Pure, high-quality chocolate is something to behold, to enjoy, and to savour. It makes the perfect gift and is great comfort food on good days and bad. Something so versatile and delicious has to be good for you, right?
At its essence, chocolate (in moderate doses) is not bad for you at all. It can even be argued that the sugar content (not always great) can be countered by how good you feel from eating it (again, in moderate portions).
Dark chocolate (the darker the better) is actually even proven to be good for you, improving things like memory, blood pressure, and heart function. True dark chocolate can have as few as two simple ingredients — cocoa beans and sugar. That’s it! How can anything that pure be anything but good for you?
However, there are caveats to the claim that chocolate is good for your health — the devil is in the details, as they say. What is important to pay attention to is the extra ingredients in addition to the basic chocolate components.
This brings us to soy lecithin. There is a range of opinions on whether or not this product is good for you — or at least not that bad for you. There are those that claim that it is harmless, others that claim that it’s just really not that bad, and still others who will say that it is a necessary component to making chocolate available to the masses and that that the benefits outweigh any little bit of harm it might do to the health.
Is Soy Lecithin Good Or Is It Bad?
What’s the deal? Is soy lecithin good or is it bad? Let’s lay out some facts and you can decide for yourself.
What is Soy Lecithin?
Lecithin comes from the Greek word lekythos, which means “yolk” because it was first isolated from egg yolk. This happened in 1845 thanks to experiments by a French chemist and pharmacist named Théodore-Nicolas Gobley.
The discovery of soy lecithin is dated back to 1889 when a German chemist named Ernst Schulze isolated it from soybeans. Germany then became a leading hub for the large-scale and industrial development of food-purpose lecithin.
But… what is it?
Soy lecithin is an ingredient used by commercial or industrial (in other words: mass producing) chocolate makers, as well as many (many) other food-makers.
To put it bluntly, this product that is both mysterious and ubiquitous is an industrial waste product essentially made from the sludge left behind after crude soy oil is processed with hexane and acetone. So… ya. It’s one of those things that is kind of shocking to find out about.
How Did We Get Here?
In the 20th century, the food industry expanded from small scale gardening and actual real food ingredients to a chemical laboratory carefully calibrated to keep people craving certain (junk) foods. During this time, soy oil refining companies found a way to sell their unwanted waste back to the food industry. This is was the birth of soy lecithin.
In 1930, Hansa-Mühle applied for the first patent to apply soy lecithin to chocolate. This kicked off the process by which Germany started importing soybean as a commodity from the fertile United States and selling back the finished ingredient to American chocolate makers.
Alright, so why is it in our food?
Soy lecithin is an emulsifier, a type of ingredient that performs a few tricks in the creation and preservation of food.
This product helps stabilize two mediums that normally don’t remain stable and homogenized after being mixed. Take a foam, for example (which is a gas-in-liquid or -solid). These components can be kept together thanks to the acting agent of an emulsifier. Another common example is oil and water — normally they separate but under certain conditions or by adding certain emulsifiers, they blend and stabilize.
There are plenty of reasons why this is important in creating, distributing, and keeping foods in specific conditions. Here are just a few of the products that soy lecithin is found in and why:
Soy lecithin provides stability and prevents separation, especially for products that contain oil and water.
- Baked goods: alters the texture and prolongs the shelf life, especially in products containing starch.
- Ice cream: improves airy property and prevents freezer burn and crystallization.
- Margarine and frying oils: create anti-spattering properties.
- Chocolate: alters the taste and texture of chocolate, making it slicker, smoother and more uniform.
Back to chocolate…
Why Is Soy Lecithin Added To Chocolate?
The basics are thus: “Soy lecithin is an emulsifier often added to chocolate to help bind the cocoa solids, sugar and milk so they stick to the cocoa butter. This improves the viscosity (“flowability”) of the chocolate when it is melted.”
Is It Good For You?
Wait, so is it good for you?
Oh yes, the original question. And the answer? Maybe… for some people… depending on how much. Soy is an allergen for growing many people, which, when consumed, can damage health. Also, the vast majority of soy comes from genetically modified crops. And since it is in so many products (seriously — check your labels), the overall consumption and health risks have not been studied on a level that matches intake.
Is there another way?
Plant-based lecithin can actually be extracted from a range of things, not only soybeans. Sunflower seeds and rapeseeds also produce lecithin. But since soybeans are grown in astronomical proportions around the world, there is a byproduct that needs to be used. How much? you ask. Hold on to your hat because the world is projected to produce 370.4 million metric tons of soybeans this month alone. So yes, there are other options out there in terms of soy lecithin, but if you start paying attention to the ingredients in your food, you’ll likely be surprised how often you find it.
The great news is that there is plenty of chocolate on the market that is high quality and pure. If that’s the way you like your chocolate, you’ll have no problem finding it. You can find these high qualities and pure chocolate in online stores.