This natural substance occurs in many foods from animal and vegetable sources, and it is an internationally approved food ingredient.

Its molecule has both hydrophilic and lipophilic (water-loving and fat-loving) parts, readily supporting the dispersion of oil and water in doughs and batters. The phospholipids in lecithin add nutritional value to products.

As an emulsifier, lecithin fosters uniform distribution of ingredients, but it functions in other ways in different kinds of bakery products.

In cakes, biscuits and cookies, lecithin can reduce use of eggs and fat and produce better mixing action and machinability. It protects against oxidation, and in puff pastry and Danish, it upgrades the flakiness of the dough by suppressing contraction. When making donuts, lecithin improves moisture retention and cuts fat take-up during frying by more than 20%, producing a moister, less greasy finished product. In wafers, for example, it aids the release of wafer sheets from the baking iron, leaving less debris behind. It helps reduce fragility, improve texture and brown exterior surfaces.

Frozen doughs made with lecithin form desirably fine ice crystals during freezing, avoiding large irregular sizes that have negative effects on the crumb and crust. In bread, lecithin improves the extensibility of the gluten network, thus making doughs more stable during fermentation and easier to process. It can cut kneading time to save energy. Lecithin’s water-binding effect improves the product’s shelf life.

(The discussion above is summarized from a longer presentation by Peter Fismer, managing director of LECICO GmbH, Hamburg, Germany, which supplies lecithin to Ciranda Organic Ingredients, Hudson, WI.)

Prescott Bergh, Ciranda’s sales and marketing director, reported that the company now offers organic and non-GMO soybean and sunflower lecithins. “We are finding that the demand for non-GMO products is growing rapidly,” he said.

DuPont Nutrition & Health recently introduced SOLEC SF-D deoiled sunflower lecithin in dry powder form for use in bakery applications. “It can be used with other dough improvers for added benefits in yeast-raised and chemically leavened baked goods to improve machinability tenderness and crumb structure,” said Karen Allen Seabolt, global lecithin research lead, DuPont Nutrition & Health, St. Louis, MO. It was developed as an alternative to soy lecithin when formulating to avoid allergens. It is also non-GMO.