Lecithin is a tan to amber viscous liquid or solid primarily derived from the soybean (Fig. 1). It is a complex mixture
Soybean oil undegummed
Soybean flakes defatted
Degummed soybean oil Lecithin
Soybean meal Soy flour and grits Soy protein concentrate Isolated soy protein
Figure 1. Processing of soybeans by solvent extraction. Source: Courtesy of Central Soya Company, Inc.
of phospholipids combined with triglycerides, fatty acids, phytoglycolipids, sterols, and minor neutral lipid components (1). Fourcray presented evidence of its existence in 1793, and Gobley first identified it from egg yolk lipids in 1846 (2). The applications and uses have expanded for this natural surfactant since its discovery, with more than 300 million pounds now available for commercial application.
Lecithin is present from animal and vegetable sources. The classic definition of lecithin referred to phosphatidylcholine and not the complex mixture commercially available today. Chemical phosphatidylcholine is known as 1,2-diacyl-sre-glycero-3-phosphorylcholine according to IUPAC nomenclature (3). The archaic term Lecithin is no longer used for phosphatidylcholine.
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