What are Emulsifiers?

An emulsifier is an ingredient that helps to mix two immiscible substances, such as oil and water, by reducing the surface tension between them. Emulsifiers work by forming a stable mixture of the two substances, called an emulsion. They are necessary to achieve homogeneity in liquid foods which have a tendency also towards phase separation.

They can be natural or synthetic compounds and are commonly used in food, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical products.  Emulsifiers are important in food production because they help to create a smooth texture, prevent separation of ingredients, and increase the shelf life of products.

Emulsifiers possess both lipophilic and hydrophilic groups within the molecule which is the main reason as to why they can stabilise water and oil moieties without phase separation then occurring.

Other functions include enhancing flavour stability and reducing rancidity in oil and fats. They also improve crumb structure in baked foods such as cakes and in batters because they stabilise complex starches.

Types of Emulsifier

Lecithin from egg yolk is usually used alone but others tend to be employed if foods and cosmetics in combinations. Examples of other emulsifiers include:

  • egg yolk,
  • mono- and diglycerides
  • acetylated monoglycerides
  • sucrose fatty acid esters
  • stearoyl-2-lactylates
  • propylene glycol esters
  • sorbitan esters
  • diacetyl tartaric acid esters of monoglycerides (DATEM)
  • polysorbate 80.

The US FDA has approved lecithin, mono- and diglycerides, and DATEM with GRAS status.

Cake Batters and Emulsifiers

Emulsifiers are added to cake batters for several reasons. First, emulsifiers help to distribute fat evenly throughout the batter, resulting in a smoother texture and a more consistent crumb. This is particularly important in cakes that contain high amounts of fat, such as butter cakes or oil-based cakes.

Second, emulsifiers can help to stabilize the batter by increasing its viscosity and preventing the separation of ingredients. This can help to prevent the cake from collapsing or becoming too dense during baking.

Third, emulsifiers can improve the overall quality of the cake by increasing its moisture retention and extending its shelf life. This is particularly important in commercial bakeries where cakes may need to be stored for several days before being sold.

Common emulsifiers used in cake batters include lecithin, mono- and diglycerides, and polysorbate 80. These emulsifiers are typically added in small amounts and are considered safe for consumption by regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


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