Non-GMO, de-oiled lecithin available, organic coming

For food manufacturers looking for non-GM and organic sources for soy lecithin the news is good: non-GM sources are available and organic sources are becoming available.

Lecithin is an ingredient that is used in foods as an emulsifier, keeping oil from separating with water. It is also a stabilizer, and antioxidant. Lecithin is found in many foods, including chocolate, ice cream, baked goods, margarine, mayonnaise, infant formulas, meat sauces and gravies, instant drink mixes, and even cosmetics.

"Tip of the tail on the dog"

Lecithin is a by-product of soybean processing. Soybeans are crushed to make flakes, which then enter an extractor to produce soybean oil, using a distillation process involving a hexane solvent. Lecithin is separated from the oil by adding water and centrifugal force, and it is then purified.

The problem with producing lecithin is that a large volume of soybeans must be crushed to produce just a small amount of lecithin. As a rough example, 100 tons of soybeans would produce 85 tons of soymeal and flour, 10 tons of soy oil, and just ¾ of a ton of lecithin. As Lynn Clarkson, president of Clarkson Grain, says, "It is absolutely the tip of the tail on the dog."

Non-GMO sources

The proliferation of genetically engineered soybeans has made finding non-GM sources difficult, but they are available. Several U.S., Brazilian, European and Indian, companies produce non-GM lecithin. (See list below). Northland Organic Foods Corporation offers IP non-GMO fluid, granular, and powdered lecithin. Amy Nankivil, export manager, says her company's product is produced through a system of identity preservation, which includes extensive GMO testing. She says the product has met the needs of organic food companies who cannot source organic lecithin. "Our hard IP product has filled the gap for them," she says. The demand for non-GMO lecithin is strong, according to Nankivil.

Riceland Foods, based in Little Rock, Arkansas, supplies non-GMO LECIGRAN identity preserved and non-GMO deoiled lecithin and LECIPRIME IP and non-GMO fluid lecithin. Central Soya, based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, offers both fluid and deoiled lecithin as IP non-GMO or "PCR negative," meaning it has tested negative for GM material. CF Processing, based in Creston, Iowa, also offers IP non-GMO lecithin. Several international suppliers offer certified non-GMO lecithin, including IMCOPA and Caramuru in Brazil, Ruchi in India, and Degussa and Alpinetreat in Europe.

A "self declaration" of non-GM status with lecithin is no longer respected in Europe, says Richard Werran, assistant managing director of Cert ID, a non-GMO certification firm. "It has to be third-party certified," he says.

GMOs not detectable?

Ewan Ha, technical consultant, Functional Ingredients Research, says the GMO issue is a moot point with lecithin because the purification process to produce it may remove all traces of protein and DNA. "You could collect all lecithins on the market and send them to labs for GMO testing and they won't find anything," says Ha. However, a representative from a U.S. GMO testing lab disagrees, saying DNA can be detected and even quantified in lecithin. For those who don't want to deal with the GMO question, U.S.-based RIBUS, Inc., manufactures Nu-RICE, a natural emulsifier extracted from rice bran.

Waiting for organic

While non-GM sources for lecithin are available, organic supplies are not, though two U.S. companies, Clarkson Grain in partnership with Ojai Organics and Northland Organic Foods Corporation aim to produce it. The problem is that hexane, which a chemical solvent used to extract lecithin, is prohibited in organic production. As a result, lecithin must be produced using a physical extraction process, which is more difficult. "Without hexane, most lecithin remains in the meal, so you only extract small quantities," says Nankivil.

Clarkson has been working to produce lecithin for over a year. "It's taken about twice as long as it should," says Lynn Clarkson. This was due to quality problems in soybeans and soy oil. Clarkson solved the problems with better quality control and soybeans and found a reliable crusher who would take the necessary steps to ensure quality. Clarkson says commercial quantities of organic lecithin will be available by the end of this year, produced at facilities in Iowa and Illinois.

Ojai Organics will be the exclusive distributor of Clarkson's organic lecithin. Ojai president, George Kalogridis, says there is a "huge demand" for the product, including from cosmetic companies.
(July 2002)