactures, because you can’t just clean the pipes with a spatula) and so the chocolate can be cast into molds without the formation of defects.

​​The brain is 30% lecithin.

Lecithin E322 is more often used as an emulsifier. It’s mainly extracted from soybean or sunflower oils, also all plant and animal tissues have a lot of it. Lecithin is necessary for normal body functioning. Its total share in the adult’s nervous system is 17%, and our brain consists of it at 30%. Lecithin is also a building material for the restoration and growth of cells, it carries nutrients and vitamins throughout the body. When added to chocolate at a dosage of up to 0.7% of the total mass, lecithin does not affect the taste, smell and color of chocolate: it simply improves the rheology.

Polyglycerol polyricinoleate (PGPR or E476) is extracted from castor bean oil (aka castor oil). So how is the castor oil from the nearest pharmacy is good, and E476 from the same oil is bad and ugly? WHO and FDA have given their blessing to use E476 as a food additive a long time ago, so it’s allowed in Europe and Russia. In fact, PGPR is a chain of glycerol with fatty acids, which is easily digested by the human body. Totally no trans fats. It can only cause a slight laxative effect, but castor oil is used for this for a long time.

To prevent the mass from being too thick, emulsifiers are added to 0.5% of the total mass.

So why do so many people believe that emulsifiers replace the valuable cocoa butter in the composition in order to reduce the cost of chocolate?

Let's take a closer look at chocolate and we will see a dispersion of tiny solids in the fat phase — solid dry particles in fat. The fat here is cocoa butter. And the more solid particles, the thicker the mass will be. But you cannot totally exclude the fat, otherwise it won’t be a bar of chocolate, but a loose product, a powder of sugar and cocoa fibers. So it’s impossible to completely replace expensive cocoa butter with cheap emulsifiers, no matter how greedy manufacturers desire it. When it comes to replacement, we mean a very slight reduction in the proportion of cocoa butter in chocolate. To prevent the mass from being too thick, emulsifiers are added to 0.5% of the total mass. While cocoa butter in chocolate is about 30-40%. Completely binding the mass with only an emulsifier will require at least 30% of it in the composition, and this is already more expensive than cocoa butter. Kinda like that. By the way, check the video. It shows the process of chocolate making. At 0:46 seconds, soy lecithin is added from a white plastic cup and almost instantly makes the chocolate more fluid:

Watch video

Unfortunately, human fears can not be trained like an elephant in the circus, and convincing an excitable buyer that there is nothing wrong with emulsifiers will always be difficult. We would advise manufacturers to write something as harmless as possible like «sunflower lecithin». But decide for yourself. To ignore or not to ignore consumer fears and delusions is the choice of the manufacturer, a matter of his honesty, openness and respect for his buyer.

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