An emulsion is a blend of two immiscible liquids, with droplets of one phase (dispersed phase) distributed in the other phase (continuous phase). In general, these are unstable systems in which the dispersed phase droplets tend to agglomerate or coalescence and separate out. In food we recognize both water-in-oil as well as oil-in-water emulsions, and both systems need emulsifiers.

An emulsifier is a substance that contains a hydrophilic and lipophilic part, and concentrate at the interface between oil and water, thereby making the emulsion more stable. The most known emulsifiers are lecithin, polysorbates, monoglycerides, monoglyceride esters such as acetem, lactem or datem, sucrose esters, polyglycerol esters, SSL, CSL and sorbitan esters.

Orange soup with bread

Functionality of emulsifiers

As explained above emulsifiers will stabilize water-oil emulsions, but in fact emulsifiers will concentrate to any surface of two immiscible phases, resulting in additional properties. Emulsifiers concentrate at the interface of gas and liquid/solid as air bubbles and contribute to the whipping properties in for example a whipped cream or cake batter. And they influence the interface of solids and liquids as ice crystals in ice cream or sugar crystals in chocolate. Emulsifiers are multi-functional, they influence the consistency, the viscosity and the texture of many multi-phase food systems.

Pouring warm water into tea cup next to a cookie

Interaction with other components in food systems

Emulsifiers form complexes with starch, preventing starch retrogradation and staling in bakery products. Another attribute of the use of emulsifiers in starch-based products is the reduction of stickiness in reconstituted products such as pasta and instant mashed potatoes.

Emulsifiers interact with proteins, particularly wheat gluten. This interaction strengthens the gluten network in yeast raised dough, making it more stable against mechanical stress, resulting in increased volume and improved crumb structure.

Emulsifiers are fat-like substances and they influence fat in several ways. Emulsifiers can promote or inhibit crystallization, influence the crystal shape of the fat, and improve the dispersion of fat crystals inside the food product.

Emulsifiers are used in various industries such as:

  • Bakery: cake, bread, icings and fillings
  • Confectionary: chocolate, chewy candy, and chewing gum
  • Convenience food; emulsified sauces and dressings
  • Dairy: whipped creams, aerated desserts, ice cream, margarine and spreads
  • Emulsified meat products


Please check carefully the laws and regulations applicable for you. Please keep in mind that you are responsible for compliance with any applicable legal and regulatory requirements.

Get in touch

Do you want to learn more about how emulsifiers can support the quality of your product? Together with our Food Experts you can find the best solution for your product. Contact Brenntag Food & Nutrition to learn more.

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