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Emulsifiers in Food: Functions and Recommended Types

Emulsifiers are essential ingredients in the food industry. They play a pivotal role in enhancing the texture, stability, and overall quality of a wide range of products. This article provides insights into the multifaceted functions of emulsifiers and recommends specific emulsifiers for various food categories.

Functions of Emulsifiers in Food:

1. Emulsification
All emulsifiers act as surfactants with both hydrophilic and lipophilic groups in the same molecule, promoting emulsification in both the oil and water phases. Emulsifiers with low HLB values stabilize water-in-oil emulsions (W/O), while those with high HLB values stabilize oil-in-water emulsions (O/W).

2. Starch Complexation (Fresh-keeping Agent in Baked Goods)
The straight-chain fatty acid chains in many emulsifiers can form complexes with straight-chain starch, reducing adhesion in reconstituted starch products like mashed potatoes and instant noodles. This property is crucial in preventing bread and cakes from becoming dry and stale, contributing to prolonged food freshness.

3. Viscosity Improvement
Some emulsifiers, when added to foods containing crystallized sugar dispersed in fat, can form a covering layer on sugar crystals, reducing viscosity. This property is useful in improving the flow of melted chocolate, for instance.

4. Foaming and Lightening Effect
Emulsifiers with saturated fatty acid chains can stabilize foam in water, making them suitable for confectionery, cake mixes, icing, and other convenient food foaming agents. Those with unsaturated fatty acids can suppress foam and are used as defoaming agents in dairy and egg processing.
emulsifier in whipped cream

5. Texture Enhancement
The complexation of emulsifiers with starch reduces aggregation, improving consistency and uniformity in foods like pasta, dehydrated potatoes, bread, and cakes.

6. Lubrication
Saturated monoglycerides and diglycerides act as good lubricants in the extrusion of starch products, facilitating process control. In caramel products, adding 0.5%-1% monoglycerides and diglycerides can reduce adhesion to cutting tools and packaging materials.

7. Improvement of Crystallization
Emulsifiers, when combined with optimal processing conditions, can improve the crystalline form, shape, and crystallization rate of fats in artificial cream, puff pastry, chocolate, and other fat-containing foods.

8. Moistening Effect
Emulsifiers generally serve as good wetting agents, reducing the interfacial tension between liquid and solid surfaces. This property is beneficial in producing convenient foods such as spray-dried sweets, coffee, beverages, instant breakfast, cocoa, etc.

9. Solubilization Assistance
Emulsifiers enhance the dispersion ability of liquids in liquids, forming clear solutions. This property is particularly helpful in achieving various colors and flavors when emulsifiers are used for solubilization.

10. Demulsification (Antifoaming Agent)
While emulsifiers typically stabilize emulsions, in some applications, especially during processing, demulsification or antifoaming is required. In such cases, emulsifiers with a relative form or those disrupting the balance of the emulsion system are used.

11. Flavor Improvement
In many food products, emulsifiers can improve the taste, making it smoother, and more delicate, and improving the overall eating experience.

12. Suspension Effect
A suspension is tiny, insoluble particles firmly dispersed in a liquid medium. The suspension effect of emulsifiers mainly assists in redistributing insoluble components when wet, allowing them to re-disperse.

13. Dispersion Effect
The dispersion of solids, liquids, and gases is determined by the effect of emulsifiers on reducing interfacial energy. Foods such as ice cream, coffee, margarine, and flavored beverages are made using these phenomena.

The Optimal Emulsifiers for Various Types of Food Can Be Categorized As Follows:


(1) Emulsifiers for Flour Products:

Steamed Buns: SSL, CSL, DATEM, GML
Pastries: SSL, PGMS, GMS, Span60, GML
Noodles, Instant Noodles: DATEM, SSL, CSL
Cookies: GMS, PGMS, Phospholipids, CSL, SSL
Spicy Food: SSL, PGFE, GMS, GML
Dumpling Flour Improvers: GMS, SSL, DATEM, GML, PGFE
emulsifier in baking

(2) Emulsifiers for Dairy Products:

Acid Milk: PGFE, GML, GMS, SE-15
Acidic Milk Drinks: Span60, PGFE, SE-15
Fruit and Vegetable Juice Drinks: PGFE, SSL, Span60
Ice Cream: DMG,SSL, PGMS, GMS, PGFE, Span60, PGPR
Chocolate, Candy: GMS, PGPR, GMC, ODO

(3)Emulsifiers for Meat Products: SSL, GMS, DMG, GML

(4)Emulsifiers for Pigments: GMC, ODO, SPAN, Polysorbate, MS-20

(5) Emulsifiers for Flavors: MPG, GMS, SPAN, Polysorbates

(6) Emulsifiers for Seed Powder: SSL, DATEM, GMS, SPAN, PGFE

(7) Emulsifiers for Margarine: DMG, SSL, PGMS, GMS, PGE

(8) Emulsifiers for Animal Feed: SSL, PGFE, Span60, GMS
emulsifier  in dairy products

Precautions When Using Food Emulsifiers

In order to achieve the best effect of emulsifier during use, you need to pay attention to the following points:
(1) The emulsifier should undergo a-crystalline pretreatment before use so that the emulsifier can exert its best effect.
(2)Emulsifiers should be prepared in a hydrated state before use, significantly improving and enhancing their emulsifying effects. However, this method may not be as effective as a crystallization pre-treatment.
(3) If powdery emulsifier is used directly, the effect is the worst.
(4) Combining different emulsifiers can complement each other, synergistically enhancing their efficacy and significantly improving overall performance.


In summary, common emulsifiers contribute to various aspects of food, elevating its quality, taste, and storage stability. They empower the food industry to produce a wider range of delectable and convenient products.
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