Have you ever looked at the ingredient list of you chocolate?
A lot of people think that chocolate's ingredient is just chocolate, that's it. Well you will be surprised! You will probably see lecithin (soy or sunflower) and natural vanilla there. If you buy compound chocolate you'll see some added oils such as vegetable oil, hydrogenated oil, palm oil, or shortening and probably some other flavoring or other chemical ingredients.
Let's put those aside and focus on lecithin for now.
What is lecithin?
Lecithin is a term used for a group of yellow-brownish fatty substances occurring in animal and plant tissues. Commonly obtained from soy, sunflower or eggs. Lecithin is controversial for bean to bar makers having very passionate people on both sides. Lecithin is very controversial in the craft bean to bar chocolate movement you'll see very passionate people on both sides.
What does it taste like?
I've tasted a drop of soy lecithin few years back. It has awful taste but the annoying part was the feeling and the texture, It covered my tongue and mouth with a waxy paper or melted candle coating feeling. I imagine that it's very similar to dipping your tongue in hot melted candle wax. I could not get it off with hot water or mouthwash, It went away on its one the following night.
What does it do?
It's Primarily used as an "emulsifier". The emulsifier's job is to help bind water and fat as those don't usually mix. But there is no water in chocolate, Lecithin is used as thinner to make the chocolate less viscous or less thick and more fluid. If you bake with chocolate, some of them has a fluidity index right in front of the packaging. Although the same thing can be achieved with more expensive and more quantity of cacao butter. Experts say that, thinning wise, 1 unit of lecithin works as well as adding up to 8 units of cacao butter. So while fat content gives you a clue on fluidity, Added lecithin (and how much of it) is also is a factor.
Why is it in chocolate?
Imagine giant chocolate factories who process tons and tons at a time. With machines gear to make fast chocolate, factories uses big pipes that deliver chocolate from one step to the other. If the chocolate gets too thick is may clog the pipes or slow down production or worst break the machines! Less viscous or more fluid chocolate is much easier to work with.
Is it a short cut to making chocolate?
We think that chocolate making is very personal, Every chocolate maker has their own roasting profiles, preferences, methods, style, flavor, ingredient and textures choices. The chocolate maker has to balance flavors and textures with his skill or ingredient and ultimately has to decide on these. There are various things they need to consider.
Is Lecithin bad?
Bad for the chocolate?
Lecithin alters the texture and the taste. some people complain that it gives a waxy candle like consistency to the chocolate as compared to when adding extra cacao butter.
Apparently, soy lecithin does not contain sufficient soy protein residues to provoke allergic reactions in the majority of soy-allergic. Should be okay unless your deathly allergic to soy.
Bad for health?
Filipino know that chocolate (or sikwate) has heart helping and mind boosting benefits tagged by many as "Good for the heart" likely thanks to it's flavanols, antioxidants, and “good” fats (cacao butter) that promote better health.
This was also proven with data:
"Researchers found that consuming at least 3 servings* of chocolate a week was associated with a 10% lower risk of heart attack and heart disease compared with no chocolate consumption."
3 servings* = 90 grams or 2 of our bars
What about that added lecithin?
We didn't think lecithin is inherently bad, some people even take it as supplements. However reading on MD, PhD. Dov Michaeli's research on lecithin came to familiar surprise. Seems like lecithin supplements help cause issues that is was supposed to "help" with.
Here is a summarizing quote from Dov Michaeli:
"So, how does one make a decision about whether to take lecithin supplements? Since the lecithin metabolite (TMAO) is a known atherogenic substance, I believe that until we better understand whether it actually causes atherosclerosis, the prudent approach would call for moderation.
That means limiting your intake of the foodstuffs that have high levels of lecithin.
Further, since there is no credible evidence supporting claims of health benefits, there is no reason to take high doses of lecithin in the form of nutritional supplements. If you do choose to take them, based on what we know now, you could be increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke in exchange for no known benefit. It’s not a good trade-off, in my opinion."
Adding lecithin to chocolate started to look counter intuitive for us.
The thing that sealed the deal was how lecithin is made.
Soy processors out to cut cost, Immerse whole soybeans in hexane to separate the soybeans’ oil from protein, this is how soy oil is made. Left over sludge gets procced even more to extract lecithin. Hexane is a byproduct of gasoline refining. It is a neurotoxin and a hazardous pollutant. Because hexane is a processing agent and not an ingredient, companies are not required to disclose to consumers (wholesale or retail) that it was used in their production and not required to list it in the ingredients. Ingredients with Hexane can even be label as natural (as long as it came from natural products - aka what a normal person would eat such as animals plants and apparently even barks). Even USA's FDA doesn’t regulate the amount of hexane residue in food products and testing shows that lecithin in Soy oil was estimated to have up to 1000ppm hexane content where the limit is 290ppm.
To be fair we are probably exposed to a lot of toxic and chemicals everyday. Some may people argue that amount of lecithin in the chocolate (which is probably below 5%) may not affect you. But hey taking this stuff out of premium fine quality cacao beans is a good thing in our book, even if it makes the chocolate making process harder and longer to make. We want to make great chocolate people can enjoy everyday without worrying what's in the chocolate, especially people who enjoy the anti-oxidant, heart healthy, mood and brain enhancing benefit of chocolate. Here at Plentitude we prefer slow traditional processes with no adulterations. Our single-estate 2 ingredient chocolate are made from carefully hand sorted beans, roasted for flavor, traditionally stone ground up to 72hrs and tempered by hand. All lecithin and hexane free!
If you are taking lecithin, or eating chocolate with lecithin, though would be best make sure it's organic and not processed with hexane!
Sources and Extra readings: