Over the years, I’ve had several readers email me with concerns about soy lecithin and milk. Most couldn’t remember where they had read about it, but finally, one person paid close attention, and was able to send me those articles. Indeed, there are multiple online sources that falsely indicate soy lecithin as a dairy ingredient.
To be clear, soy lecithin is not derived from dairy, and it doesn’t contain milk. You can’t derive soy anything from milk, or from any other food for that matter. It’s soy lecithin.
Where did this myth start? A writer at Spoon University misinterpreted one poorly written sentence from a soy lecithin post on a body building website, and they ran with it. In fact, they put up an entire article titled, “Soy Lecithin Leads to Hidden Dairy in Tons of Food Products,” which was based solely on that one sentence.
But this does open up a curious topic that we haven’t addressed here on Go Dairy Free: lecithin.
Photo from Nuts.com. They sell this soy lecithin powder.
What is Lecithin? Can it be Made from Milk?
Lecithin is a term for a group fats that are amphiphilic – they attract both water and fatty substances. This means they have the ability to emulsify oil and water, for example. As you can imagine, this is very useful in food production. In small amounts, lecithin can help create a smooth, creamy consistency in dairy-free milk beverages, salad dressings, and other products, and can even aid in baking.
Lecithin is found in both plants and animals. It can be derived from various sources, including, but not limited to, egg yolk, fish, milk, soy, sunflower seeds, and cottonseed. Wait, did I say milk? Yes, lecithin can be derived from milk. But don’t fret, it isn’t common – at all.
Most lecithin used in the North American food supply is soy lecithin or sunflower lecithin. Egg lecithin is used to a much lesser extent (remember, eggs are not dairy!). And the other types are rarely used. In fact, to date, I’ve never seen a product that uses milk lecithin. I’m sure it exists, but it’s very rare.
And here’s the thing, FDA-regulated companies can’t “hide” dairy in the form of lecithin. There are certain highly processed forms of allergens that get a pass on allergen labels, but lecithin isn’t currently one of them. If a product contains lecithin that is derived from a top allergen (soy, egg, fish, or even milk), then the allergen must be clearly identified. See our Food Label Guide for more information.
Is Lecithin Healthy? Do People Use it at Home?
If you’re curious about lecithin, you can actually buy it for use at home. It’s sold as a supplement, and can also be used in recipes to help emulsify. I’ve used it to make milk beverages and homemade butter recipes. It isn’t essential, but can be the final touch to achieve creamy consistencies.
Lecithin is sold in liquid and granular forms, and is even sold as pills! People take lecithin for an array of purported benefits, including heart health, digestion, cognition, and other wellness reasons. Both soy lecithin an sunflower lecithin are readily available, and some companies even sell egg lecithin. Fortunately, milk lecithin isn’t in the mainstream market, yet.