What’s the Difference Between Liquid & Powder Lecithin?

Would you like to know the difference between liquid and powder lecithin, and when to use each type? This article is a lecithin lesson illustrating the differences between these two forms of lecithin in making some favorite foods. We will discuss what lecithin is, the differences between liquid and powder lecithin, and whether they can be used interchangeably.


What is lecithin?

Lecithin is a fat from soy, or sometimes from egg yolks or sunflower seeds, that is a versatile emulsifier. Emulsifiers make emulsions, mixtures of fat or oil, and water that don’t separate out.

Emulsifiers like lecithin are effective because different parts of the lecithin molecule are hydrophilic, attracting water, and hydrophobic, repelling water. The hydrophilic part of the lecithin molecule attracts water, but not too much water, because the molecule also has a hydrophobic side. The key to success in using lecithin or any other emulsifier is to add just enough water or just enough fat for the emulsion to stay mixed.

Lecithin is an effective emulsifier in both liquid and powdered form. However, liquid lecithin and powder lecithin have different hydrophilic and hydrophobic tendencies. For this reason, they can’t be used interchangeably in recipes that call for them.

Between Liquid vs Powder Lecithin

Powder lecithin is more hydrophobic than liquid lecithin. It binds better to fat. It keeps a large amount of fat suspended in a small amount of water. It is used for “water in oil” emulsions.

Liquid lecithin has a more hydrophilic nature than powder lecithin. It binds better to water. It keeps a small amount of fat suspended in a large amount of liquid. It is used for “oil in water” emulsions.

If your recipe just calls for “lecithin,” chances are that it will come out better if you use powder lecithin added to high-fat ingredients. If you are adding lecithin to the watery ingredients, you will usually use powder lecithin. It will mix easily with ingredients that have high water content.

If your recipe tells you to add lecithin to shortening or butter or other high-fat ingredients, you will usually use liquid lecithin. It disperses water through the mix rather than allowing it to separate out to the top of the mixture.

Can I do Lecithin Substitution?

A question that comes up all the time is “I just have liquid lecithin” or “I just have powder lecithin” so “can I substitute it?”

Sometimes you just can’t.

Let’s start with the example of an emulsion of a small amount of oil in a large amount of water, like a vinaigrette.

A vinaigrette recipe will call for powder lecithin. If you stir up the lecithin in the mixture, it carries tiny droplets of oil throughout the product. But if you used liquid lecithin, it would form big drops of oil through the final product.

Now let’s consider the example of an emulsion that contains a large amount of oil with a small amount of water, like an olive oil cake.

If you use liquid lecithin in a baked goods recipe that calls for solid lecithin, it will concentrate water into droplets. These drops of water will turn into steam and escape during baking. The result will be crumbly and dry. The final product won’t incorporate the water that keeps it moist and fresh tasting.

When you use the wrong kind of lecithin in making an oil-in-water emulsion (a small amount of oil in a large amount of water), the results of your choice become more and more obvious the longer it sits. Powdered lecithin will be repelled by water molecules and settle out into a layer at the bottom of the emulsion. Oil will float to the top.

If you use liquid soy lecithin to make a water in oil emulsion (a small amount of water in a large amount of fat), like mayonnaise, it will eventually float to the top of the product. The oil you added to egg yolks (even though they themselves contain lecithin) will float on top of the eggs, just under the little blobs of lecithin.

The solution to problems in using lecithin is to make sure you have the kind your recipe calls for. Stock both liquid and powder lecithin, so you will always be able to use them to make perfect emulsions. Click to learn the difference between Sunflower Lecithin and Soy Lecithin.