Manufactures had previously been reluctant to switch to sunflower lecithin from commonly used emulsifier soy lecithin because the product could not be exported to Japan.
Sunflower lecithin supplier Cargill worked with multinational chocolate companies - that wish to remain anonymous - to achieve the approval.
Thorsten Bornholdt, Cargill’s EMEA product manager of fluid lecithin, told ConfectioneryNews that Japan’s approval opened doors for European chocolate makers. “It allows producers to switch completely to sunflower lecithin,” he said.
Bornholdt said that the cost of both lecithins was currently comparable, but the price of soy lecithin was known to be volatile due to supply concerns.
The bulk of non-genetically modified (non-GM) soy lecithin comes from Brazil. Bornholdt said that a major supplier suffered financial losses in 2009 and had since struggled to supply the same volumes before the crash.
Historically, sunflower lecithin was predominant in Eastern Europe, where sunflower was a key crop. Bornholdt said that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, sunflower lecithin began to come to Western Europe, but the quality was poor. However, since the decline in soy lecithin volumes in 2009, efforts had been made to improve the quality of sunflower lecithin, he said.
Cargill: Gradual shift to sunflower lecithin
Japan became the last country to approve sunflower lecithin when it added the emulsifier to its list of approved ingredients on 10 April under its Food Safety Act.
“Especially in Europe, we’re seeing a shift to sunflower. There won’t be a big wash immediately but it soothes the way,” said Bornholdt.
Sunflower lecithin is a natural emulsifier that can be added to chocolate by partly replacing cocoa butter usually at levels between 0.3-0.6%. Emulsifiers are used to obtain cost-savings and to improve molding processes.
“Cleary there are differences between soy and sunflower lecithin – not in chemical and physical properties, but sunflower has a different taste,” said Bornholdt.
He said that soy lecithin gave chocolate a beany taste, while sunflower lecithin made chocolate slightly sweeter – however only to trained taste panels.
Soy lecithin must be labelled as such because it is an allergen. But with sunflower lecithin, manufacturers in Europe have the option to call it emulsifier E322, emulsifier lecithin or simply sunflower lecithin.
“Most producers are choosing to mention sunflower lecithin. They don’t need to, but they like the connection with the flower on the label,” said Bornholdt.
No supply concerns from Ukraine tensions, says Cargill
Ukraine and Russian are among the biggest sunflower producers along with Argentina and the EU 27.
We asked Cargill if tensions in the Ukraine could have an impact on prices. “There’s currently no impact from the political situation – it’s business as usual,” said Bornholdt.
Cargill supplies sunflower lecithin through its Topcithin brand, which was introduced in 2008.