Few ingredients are as poorly understood as emulsifiers. Necessary in everything from foods and condiments to cosmetics and personal care products, emulsifiers are often seen as unhealthy or unnatural ingredients. For consumers seeking to avoid chemicals, a new generation of emulsifiers is providing that stable, creamy texture in innovative ways. Let’s learn more.
What is an Emulsifier?
An emulsion is a mixture of liquids (like oil and water) that do not normally combine. Emulsions are part of everyday life, from mayonnaise to hair conditioner, hand lotion to salad dressing. An emulsifier, then, is a third agent that is added to un-mixable ingredients to allow them to combine. Some of the most common emulsifiers are:
- Egg yolk
- Sodium phosphate
- Some amino acids
- Mono- and diglycerides
- Sodium stearoyl lactylate
Emulsifiers are part of a class of compounds called surfactants. Surfactants are compounds that have molecules with a water-seeking head, and a water-avoiding tail. They decrease the surface tension between two liquids, and then the individual molecules in the surfactant bind partly to water in the mixture, and partly to oil in the mixture, forming a stable bond and a cohesive texture.
Problems with Emulsifiers
While most emulsifiers are natural and healthy, and some emulsifiers are actually good for you, some emulsifiers are perceived as unhealthy food additives. In fact, synthetic emulsifiers like polysorbate 80 and carboxymethyl cellulose are linked to inflammation and unhealthy digestive biome. While these specific emulsifiers are seldom used anymore, they have led to negative perceptions of emulsifiers as a whole.
It is also true that some health-conscious consumers may automatically reject emulsifiers as unwanted “chemicals” and additives on ingredient labels, even when the specific emulsifier has no negative health effects. In fact, nearly 2 out of 3 consumers, especially in health foods and personal care, react negatively to unfamiliar terms on ingredient labels, and choose products with more familiar, natural-sounding ingredients.
Why Do We Need Emulsifiers?
The truth is, while many consumers may look at labels and reject emulsifiers, most consumers insist on their end product: emulsions. In fact, emulsions are absolutely necessary in:
- Emulsified foods. Emulsions in food are important for creating consistency in flavor and food experience. For example, if an oil-and-vinegar dressing separates, individual bites of food may be very inconsistent, with more or less oil, vinegar, or other seasonings. The flavor and texture of a dish may change from bite to bite, or beginning to end of a course. Emulsions distribute flavors and textures evenly, throughout a salad, across a whole piece of bread, or throughout a dish.
- Emulsified beauty products. Emulsions are absolutely necessary for lotions, creams, and other beauty products. Emulsions hold beneficial ingredients in suspension, allowing them to be distributed evenly and aiding absorption in skincare products. Consumers vastly prefer lotions that are smooth, creamy, and unctuous over creams that may be grainy, oily, or inconsistent.
While consumers may tolerate textures that are uneven or “broken” in foods and solutions they make themselves, they insist on consistent, even, smooth textures in foods and products they buy from manufacturers. Emulsions improve product performance and consumer sensory experiences, and are needed in a huge range of products.
In order to satisfy the demand for products that are smooth, creamy, and stable, while also using ingredients that are safe and natural, innovative companies are pioneering a new generation of emulsifiers. Some of the most interesting advances are:
Cargill’s StarDesign™ Power
In an effort to meet the demand for personal care products with high oil content and a pleasing texture, Cargill Beauty took advantage of starch technologies developed by Cargill food scientists. StarDesign™ Power is an innovative vegan emulsifier that is 93% natural in origin, derived from corn, and easily biodegradable. It is a versatile emulsifier that can create fluid lotions or thick creams with a luxurious feel, while remaining natural, sustainable, and affordable.
CLEARGUM® is a line of corn-based emulsifiers with a wide range of specific attributes and applications. Designed for emulsification and binding, they also encapsulate flavors, vitamins, and other compounds. Specific CLEARGUM® types have applications in pharmaceuticals, beverages, sauces, dairy, and desserts, and can be used to provide creamy smoothness, chewy gels, or soft elasticity. They have a neutral flavor, low viscosity, and disperse in water.
ICL food scientists have developed a number of emulsifying salts. Emulsifying salts are typically used in the dairy industry to evenly disperse proteins and lipids, obtaining consistency in processed cheese and dairy products. JOHA® is an emulsifying phosphate salt, used to provide excellent texture and mouthfeel in processed and fresh cheeses, along with improved stability and smooth melting. JOHA® can also be used in sauces, soups, dips, and other food products to buffer pH and improve shelf life. Providing stable sources of protein that are long-lasting and easy to preserve helps to reduce food waste, and the high efficiency and versatility of JOHA® allow brands to use fewer ingredients and additives in snack foods.
Emulsifiers are essential to the quality and stability of a huge range of products, from food to beauty to pharmaceuticals. While some artificial emulsifiers have negative associations, these compounds remain incredibly important. Some of the most innovative laboratories in the world are working to make emulsifiers that are effective, while also being healthy, natural, and sustainable, and grapefrute recruits the talent that makes it all happen.