When I pick up a chocolate product and read the ingredients list, I’m usually just checking to see what sweetener has been used. So when a friend of mine asked what soy lecithin is (because it’s in just about every bar of chocolate), I shrugged and said I had no idea.
But now I can’t stop noticing it. Soy lecithin really is in a lot of chocolate products. And when last night when I was in Loblaws (Coles for you Aussies), I actually found a bottle of soy lecithin in the health food section!
So it got me wondering what soy lecithin actually is, and what it’s doing in my chocolate.
What is soy lecithin?
In the early 1900′s, the yet to be named ‘soy lecithin’ was just a waste product produced during the “degumming” process of soybean oil. By 1908 the soy bean crushing and soy oil refining companies had expanded and they were having trouble disposing of the large amounts of foul smelling, fermenting waste product. Soy plants in Germany decided to name this waste product ‘soy lecithin’ and looked for ways to utilize it. By 1939 scientists had found more than 1,000 different ways to use soy lecithin.
Why soy lecithin is in Chocolate
I may have found soy lecithin in the health food section but unfortunately it’s not added to chocolate to give you any nutritional value. Soy lecithin is an emulsifier, so it’s added to chocolate to keep the cocoa and the cocoa butter together.
And it’s added to bakery goods to make the dough less sticky and easier to rise.
Is soy lecithin bad for you?
Yes and no. First, it’s important to note that solvents are used during the “degumming” process of soybean oil, so soy lecithin itself is likely to contain chemical solvents.
You also need to consider the quality of the soybeans used to product soy lecithin. If the soybeans are not organic, then the soy lecithin will contain herbicides and pesticides. And soybeans are often genetically modified which is an additional concern.
Soybeans and hormones
My personal concern with consuming soy products is the high levels of phytoestrogens they contain, because phytoestrogens can elevate your estrogen levels if eaten in high doses.
I have a genetic problem with estrogen dominance, so I don’t like to eat a lot of soy products. It’s beginning to concern me that soy is in so many foods. Being vegetarian, in the past I’ve relied heavily on soy products for protein but now I’m considering cutting out soy altogether.
I’m also allergic to soy so I guess that’s another reason to void soy and it’s by-products.
But lecithin itself is a very healthy food!
Really, the questionable part of ‘soy lecithin’ is just the ‘soy’. Lecithin itself (without the soy) is actually a very healthy food, most famously know for its high choline content.
You can even buy lecithin as a supplement, although personally I’d stick with the natural sources – the best being egg yolks and bee pollen. Vegans, you can get your lecithin from peanuts, wheat and oatmeal.
So next time you pick up that chocolate bar, have a look for ‘soy lecithin’ in the ingredients list. This time you’ll know exactly what it is!