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Emulsifiers are substances that enable materials which would not normally mix to become closely distributed or dispersed throughout each other. The classic case is of oil and water.There are several examples of such phases in foods. A typical system is a water-in-oil emulsion such as margarine and spreads. In this system water droplets are finely dispersed throughout the oil phase. The most common emulsion type is the so-called oil-in-water-emulsion where an oily phase is dispersed in an aqueous system. Typical examples for such systems are salad dressings, mayonnaise and milk products. However, there are several other systems such as foams with air as a third phase. Ice cream, aerated desserts or cakes are such products with a complex system of dispersed phases.

Besides the ability to form emulsions, emulsifiers support various other features in foods. High amounts of emulsifiers especially monoglycerides and stearoyl-lactylates are used because of their ability to form complexes with starch. Such emulsifier complexes with the amylose fraction of starch offer the following beneficial effects in food:

Shelf-life extension
baked goods stay softer for longer
Anti-sticking of free starch
easier processing and improved texture in extruded snacks, instant potato products
Improved firmness
instant noodles, canned pasta

There are also interactions of emulsifiers with proteins. The interactions of DATEM, stearoyl-lactylates and polysorbates with the wheat protein gluten are especially important in baked goods. The stabilising and strengthening effect from such interactions gives doughs greater flexibility or tolerance during mixing, fermentation and proofing. Finally, because the dough remains properly developed for longer, it is able to rise more strongly when baked so the volume of the finished loaves or rolls is increased.

Further major features of emulsifiers are their influence on fat crystallisation and/or on aeration in food systems. The effects on fat crystallisation are exploited in margarine, spreads, nut creams, ice cream and dessert products.

Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids (EC-No. E 471 FDA 184.1505)

Mono- and diglycerides are the main emulsifiers within the food industry. They are used widely in all kind of processed foodstuffs. The application is not limited by only combining water and oil. This most versatile product can be used to improve shelf-life, guarantee production tolerance and further more.

Water in oil emulsions: In margarine and spreads mono- and diglycerides in combination with lecithins are standard ingredients for emulsification.

Oil in water emulsions: Mono- and diglycerides are used in infant food, milk analogues and health nutrition to provide a fine distribution of oil in the water phase.

Starch based products: The ability of starch complexation gives mono- and diglycerides a broad application in food. Baked goods have an extended shelf-life, sticking is reduced and texture is improved in dried potato products and noodles.

Other applications: Mono- and diglycerides are used as emulsifiers in ice-cream, meat products, soups and many other processed foodstuffs. Anti-foaming and lubricating properties of mono- and diglycerides are also used in some food applications.

Polyglycerol esters (EC-No. E 475 FDA 172.854)

The main application of these products is in sponge cakes and fine baked goods. They can also be used in coffee whitener, confectionery, desserts, shortenings, emulsified (cream) beverages and fried noodles. High hydrophilic polyglycerol esters which are often produced in Japan are also used as substitutes for polysorbates, but these products don’t meet the European specification for food additives.

Propylene glycol esters (EC-No. E 477 FDA 172.856)

Propylene glycol ester is applied in sponge cake emulsifiers, shortenings, whipped toppings, desserts and ice cream.

Mono- and diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides (EC-No. E 472e FDA 184.1101)

Nearly 100% of Datems are used in baked goods (for yeast-leavened wheat products). A small part of these products can be applied as hydrophilic emulsifier for colours, flavours and other hydrophobic substances as polysorbate substitutes. Due to the specific smell (acetic acid) the application in food is limited.

Sorbitan esters (EC-No. E 491 FDA 172.842)

“Multi purpose emulsifiers”, with similar performance to monoglycerides. Baked goods, shortenings, sponge cakes, desserts, chocolate products, ice cream, dried yeast, milk and cream analogues are potential applications. Sorbitan monostearate is mainly used in shortenings or emulsifier pastes for baked goods as well as emulsifier / coating for the production of instant yeast. Sorbitan monolaurate and sorbitan monooleate are used as solubilizer / solvent for flavours and plant extracts. STS is applied in chocolates to prevent blooming, a kind of fat crystallization on the chocolate surface.

Sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate (EC-No. E 481 FDA 172.846)

Sodium- and calcium stearoyl lactylates are used as softener for bread. Smaller amounts are used for dried potato products (not legal in the EC), emulsified (cream) beverages, snacks, desserts, instant beverages and fried noodles.

Polysorbate 60, 80

Emulsifier range with high HLB-values. These products are used as oil in water emulsifiers (solubilizers) for hydrophobic substances such as colourants (carotene), vitamins and flavours. Further applications are: ice cream, shortenings, baked goods, milk and cream analogues, soups and sauces, coffee whitener, desserts and chewing gum.

The main use of polysorbates is found in the flavour industry as solubilizer for fat soluble flavours and fragrances.