Soy lecithin is a common additive used in foods. It serves as an emulsifying agent, keeping ingredients from separating. It can also serve as a wetting agent, a coating base, a mixing aid, and many other purposes.
When used in food products, soy lecithin is found in very small amounts. The typical component of the compound within a food product is one percent of the product's weight. It is often used to thin out candy, and reduce the stickiness of food ingredients. It can increase volume and shelf life, help ingredients mix cohesively, reduce potential batter spray during cooking, and enhance food texture.
In candy bars, for example, soy lecithin keeps the chocolate and cocoa butter together, preventing natural separation from occurring. It works the same way in foods such as peanut butter, ice cream, and margarine, where fats and waters would otherwise typically separate. In breads, it can help improve texture and size during baking.
Although many people believe that many soy lecithin dangers exist, the product has been largely found to be nontoxic and safe for human consumption. Some people are concerned that, as a byproduct of soybeans, it contains pesticides and solvents, such as the hexane used to produce the product, that could be harmful when eaten. Many sources of the soybeans used to make lecithin are genetically modified, which also worries many people. The use of unfermented soybeans is also a potential concern, as it has been linked to health issues, such as reproductive problems and allergies.
Other people, however, use lecithin as a health supplement. High in choline, the compound may help encourage healthy brain development and heart health. Lecithin from soybeans may also help prevent dementia and other conditions, including high cholesterol, gallstones, cirrhosis of the liver, and psoriasis.
The use of soy lecithin can cause some side effects. Low blood pressure can result from taking the supplement. Other lecithin side effects include dizziness and fainting. When taking the compound to fight cholesterol, it can be enhanced by simultaneously taking a niacin supplement.
Outside the food industry, soy lecithin has many other uses. In animal feed, it serves as a cheap source of protein. It is used in the pharmaceutical industry to create medications. Lecithin can also be used in the manufacturing of paints, plastics, and other household items. In cosmetics, lecithins are often used to soften skin and help pigments become absorbed by skin cells.