With people’s priorities changing about what they consume, vegan-friendly diets are becoming a norm. It’s also one of the most promising food trends to occur in recent decades. The change has even been noticed by food industries as they have opted to make their ingredients vegan-friendly.
And, soy lecithin is one of the most common ingredients found in vegan products. It’s usually denoted with E322 on the label. Soy lecithin is a multipurpose ingredient that’s common in almost all processed food.
Despite Soy being in the name, it remains a burning question on vegan forums and communities if it’s okay for vegans to consume soy lecithin or not and if it’s vegan or not.
Well, to answer that, you must first understand what is soy lecithin and what is it actually used for.
So, here’s everything vegans need to know about soy lecithin:
What is Soy Lecithin?
Again, since it’s in the name, it should be clear that soy lecithin is extracted from soybeans. Lecithin is actually a fatty substance that’s mainly used as an emulsification agent in most processed foods.
Chemically speaking, lecithin contains phospholipids, mainly choline, glycolipids, and fatty acids. It traces back to the french chemist, Theodore Nicholas Gobley, who first extracted the compound from egg yolk, sometime in the mid-19th century.
Later, technology empowered us to even extract it from plants like sunflower, soy, and rapeseed. Though, most markets are dominated by soy lecithin.
The Uses of Soy Lecithin in the Food Industry
Lecithin is a multifaceted compound that has variable uses. Just in the food industry, it can be used as an emulsifier, a stabilizer, an additive to enhance shelf-life, a lubricant, a health supplement, and a fat substitute.
Is Soy Lecithin a Safe Ingredient?
This is a tricky question. Since soy is considered among the top 8 allergens, it may not be safe for someone who’s allergic to soy to consume it. Other than that soy lecithin doesn’t pose any safety risk for vegans or non-vegans, for that matter, as it’s a plant-based product. Also, as per the FDA, soy lecithin has been marked a GRAS or Generally Regarded as Safe category product.
Another important point that should be made here is, the allergic reaction from soy is caused by soy protein. Whereas soy lecithin is extracted from soybean oil. The extraction technique applied includes treating the oil at high temperatures which results in the elimination of the majority of proteins.
What’s left in the lecithin are only trace amounts of protein. While such a small quantity is not dangerous, some consumers that suffer from severe allergies might react to it.
Is Soy Lecithin Vegan?
A simple answer would be, yes as it is extracted from soy oil. The extraction procedure requires no such chemical or processing that can be objectionable to vegans.
It’s a safe-to-use plant-based ingredient and vegans shouldn’t worry about consuming it. However, to ensure a product doesn’t contain non-vegan lecithin, please check the label before your purchase.
Vegans must be wary of soy lecithin supplements that come in capsule forms as there’s a high chance that they are not vegan because they either contain gelatin or some other gels derived from animal sources.
Another growing concern about soy is its environmental impact. To begin with, the vast majority of soy grown in agriculture today is genetically modified or GMO. These plantations are considered environmentally hazardous by popular global environmental institutions.
One common criticism leveled at GMO products is that they have not been subjected to sufficient long-term studies to determine their safety for human consumption.
Second, soy is said to be the leading cause of global deforestation after beef. While soy is used for human consumption, only about 15% of soy is planted for food in the United States. The remainder is used to produce animal feed.
What is the Best Type of Lecithin for Vegans?
Sunflower lecithin is the best for consumption by vegans and non-vegans alike. It’s extracted through a cold press method and doesn’t include any harsh chemicals in the process. Plus it’s a non-GMO product, which is also a concern for many vegan consumers.
Also, soy lecithin is only vegan if it is produced without harming the environment or being mixed with animal products. Generally, powdered soy lecithin and liquid and powdered sunflower lecithin are the only vegan-friendly options in most cases.
Soy lecithin is a mixture of oils and fats derived from soybeans. Although Soy lecithin is a vegan ingredient, its manufacturing process doesn’t sit well with most vegan ethics. Still, this doesn’t change the fact that soy lecithin is vegan-friendly.
It’s commonly used in food as an emulsifier, stabilizer, supplement, and fat alternative. Soy lecithin supplements combined with glycerine, gelatin, and bovine cellulose are not vegan. Only powdered and liquid forms are confirmed vegan and certified by the EU and the US institutions.