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Emulsifiers in Food - Definition, Functions, Types & Uses

Emulsifiers play a highly important role in the modern food manufacturing industry. It is like a bridge between two worlds that seemingly repel each other – oil and water. And emulsifiers help to create everything from bread to cakes, from salad dressings to chocolate. This amazing magic ensures stability and consistency in a wide range of foods. This article mainly looks into the definition, functions, uses, and different types of emulsifiers in food.

What Is An Emulsifier?

Emulsifiers are compounds that help mix two or more immiscible substances into a stable and homogeneous mass. The role of emulsifiers is to reduce the surface tension between oil and water molecules so that they mix and form a stable emulsion.

Common emulsifiers are surfactants with both hydrophilic and lipophilic properties in their molecules. An HLB value is normally used to depict the emulsifier's attraction to water or oil. A lower HLB value implies stronger lipophilicity of the emulsifier, while a higher HLB value implies stronger hydrophilicity of the emulsifier.

How Do Emulsifiers Work?

The principle of emulsifier is that during the emulsification process, the dispersed phase is spread out in the continuous phase in the form of micro-droplets. Surfactants and emulsifiers reduce the interfacial tension of each component in the mixed system and form a stronger film on the surface of the droplets due to emulsification. The charge given by the agent forms a double electric layer on the surface of the droplets, preventing the droplets from aggregating with each other and maintaining a uniform emulsion. From a phase point of view, emulsions are still heterogeneous systems. The dispersed phase in the emulsion can be either a water phase or an oil phase, most of which is oil phase; the continuous phase can be either an oil phase or a water phase, most of which is water phase.

Types of Emulsifiers: Natural Emulsifiers & Synthetic Emulsifiers

Emulsifiers are compounds that help to mix two or more immiscible substances into a stable and homogeneous emulsion. Depending on the source, emulsifiers can be categorized into two types: natural emulsifiers and synthetic emulsifiers.

What is a natural emulsifier? 

Natural emulsifiers are derived from natural raw materials such as rapeseed oil or palm oil. These emulsifiers have low toxicity but they have a short shelf life. Deterioration may occur after being left for some time. Common natural emulsifiers in food include lecithin, lanolin, beeswax emulsifier, gum arabic, etc.


What is a synthetic emulsifier? 

Synthetic emulsifiers, as the name suggests, are processed from various chemicals and come in both powder and liquid forms. Compared with natural emulsifiers, synthetic emulsifiers are more stable and therefore more expensive. Dehydrated sorbitan esters, gms glycerol monostearate, distilled monoglyceride, and span emulsifiers are among the popular synthetic emulsifiers used in food production. 

Each emulsifier has unique properties and is selected based on its specific application and desired result. Emulsifiers are essential for producing stable, high-quality foods with desirable texture and appearance.


What Is The Function of An Emulsifier?


Adding emulsifiers can reduce the surface tension of the system and improve the stability of emulsions, such as juices, protein drinks, etc. In addition, when surfactant is adsorbed on the emulsion droplet interface, it can act as a barrier to prevent the droplets from aggregating with each other. When a charged ionic surfactant is added, the emulsion droplets will repel each other due to the same charge, improving the emulsification.


Solubilizing Effect

When the content of the emulsifier in the system is greater than the critical micelle concentration, surfactant molecules aggregate to form micelles, which divide the solvent system into hydrophobic and hydrophilic regions. At this time, the surface tension of the solution decreases the fastest, causing the dissolved substances to gradually adsorb to the hydrophilic area of the micelles to achieve the purpose of promoting dissolution.

Anti-aging Effect

Food emulsifiers are generally used as anti-aging agents in cereal foods. They can react with amylose in bread, steamed buns, and other foods to form insoluble substances, thereby reducing the water-absorbing swelling ability of starch and preventing starch from recrystallizing. In this way, it can prevent aging and improve the softness of flour products such as bread and steamed buns.

Foaming and Defoaming Effects

Emulsifiers containing saturated fatty acid chains can be regarded as foaming agents. Emulsifiers in food create a fluffy appearance by creating air bubbles inside the foodstuff. The foaming agent is often used in pastries, bread, ice cream, etc. Emulsifiers with unsaturated fatty acid chains, on the other hand, act as defoamers. It can suppress or eliminate bubbles without affecting the taste of the product. Emulsifier as defamer agent is extensively utilized in dairy products, beverages, etc.

Common Emulsifiers in Food

Egg Yolk

Egg yolk is composed of protein, lipids, and water. The emulsifying properties of eggs come from their lipids. What’s more, the phospholipids in egg yolks have positive significance for increasing the pasteurization temperature and extending the shelf life of the final product. In the food industry, egg yolks are broadly used as emulsifiers in the production of mayonnaise, cake batter, salad dressings, sauces, etc.

Egg Yolk

Soy Lecithin

Lecithin is a commonly used charged amphoteric surfactant in the food industry, which is often extracted from soybeans, egg yolks, milk, sunflower seeds, and rapeseed. Emulsifier e322 is generally used in chocolate and ice cream and is less found in emulsions. Lecithin can be compounded with other natural emulsifiers to prepare mixed emulsifiers, which can stabilize emulsions.

Distilled Monoglyceride

One of the frequently used additives in the food sector is distilled monoglycerides (DMG). DMG emulsifier is composed of about 90% glycerol monoesters alongside a few free fatty acids and a small quantity of diglycerides. Distilled monoglyceride is recognized as a white, waxy material with an increased level of monoester glycerol. Thanks to its distinctive chemical composition, DMG food additive showcases exceptional properties that make it a suitable choice for various applications.

E471 is often found as emulsifiers and preservatives in baked goods, meat products, dairy products, processed foods, margarine, candies, protein drinks, and frozen desserts. In addition, distilled monoglycerides are also effective aeration agents used in the bakery industry to make cakes and other aerated products. With its addition, the quality, texture, and shelf life of food will be improved to a higher level.

Glycerol Monostearate 

Glyceryl monostearate, referred to as GMS, is a monoglyceride commonly seen as an emulsifier in foodstuffs. Glyceryl monostearate(GMS) appears as white, hygroscopic flakes or powder. Glycerol monostearate e471 used in food is produced industrially through the glycerolysis reaction between triglycerides (from vegetable or animal fats) and glycerol.

GMS emulsifier is a multifunctional and significant food additive. Glyceryl monostearate uses are broad in various sectors. Mono and diglycerides e471 are often present as an emulsifier and preservatives in processed products such as bread, ice cream, candy, margarine, pastries, biscuits, and protein drinks. Also, glyceryl monostearate for sale can be used for the preservation of meat products, dairy products, beer, soy sauce, and fruits. In addition to food uses, 471 emulsifier also has extensive applications in the pharmaceutical, plastic textile, and cosmetic industries.

Glycerol-Monostearate-GMS flake


Datem (Diacetyl tartaric acid mono- and diglycerides) is an important food additive. It is a milky white powder with a special acetic acid smell and is miscible with oil. The European code of Datem is E472e, and the INS code is 472e. Datem e472e is a good emulsifier and stabilizer with strong emulsification, dispersion, and anti-aging effects.

Datem food additive is a hydrophilic emulsifier typically applied in bakery products. Datem in bread acts as a dough conditioner to strengthen the gluten network increase bread volume and improve crumb softness. Emulsifier e472e serves as a foam stabilizer and dispersing agent in cakes and non-dairy whipped ingredients. Datem emulsifier is also involved in the production of biscuits, coffee whiteners, syrups, ice cream, spices, and salad dressings.

Sodium Stearoyl Lactate

Sodium Stearoyl-2-Lactate is also known as Sodium Stearoyl Lactate (SSL). Sodium Stearoyl Lactate is a synthetic emulsifier produced by the reaction of stearic acid and lactic acid. E481 emulsifier is a commercially available lactate salt as a beige powder or brittle solid with an HLB of 10–12. SSL emulsifier 481 is slightly hygroscopic, soluble in ethanol, hot oils, and fats, and dispersible in warm water.

Sodium stearoyl lactylate is a versatile and highly effective food additive used to improve the quality of processed foods. SSL food ingredient is an excellent emulsifier and humectant for fat-in-water emulsions. The largest market use of SSL emulsifier is in fermented bakery products. E481 emulsifier exists in most breads, buns, wraps, tortillas, and similar bread products to ensure consistent product quality. Besides, emulsifier e481 also is found in desserts, ice cream, pet food, chewing gum, canned meat, jam, fruits and vegetables, etc.

Sodium Stearoyl Lactate

According to different forms, food additive polysorbates can be divided into two forms: powder and liquid. Polysorbate powder is white but polysorbate viscous liquid is light yellow to orange-yellow with a slight odor. Polysorbate in food is an efficient and safe additive produced by the reaction of sorbitan fatty acid and ethylene oxide. Polysorbates liquid are highly surface active, with HLB values ranging from 14 to 16.

There are many types of polysorbate emulsifiers including polysorbate 20, polysorbate 40, polysorbate 60, polysorbate 65, polysorbate 80, and polysorbate 85. Numbers represent fatty acids associated with the polyoxyethylene sorbitan component of the molecule. Lower numbers imply greater hydrophilicity, while higher numbers indicate greater lipophilicity. Among them, polysorbate 20 in skin care and cosmetic formulations is prevalent. Polysorbates 60 and polysorbate 80 e433 are the most commonly used in food production. Polysorbate 80 in food is often employed in baked goods and frozen desserts as emulsifiers and preservatives.

Sorbitan Monooleate

The Span series emulsifiers are a mixture of ester compounds made from dehydrated sorbitol and different fatty acids. For example, sorbitan monolaurate is made from lauric acid, Span40 from palmitic acid, sorbitan monostearate e491 from stearic acid, and sorbitan monooleate span 80 from oleic acid. The span ingredient is a yellow, viscous oily liquid or waxy solid that is insoluble in water but easily soluble in hot ethanol.

Span additive in food is a w/o-type emulsifier, with strong emulsifying, stabilizing, and lubricating properties that can be used in conjunction with various surfactants. The Span series belongs to the lipophilic surfactant category, so its raw materials have low solubility in water and are often compounded with Tween series emulsifiers in the formulation. Span series surfactants and emulsifiers include Span20, Span40, Span60, Span80, and Span85. The Span series emulsifiers are widely used in various industries such as food, cosmetics, machinery, paint, coating, textiles, and leather.


Sorbitan Monooleate

What Are the Uses of Emulsifiers in Food?


Fermented foods

Bread emulsifier is an essential ingredient for making delicious fermented foods. Emulsifiers in food help to prevent aging and improve the fermentation capacity of the dough, as well as enhance the texture and taste. Moreover, emulsifiers and stabilizers can prolong the shelf life of food, making it possible to be stored for a longer period. There are two types of emulsifiers used in bread: dough strengtheners and dough softeners, each of which performs different functions. Dough strengtheners can make the dough more tough, improving the quality and volume of bread while dough softeners can make the bread softer and extend its shelf life. The function of emulsifiers in bread is to make the gluten and starch interact with each other, thereby improving the strength and stability of the dough, and producing better baked goods. Therefore, adding the right amount of emulsifiers to bread and pastries will make them delicious and healthy, thereby giving consumers a wonderful eating experience.

bread emulsifiers

Ice Cream

Emulsifiers are necessary additives in the production of ice cream and offer multiple benefits. During the production process, ice cream stabilizers and emulsifiers can promote the uniform distribution of fat molecules and effectively prevent the formation of ice crystals. At the same time, it improves the stability of the ice cream and prevents precipitation, thus enhancing the taste. Moreover, some emulsifiers can replace part of the fat and reduce the calories, thereby meeting consumers' demand for low-fat ice cream. As a result, emulsifier for ice cream are very valuable additives that help producers to create high-quality and tasty ice cream products.

Candies and Chocolate

Common candies such as cream candy, toffee, bubble gum, and chocolate also contain emulsifiers. Because these candies contain a lot of fat, manufacturers add emulsifiers such as molecular distillation mono-glycerides in the production process to make the candies more perfect. This can emulsify the fats and blend them better with other ingredients, preventing the fats from separating in the candies. Additionally, emulsifiers in chocolate can stabilize the appearance of candies and prevent the fats in chocolate from crystallizing, making the chocolate taste more rich and smooth.

emulsifier in chocolate

Plant-based Artificial Cream

Nowadays, vegetable-based artificial whipped cream has become an important ingredient in food processing. It is made from vegetable fats and oils as the main raw material, together with other ingredients. Emulsifier for whipping cream can form a stable structure by emulsifying vegetable fats and oils. This product uses highly saturated hydrogenated vegetable oils, such as coconut, palm oil, palm kernel oil, corn germ oil, and sunflower seed oil. These oils are solid at room temperature and have excellent texture and plasticity, similar to dairy cream. Plant-based artificial cream is a multi-functional product that can be widely used in the food industry, such as cake decoration, bread filling, mousse cakes baked goods, etc.

Meat Products

Food emulsifiers are also prevalent in many meat products. Common emulsifiers are soy protein, serum protein, and so on. Emulsifiers have the effect of emulsification and water retention. Meat emulsifier can effectively emulsify and disperse the oil and fat substances in the raw materials, and inhibit the precipitation of water as well as the shrinkage and hardening of the products. Additionally, emulsifier in meat plays an indispensable role in improving the color, aroma, taste, and shape of meat products. Emulsifiers in meat have become one of the important factors promoting the rapid development of meat products.

meat emulsifier

Emulsifiers in the Pharmaceutical Industry

As a popular surfactant, emulsifiers are widely utilized in the pharmaceutical industry for the production of injectable, oral, and topical lotions. Under the influence of emulsifiers, oil-soluble drugs can be made into emulsion-type injections. This substance can not only prolong the effective action time of drugs in the body but also reduce the frequency of medication. In addition, due to the amphiphilic nature of emulsifiers, they can form micelles in water, making them an ideal drug carrier.

Emulsifiers in the Daily Chemical Industry

Emulsifiers have become a crucial ingredient in the personal care industry, bringing convenience and benefits to our skincare and beauty routines. Whether it's makeup or hair care products, they all require the help of the best emulsifier. Emulsifier in cosmetics helps to mix oil and water to create a soft and smooth emulsion. In hair care products, emulsifiers can blend water and oil to create rich and non-greasy shampoos, effectively cleansing the hair and scalp. Conditioner emulsifier also has other applications, such as in oral care products, fragrance products, and even in industrial products such as lubricants and cleaners.

emulsifiers in skin care

Are Emulsifiers Good For Your Health?

An emulsifier is an additive that can improve the taste and appearance of food and also has the function of preserving freshness and extending the shelf life. Many people may be concerned about the safety of emulsifiers for consumption. However, emulsifiers are rigorously tested and approved before they are allowed to be used. These additives are reviewed by regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration(FDA) and are only allowed in food if they are deemed safe to eat. Therefore, as long as the amount of emulsifier used is within the range allowed by the state, people can eat it with confidence.

How To Choose the Right Emulsifier?

There are numerous different types of emulsifiers available. When it comes to selecting the best food emulsifiers, the HLB value is the most commonly used indicator. The HLB index is a measure of the relative proportions of hydrophilic and lipophilic properties within the emulsifier molecule, with a range of 1 to 20. Emulsifiers with an HLB value within the range of 3-8 are more lipophilic, making them appropriate for oil-in-water emulsions. Conversely, emulsifiers with an HLB value within the range of 8-18 are more hydrophilic, making them suitable for emulsifying fats or oils in water. By taking into account the type of oil to be emulsified and the application at hand, we can pinpoint the most appropriate HLB value and select the best emulsifier for the job. Reach out to CHEMSINO company for the best emulsifier price and free samples.

Final Thoughts

Emulsifiers are an integral part of the food production process, bringing more delicious food and joy to our tables. In our daily diet, emulsifiers are frequently involved in baked goods, dairy products, beverages, creams, cakes, cookies, etc. But its uses are very wide and not limited to food preparation. Emulsifiers can also be employed in pharmaceutical and daily chemical fields.
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