Lecithins: what you need to know about E322
Image by luis_molinero on Freepik

Lecithins are also called phosphatidylcholines and are part of lipids (fats). These can be of animal or plant origin. Lecithins, found under code E322, are commonly used in the food industry as food additives, primarily as an emulsifier. It is also one of the most common additives in this field. ANSES (National Agency for Food, Environmental, and Occupational Health and Safety) estimates that they are present in 17% of food products.

Let’s find out in this article what are the characteristics of this food additive.

Lecithins: what are its characteristics?

Lecithins are phospholipids. That is, they are lipids containing phosphoric acid. Indeed, lecithins contain phosphorus as well as glycerol and choline.

Lecithins are present in animal and plant tissues. It is found mainly in egg yolk, where they are then of animal origin, but also in soy where it is vegetable lecithins.

Visually, lecithins are yellow substances that look like wax. They are insoluble in water and soluble in organic solvents (chemical compounds containing carbon). In contact with water, lecithin swells and gives a fairly voluminous jelly which by agitation divides into two parts. The resulting emulsion remains fairly stable.

It is for these properties that lecithins are commonly used in food preparation as food additives but also in cosmetics and medicines. They are added mainly because they extend the shelf life and act as an emulsifier. In foods, this additive is found in full or with the code E322 in the list of ingredients.

Being a fatty substance, lecithins are very caloric with an average of 750 Kcal per 100 g.

Lecithins: everything you need to know

ClassificationTexture agent
Authorized in organicYes
Special dietsAccording to origin – Animal or Vegetable

Lecithins: what are the known risks?

Is it dangerous for health?

The use of lecithins does not seem to pose a health risk, except of course for people allergic to soy or eggs. It is therefore important to pay attention to its origin.

On the other hand, at high doses (very rarely reached), it may appear:

  • stomach aches;
  • headache or dizziness
  • a drop in blood pressure

Food sensations can be altered and this can also cause weight gain given its high energy intake. But these risks remain very low.

The risk is mainly due to the origin of the lecithin. In fact, more than half of soybean crops are genetically modified. And this process is not without health risks.

It may be interesting to avoid lecithin from the conventional chain which is probably transgenic to turn to lecithin of biological origin.

What are the regulations in France?

Lecithin is a product authorized in France is in the European Union. This additive complies with Regulation (EC) No 1333/2008 on food additives.

In which products is it used?

Lecithin is present in many food products. But it is also sold as a dietary supplement, in cosmetics, and is used for medical uses.

Main functions

Lecithins are used in the manufacture of industrial products mainly as a stabilizing and emulsifying agent. They prevent food from sticking and their presence helps prevent fats and water from separating in food. Products that contain it keep better and longer by remaining stable and homogeneous.

Where can we find it?

Lecithin is found in many foods. These include:

  • spreads;
  • biscuits and chocolate cakes or not, organic or not;
  • some margarines;
  • cocoa;
  • chocolate bars;
  • sugary cereals;
  • cream desserts;
  • or in some prepared dishes.

It is important to look at the ingredient list of foods to find out whether or not they contain lecithin.

Learn more about lecithins

Lecithin appeared in the 19th century and was so designated by a French chemist and pharmacist named Theodore Gobley. This name is given by reference to the Greek “lekithos” which designates the egg yolk from which lecithin comes.

However, since the 1990s they have been mainly extracted from soy for use as a food additive.

Image Credit: Image by luis_molinero on Freepik

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