Emulsifiers | American Society of Baking
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What are emulsifiers?

Emulsifiers are surface-active ingredients that stabilize non-homogeneous mixes, like water and oil.1,2 When water and oil exist in a system, the oil eventually separates and floats to the top.  To stop this, emulsifiers are used as an intermediary for water and oil.

Various emulsifiers are used in foods and bakery formulas. Some common examples are lecithin, mono- and di-glycerides, DATEM, SSL and CSL. Examples of stabilized emulsions include:

  • Milk, a complex mixture of fat suspended in an aqueous solution
  • Cake batters
  • Icings and glazes
  • Butter/Margarine
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Historically, food systems have relied on egg yolks and soy phospholipids as emulsifiers. Commercial emulsifiers were introduced to the food industry in the 1930s in the form of mono- and di-glycerides.


An emulsifier’s functionality is based on the presence of lipophilic (lipid-loving) and hydrophilic (water-loving) moieties or regions. These bind to nonpolar and aqueous groups, like the image below:


Another important property is their hydrophilic-lipophilic balance (HLB). This is an indication of the size and strength of the emulsifier’s regions. HLB typically ranges from 0–20. Zero is entirely an lipophilic molecule, while 20 represents an entirely hydrophilic one.

In bakery products, emulsifiers help with:2,3

  • Batter stabilization
  • Enhancement of batter aeration or creaming
  • Crumb softening or shelf-life extension by reducing the rate of starch retrogradation
  • Dough strengthening for better gas retention and optimum product volume

In chemically-leavened, batter-based products

Sweet goods such as layer cakes and muffin batters are achieved by emulsifiers keeping water and oil together, reducing the surface tension.1

In yeast-leavened products

Breads and buns use emulsifiers to help with crumb softening and to reduce staling. Also, they can help with dough strengthening by promoting aggregation and cross-linking of gluten-forming proteins. Products formulated with emulsifiers have superior dough handling properties, higher gas retention capacity for better volume, and extended shelf-life.1,3

 Emulsifiers that function as dough strengtheners or crumb softeners:

Dough strengtheners (HLB > 10) Crumb softeners (HLB < 10)
  • Polysorbate 60
  • Ethoxylated mono-glycerides (EMG)
  • Succinylated mono-glycerides (SMG)
  • Mono and di-glycerides
  • Calcium stearoyl lactylate (CSL)
  • Sodium stearoyl lactylate (SSL)
  • Diacetyl tartaric acid esters of monoglycerides (DATEM)

Commercial production

They can be produced from fats and oils, or fatty acids with glycerin using a variety of techniques:

  • Direct esterification
  • Interesterification
  • Glycerolysis with lipase


The following table shows characteristics, application, usage and special considerations for some common emulsifiers:

Emulsifier HLB   Amount used (based on flour weight) Application/considerations
DATEM 8–10 0.1%–0.5%
  • White pan bread, variety bread or buns produced with straight or no-time dough systems (1)
  • Add to preferments, like sponges and flour brews, for optimum dispersion. These lipophilic emulsifiers are usually difficult to disperse and incorporate into doughs (2)
  • Commercial forms: fine powder soluble in fats/oils, and granular (3)
  • Compatibility with clean label and natural trend is debatable
Mono- and di-glycerides 2.8–3.5 0.5%–2.0%
  • (1) (2)
  • Commercially available as as hydrates (3 parts water to 1 part of emulsifier) and waxy forms. Due to their high melting point, waxy  forms are more difficult to handle and incorporate.
  • Clean label
Lecithin 8–10 0.5%–2.0%
  • (1) (2) (3)
  • Clean label

FDA regulation

Emulsifiers are regulated by the FDA in the United States. The following table summarizes emulsifiers’ maximum amount permitted by the Agency:2,4,5

Emulsifier Legal limit
Stearoyl Lactylates (SSL, CSL) 0.5% based on flour
Polysorbate 60 in cakes 0.46% of cake mix
Polysorbate 60 in yeast-leavened baked goods 0.5% of flour
Mono- and di-glycerides GRAS (limited only by current GMPs)
DATEM GRAS (limited only by current GMPs)
Lecithin GRAS (limited only by current GMPs)
Sorbitan monostearate 0.61% of cake mix
Succinylated monoglycerides 0.5% based on flour


  1. Stauffer, C.E. Emulsifiers, Eagan Press Handbook Series, AACC International, Inc., 1991, pp. 1–101.
  2. Finnie, S., and Atwell, W.A. Wheat Flour Handbook, 2nd Edition, AACC International, Inc., 2016, pp. 91–159.
  3. De Leyn, I. “Other Functional Additives.” Bakery Products Science and Technology, 2nd edition, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., 2014, pp. 299–305.
  4. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “21 CFR 172 – Food Additives Permitted for Direct Addition to Food for Human Consumption.” 1 Apr. 2018,https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?CFRPart=172. Accessed 7 July 2019.
  5. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “21 CFR 184 – Direct Food Substances Affirmed As Generally Recognized As Safe.” 1 Apr. 2017, https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?CFRPart=184. Accessed 2 December 2018.