Why I don’t want soy lecithin in my chocolate
By Valerie Beck, founder of Chicago Chocolate Tours and Chocolate Uplift, the “Professor of Chocolate”
I was asked the other day why I’m against soy lecithin in chocolate, even if it’s organic soy lecithin. I replied that it’s because I’m against industrial sludge in any of my food, including my chocolate!
What is soy lecithin, and why is it in chocolate?
Soy lecithin is an ingredient used by commercial/industrial chocolate makers, to keep chocolate moving through their pipes. It’s an industrial waste product made from the sludge left after crude soy oil is processed with hexane and acetone. Soy oil refining companies found a way to sell their waste back to the food industry in the 20th century, in the form of lecithin. Whether that waste is organic or not isn’t the point. True, I prefer organic food to GMO food. But in the case of soy lecithin, even organic soy lecithin is still industrial waste, and there are whisperings that when it’s labeled as organic it still isn’t because there isn’t enough demand for an organic variety to actually produce one, but in any case it’s not part of the clean-food / artisan chocolate movement.
You might have heard that soy lecithin is an emulsifier, and this is true, though somewhat misleading when applied to chocolate. Emulsifiers bind water and oil. Think of a bottle of salad dressing: the oil and water naturally separate. Soy lecithin is an emulsifier in some products. But chocolate doesn’t contain water. If you’ve ever gotten water in your chocolate while baking, you know that chocolate doesn’t like water and will seize up. So why is soy lecithin added to industrial chocolate? To increase flow, sort of like paint thinner for chocolate. Cacao and sugar are all you need to make chocolate. Why add “paint thinner?”
What does soy lecithin do to chocolate, and to us?
In addition to being processed waste sold back to the food industry for further industrial purposes, soy lecithin alters the taste and texture of chocolate, making it slicker and more standardized.
I love the pure flavor and rich texture of unadulterated chocolate, and I love delicious, complex-flavor artisan chocolate bars with just 2 ingredients – cocoa beans and sugar – such as bars by Askinosie, Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, and so many others. Depending on how the cocoa beans are developed through the chocolate making process, chocolate makers can express different stories and provide different flavors. Without additives, the chocolate can tell a more nuanced story.
Moreover, there are other serious issues surrounding soy, as some studies show it can lead to thyroid problems, infant abnormalities, and cancer. This is the case whether the soy is organic or not.
The soy industry and Big Food industries are obviously massive, and some people will tell you that a small amount of soy lecithin in your chocolate won’t make a difference to your health. But even if you didn’t mind the flavor and texture reductions or alterations, the amount of soy lecithin that many people are eating may not be so small after all. That’s because it is in so many processed foods ranging from salad dressing and mayonnaise, to bread and cake mix, and even tea bags.
Do you want hexane-processed sludge with that?
Even if you steer clear of most processed foods and fast food, do you want any hexane-processed industrial sludge in your food at all? Imagine you were at a fine restaurant, and the server asked if you would like ground pepper, parmesan, or a few drops of hexane and soy sludge on your meal. Yikes!
Isn’t it an upside-down state of affairs when industrial waste in food is the norm, and we have to explain why we don’t want it?
What we can do about it
Don’t despair! How can you make sure there’s no soy lecithin in your chocolate bar? Read the label! If you see something you don’t like, or can’t pronounce, you can back away from the bar, and make a different chocolate choice. You can also contact the company and let your opinion be known.
Happily, there is a chocolate revolution happening right now, with wonderful bean-to-bar chocolate makers such as the ones I highlighted above and many more including those in my distribution and broker portfolio, creating amazing chocolate deliciousness with cocoa beans. By controlling the entire chocolate-making process, from sourcing the cocoa beans through controlling the steps such as fermenting, roasting, and mixing or conching the cocoa beans, they can draw out different flavors based on differences within the steps of that process.
More good news: artisan chocolate makers who use pure ingredients are generally the same artisan chocolate makers who use fair or direct trade, slavery-free, sustainably grown cocoa beans. Chocolate that’s delicious, ethical, and full of health benefits? That’s how it should be!
Remember: chocolate comes from cocoa beans, which are the seed of the fruit of the cocoa tree. Yes, chocolate comes from fruit! Keep the chocolate pure, and you have wonderful health benefits, wonderful flavor opportunities, and benefits rather than harm to farmers and the planet. That’s chocolate uplift indeed.