Lecithin : a major partner in Bakery applications

20 August 2021

Lecithin : a major partner in Bakery applications


 Use of Lecithins in biscuits, crackers and sweet goods By Susan Gurkin, Global Bakery Applications Manager at Cargill Food Ingredients / Texturant Systems 

Lecithins are nature’s principal surface active agents. The main function of lecithins is to emulsify fats. They were some of the first surfactants for use in baking. Indeed, lecithins are very potent emulsifiers in cookie, cracker and sweet good technology. 

There are many different types of lecithins but basically, they are composed of active components called phospholipids. Phospholipids consist of hydrophobic long chain fatty acid moieties counterbalanced with a polar, hydrophilic phosphate moiety. Concentration of these active lecithin components, phospholipids, at the oil / water interface lowers the surface tension and makes it possible for emulsions to form. Once the emulsion is formed, the phospholipids at the surface of the oil or water droplets, form barriers to prevent the droplets from coalescing.

 The hydrophilic properties of lecithin can be amplified through various treatments to yield a wide range of different lecithin products with different functionalities.


 Fats serve a variety of functions in foods. Their unique mouthfeel supplies the rich, smooth, creamy sensation that distinguishes many foods. Fats also absorb and blend ingredient flavors and aromas to produce the distinct taste of individual foods. In baked goods such as cakes, fats help produce a high, fine texture. When "creaming" fats and sugar—the first step in mixing many cake batters—fats trap tiny air bubbles that help the batter to rise. Fats also help keep doughs and batters from separating and falling. And fats coat the proteins in flour to make a tender or flaky product. Here the role of Lecithins is to speed the dispersion of the fatty and aqueous components of the dough.

 The use level of lecithin is quite low, being typically 0.2% flour basis on bakery products with shortening content of less than 8% while in higher fat products, use level can be from 1-2% based on the shortening (fat) content.

 In biscuits and crackers, pies and cakes, 1-3% lecithin on shortening basis promotes fat distribution and shortening action, facilitates mixing and acts as an “internal” release agent – keeping the baked good from sticking to the pan. Lecithins also speed wetting of many of the particles thereby speeding mixing.

 In biscuits and sweet goods, this reduced mix time is important because this in turn reduces dough development and causes the resultant cookies, crackers or cakes to be more tender. Lecithins also assist in producing a uniform crust color and reduced checking or cracking because the fat is more evenly distributed. 

In sweet goods, the use of 1-2% lecithin based on shortening can result in freer-flowing batters, more uniform color, smoother texture, more uniform grain, better keeping quality and greater flavor stability. The lecithin is easily mixed into the batter or dough to help control desired consistency. Because of the emulsifying effect, lecithins make rich, sweet doughs seem drier and improve their machinability. Better release from the die especially on rotary pieces, makes a better impression and reduces the numbers of cripples. 

A major concern in many countries is calorie reduction to assist in weight loss. Lecithins are nature’s fat replacer and may help reduce the shortening requirements by increasing the shortening effect of the fat present. Lecithins promote a tendency for fat to cover or spread among slightly moist particles of sugar, flour and other ingredients. Such particles would otherwise repel the fat.

 Lecithins may also offer egg-sparing effects. In egg-containing sweet goods such as Brioche, lecithin can be used to lower egg requirements and in puff pastry the correct type of lecithin improves layering and texture.
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