Even dark chocolate isn’t free of this ingredient
One of my go to desserts is a chocolate mousse recipe by Aussie chef Bill Granger that calls for melting dark chocolate as a prominent component of the recipe.
Up until several years ago, I simply bought whatever 70%+ dark chocolate bar or chips were on sale without giving it much thought. After all, I prided myself, it’s not just any chocolate I’m using, it’s dark chocolate.
Lecithin is in way more than just chocolate
But a random conversation with a colleague who was working on a food ingredient strategy involving Lecithin 3 years ago caused me to change my smugness.
Lecithin is a food additive primarily used for its emulsification and stabilizing properties in a wide variety of food products, including chocolate, baked and frozen desserts, salad dressings, bread and nonstick cooking spray. It is a group of yellow-brown fatty acids derived from plants and animals, including soybeans, rapeseed, cottonseed and sunflowers as well as eggs, milk and marine sources.
It’s not the ingredient, it’s what it masks
Lecithin in it of itself isn’t a food additive one necessarily needs to avoid eating. In fact, because it is a source of choline (Lecithin is a naturally occurring mixture of the phosphatides of choline, ethanolamine, and inositol, with smaller amounts of other lipids), it is sometime included in supplements or prescribed to help individuals with high cholesterol, among other health woes.
Lecithin is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for human consumption with the status “generally recognized as safe.” It is also admitted by the EU as a food additive as E322.
Making the decision to eat it or not is up to you, however, because lecithin’s properties can replace higher quality/more expensive ingredients, its inclusion on an ingredient list is a good proxy for weeding out processed foods to avoid.
Analysis of chocolate products with and without lecithin shows a gross delta in the amount of ingredients:
Lecithin’s link to soy can concern those with allergies and avoiding GMOs
Another reason to consider not eating Lecithin is if you have an allergy to one of Lecithin’s sources, in particular, a soy allergy. Since one of its main derivatives is soy-and currently Lecithin can be listed on an ingredient list with our without its source (Lecithin vs. Soy Lecithin, Lecithin from soybeans, etc.), if you have a soy allergy you definitely want to be on the watch for its inclusion in the ingredient list and be cautious even if it just lists Lecithin. (It’s also a good signal the food item has GMOs as most soybeans in the US are genetically modified).
Why it’s used in chocolate
In chocolate, Lecithin reduces viscosity, replaces expensive ingredients such as cocoa butter, improves the flow properties of chocolate, and can improve the shelf life for certain products. It also can be used as a coating.
Lecithin is typically added to chocolate in its liquid form.
Chocolate and candy manufactures like Lecithin because it reduces viscosity in a cost effective way. Instead of using Lecithin, reducing viscosity can be done by adding cocoa butter or other fats and oils. But it takes greater amounts to accomplish this and is therefore more costly. For example, to achieve the same result of thinking down a chocolate coating, it might take 3-4% additional cocoa butter but only 0.5% of lecithin. A little lecithin goes a long way. (There is a limit for lecithin-after ~0.5%, the reducing effects on viscosity stop and can even start to go the other way and increase the viscosity).
Over 90% of chocolates have Lecithin
Once I became aware of lecithin, I started looking for it in ingredient lists, and I discovered almost every chocolate product sold in the grocery store included lecithin-usually from soybeans or sunflowers- in its ingredient list.
Across four different grocery stores, the only chocolate product I could find across several grocery stores that did not contain Lecithin was Lindt’s 85% bar.
A more data driven query into almost 6000 chocolate product’s ingredients lists available for purchase in the US reveals 94% of chocolates contain Lecithin. Given Lecithin is used to reduce costs of ingredients, but still provide the same texture of “higher quality/more expensive” products, this makes sense.
Why I don’t buy chocolate with Lecithin
Curious to see if there was a difference in my mousse recipe for chocolate with and without Lecithin, I purchased the Lindt 85% bar. While I didn’t notice any difference in how the chocolate melted, my husband commented the mousse tasted better.
As a result, and because I prefer my family and I to consume as few food additives in our foods as possible, I only buy chocolate without Lecithin-which means I sometimes have to go to more than one grocery store or order brands I know don’t contain it online.
To learn more about Lecithin visit here