Emulsifiers make miracles happen. These ingredients bring two opposing forces — water and fat — together in unity. With emulsifiers easing tensions between these components, formulators can blend them to gain a multitude of benefits across a wide range of applications.

“An emulsifier has both hydrophilic and lipophilic tendencies, basically meaning that it’s water-loving and fat-loving at the same time, so it will bring those two ingredients together and allow you to mix them,” said Matt Gennrich, senior food scientist, Cargill.

Combining these two elements has plenty of benefits for a wide range of bakery applications from bread, which has very little fat, to cake batters, which contain a lot of water and fat.

“Emulsifiers help maintain the quality, freshness and integrity of baked goods by improving the interaction between two or more elements that wouldn’t normally mix, such as oil and water,” said Jim Robertson, product management director, emulsifiers, Corbion.

Depending on a baker’s product and formulation, the type of emulsifiers and usage level will vary.

“Basic baking products will often need little to no emulsifiers as some components can be found in other primary ingredients such as eggs, which contain lecithin,” said Rick Cummisford, director of quality control, Columbus Vegetable Oils. “However, other products like frostings may need more emulsifiers to result in the desired finished product texture and stability.”

For those baked goods, it’s important to understand what emulsifiers can bring to formulating.

Functionality beyond emulsification

While emulsifiers enable the blending of water and fat, their functions and benefits in bakery applications can go further depending on the product.

“In a bread formulation, there is a fair amount of water, but not much fat, so there’s less of a need to bring these two together; however, emulsifiers will still help the water and fat complex with the starch to increase loaf volume and machineability,” Mr. Gennrich said.

As a result, emulsifiers don’t have much to do in the way of their core function, but that doesn’t mean they bring nothing to a bread formulation. They can act as dough conditioners, improving dough stability for processing.

“Some chemical emulsifiers like diacetyl tartaric acid esters of fatty acids (DATEM) are thought to complex with wheat protein and starches in the dough system,” said Paul Bright, innovation manager, AB Mauri North America. “This reaction will act to strengthen the gluten-starch network to improve dough stability during proofing as well as produce baked goods with increased volume, improved external symmetry and better internal crumb structure.”

Cake batters, however, are at the other end of that spectrum because they contain a lot of water and fat that must be blended into a batter. This makes emulsifiers a necessity.

“Cake emulsifiers are crucial ingredients due to the complicated interaction between ingredients such as eggs, oil, cocoa, sugar, flour, etc.,” said Carlos Fajardo, Ph.D., technical sales manager, Palsgaard.

These ingredients bring stability and uniformity to batter, assisting with uniform aeration and water retention.

“Cake emulsifiers are formulated so that a batter has sufficient stability through the mixing and baking steps to ensure the batter emulsion ends up producing a uniform stable foam celled structure — a cake,” said Tim Cottrell, director of business development, emulsifiers and texturants, Kerry.

There’s an emulsifier for that

The functionality that emulsifiers bring to any baked good helps those formulations overcome challenges of automated processing. They aid in a wide range of issues by enhancing product consistency, texture, processing stability and shelf life.

“Customer satisfaction is vital for bakers and different challenges such as inherent inconsistency due to ingredients, variability in mixing times and steps, different elevation and pressure of bakery locations — just to mention a few — arise when making them,” Dr. Fajardo said. “Bakers need cake emulsifiers to reduce these challenges and increase product quality to satisfy customer demands.”

Which emulsifier bakers choose — and its usage rate — will depend on the goals they are trying to attain.

“Is the baker looking for process tolerance or quality improvement of the finished product, such as initial crumb softening of the bread post-bake?” Mr. Bright asked. “Or in the case of tortilla production, a solution for anti-sticking during shelf life? The answer to these types of questions will guide the formulator as to the appropriate solution.”

Because bread doesn’t contain much fat, the benefits of emulsifiers can assist more with process tolerance for commercially produced bread as well as improved final product characteristics.

“Tried and trusted emulsifiers such as DATEM, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate (SSL) and mono- and diglycerides can be used by bread bakers to improve the process tolerance of a dough system, external and internal characteristics of baked bread, and in the case of mono- and diglycerides and SSL, contribute to the initial softness of bread during shelf life,” Mr. Bright explained.

Emulsifiers improve tolerances because they interact with the gluten to strengthen the dough. This helps the dough maintain its quality through dividing, forming, proofing and even slicing.

“The improvements in tolerance and consistency ultimately lead to less yield loss and lower manufacturing costs,” Mr. Robertson said. “Put simply, emulsifiers make it easier for bakers to deliver the quality and consistency consumers expect from bakery products with less hassle and waste.”

For cakes, sweet goods and muffins, emulsifiers help not only with processing but also with reducing product variability. Emulsifiers increase batter stability to minimize the impact of ingredient and process variance for sweet goods, Mr. Robertson said, as well as improve the texture of cakes and muffins.

According to Rosa Regalado, general manager, Palsgaard, the company’s powder-activated cake emulsifiers can reduce variability in the ingredients and process, increase shelf life by maintaining a soft and moist cake, shorten ingredient list and improve the cake’s crumb structure and eating quality.

This article is an excerpt from the March 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on emulsifiers, click here.