Vegan Emulsifiers: A Full Guide

I’m sure you’ve come across the term “emulsifiers” on food labels and in recipes. These hidden ingredients have become such an important part of our lives. In fact, you’ll find them in basically 99% of what you eat.

I did a deep dive on this topic to create this full guide to vegan emulsifiers. Below, I’ll discuss common plant-based emulsifiers like the following:

  • guar gum
  • xanthan gum
  • soy lecithin
  • gellan gum
  • agar-agar
  • mustard powder

I’ll also share the 8 best ways to replace eggs in vegan baking. Let’s dive in!

What Exactly Are Emulsifiers?

Agar-agar—often used as a vegan emulsifier. Check price on Amazon here. (photo credit)

I’ve got news for you! You’ve been eating emulsifiers all of your life. They’re the most commonly used type of food additives. Emulsifiers help give your food texture, consistency, and freshness.

Emulsifiers are substances that have properties similar to both water and fats at the same time.

Picture emulsifiers as good friends trying to bring water and oil together. Their job is to hold out one hand for the oil to hold, and another for the water to hold.

The science behind this is that emulsifier molecules have 2 sides. One is the hydrophilic end (that loves water) and the other is the hydrophobic end (that loves oil). When you shake the mixture up, you get a stable emulsion.

Emulsifiers are necessary to make our food taste and look better. Some even make food healthier. They’re in jams, sauces, salad dressings, baked goods, and so many other delicious dishes.

Types of Emulsifiers

The best known emulsifier in the world: Egg yolks. Not vegan!

There are 2 types of emulsifiers:

  • Natural (both animal-based and plant-based)
  • Synthetic (man-made; used to help speed up the emulsion process)

The best-known type of emulsifier is one that comes from egg yolk, lecithin. Lecithin can be found in chocolates, candy, salad oils, grill shortening, and more. Since it comes from egg yolk, an animal product, lecithin is not vegan.

Other common emulsifiers are:

Are Emulsifiers Safe?

Emulsifiers are generally considered safe by medical experts. If they weren’t safe, they wouldn’t be allowed in our food by organizations like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The only potential problem is that synthetic emulsifiers may gradually get stored in our bodies and accumulate over the years. This could be a problem because synthetic emulsifiers are so common in the packaged and processed foods we eat.

With natural emulsifiers, however, we don’t face that problem at all. In fact, each of the vegan emulsifiers I’ve listed below has several health benefits, without the risk.

Emulsifiers on Food Labels

One way to find out what types of emulsifiers are in your food is to read food labels. This is where you’ll find all the information you need about what went into making that type of food.

I did a whole blog post on reading ingredients lists as a vegan. It’s a skill I think all vegans should have.

Each emulsifier is given a standard code and number. These have been approved by the European Union (EU), the New Zealand Food Safety Association, as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Those that start with the letter “E” are those that have been approved by the EU. The numbers may appear without the “E” in other parts of the world.

Here’s a list of the most common types of vegan emulsifiers found in food products, and their number codes found on food labels.

  • Soy Lecithin = E322
  • Agar-agar = E406
  • Xanthan Gum = E415
  • Guar Gum = E412
  • Acacia Gum (also known as gum Arabic powder) = E414
  • Gellan Gum = E418

6 Common Plant-Based Emulsifiers

Plant-based emulsifiers are a group of natural emulsifiers. There are many vegan, or plant-based, emulsifiers you can use in your recipes.

Some examples are wheat, soy, pea protein-based, or any type of healthy unsaturated vegetable oil. These are all healthy substitutes for protein-based emulsifiers.

The best-known vegan emulsifiers are:

1. Agar-agar

Agar-agar, also known as Kanten, is a gelatin-like substitute. It’s made from various Southeast Asian seaweed vegetation. Check the price on Amazon here.

Agar-agar is sold in powder form, flakes, or washed and dried strips. It’s mainly used to make jellies, custards, and puddings. You can also use cornstarch as a substitute for agar-agar in recipes if needed.

It’s one of the most nutritious ingredients. It prevents the body from storing excess fat (source). Plus, it has zero calories, fat, sugar, and carbs. At the same time, it has a high fiber content.

2. Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is a sugar-like substance that’s used as a food thickening agent. You can use it to make all sorts of gluten-free baked goods. Check the price on Amazon here.

It’s also used to thicken up gravy, stews, and sauces. In addition, xanthan gum is found in pastry fillings and pie crusts.

Its health benefits include lowering blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels (but this may happen in very high doses). Plus, it can also prevent certain types of cancer and help eliminate constipation. (source)

If you don’t have xanthan gum, one great substitute for recipes is cornstarch. Cornstarch is gluten-free and has no flavor of its own. Agar-agar can also be used as a substitute for xanthan gum.

3. Soy Lecithin

Soy lecithin is a commonly used emulsifier. It’s known for its ability to create light foams as you’re preparing your recipes. It also gives all types of dough elasticity and a better tolerance for liquids. Check the price on Amazon here.

It’s derived from soybean oil. This results in a substance that’s almost 100% free from any soy proteins. However, it does behave like a protein in its emulsifying properties.

This food additive is usually found in bread, ice cream and other dairy products, infant formulas, and other convenience foods.

Soy lecithin has many health benefits. The most important is that it is rich in the nutrient choline. Choline plays a significant role in keeping our cells healthy and vibrant.

Alternatives to soy lecithin, if needed, are potato starch, gum arabic powder, or tapioca starch.

4. Guar Gum

Guar gum is extracted from the guar plant, native to Africa and Asia. This plant grows beans that are similar to the pea family. These beans are ground to form a fine powder or guar gum. Check the price on Amazon here.

This stabilizer is used in foods such as yogurt, ice-cream, breakfast cereals, gluten-free baked goods, and many more. It’s also found in condiments, salad dressings, and sauces.

You can use agar-agar or flaxseeds as alternatives to guar gum if needed.

Some of its health benefits are treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diabetes, and obesity. It also regulates blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Another great health benefit is its ability to help prevent heart disease (atherosclerosis). (source)

5. Gellan Gum

Gellan gum is similar to xanthan gum. They’re both produced via bacterial fermentation (no animals involved). Gellan gum is often used in vegan foods as an alternative to gelatin. Check the price on Amazon here.

Gellan gum doesn’t only act as an emulsifier. It’s also a bulking agent, a thickener, and a stabilizer. You’ll find this ingredient in jams, sauces, baked goods, and confectionery products.

It’s high in fiber, so it can help prevent and treat constipation and other digestive problems.

6. Mustard Powder

Mustard powder is made from finely ground mustard seeds. In most cases, saffron or turmeric is added to give a boost of color and taste. Check the price on Amazon here.

It works as an emulsifier thanks to the outer coating found on the mustard seed. This coating is called mucilage. It acts as a thick, gluey substance that boosts the emulsifying power of mustard powder.

Not every dish can tolerate mustard powder. It has a rich and savory flavor. Dijon mustard can be used as a substitute. Just make sure you use only a few teaspoons. Prepared mustard can affect the taste of certain foods.

Mustard powder is a good source of magnesium, selenium, and several other minerals. It can help prevent certain types of cancer, as well as manage symptoms of asthma and lower your cholesterol. (source)

The Best 8 Egg-Alternatives for Vegan Recipes

Eggs can play different roles in different recipes, but the most important function eggs have in baking is to act as an emulsifier. They also add moisture and fluffiness to your baked goods.

But as a vegan, you can still enjoy all your favorite recipes without the use of eggs. Simply substitute the eggs with a nutritious, delicious vegan emulsifier.

Here are 6 of the basic vegan alternatives to replace 1 whole egg. These should help give you fluffy and moist baked goods:

Which Egg Replacer Should You Use for Each Recipe?

To answer this question, be mindful of the texture and the taste of what you’re adding.

For example, I’ve found that the “flax egg” method (mixing flax and water) is good for earthy, grainy textures. Specifically, I like it in whole-grain muffins, pancakes, or cookies.

In contrast, something sweet like applesauce or mashed banana work well in vegan cakes. Just be careful about putting too much applesauce or banana in the recipe. It can leave you with a mushy cake on the inside if over-done.

When it comes to the Ener-G Egg Replacer (Amazon link), it’s super convenient, but it works best with recipes from scratch. I’m not sure why. But I found that it didn’t make a difference when added to a vegan box mix of cake, and I’ve heard the same from others.

If you just Google questions like “what egg replacer is best for cake” or “best egg replacer for _____,” you may get more detailed answers from other experienced vegans, as well!

Also note: Some recipes that call for eggs don’t actually need anything to replace them. I’ve discovered this from my own trial and error.

For example, when making pancakes from a box mix, it says to add an egg. I just didn’t add anything, and they turned out great anyway. So, sometimes you can get away with just ignoring the egg all together.

More Recommendations for Your Vegan Journey

1. This is the best free vegan transition course I know of. It’ll quickly get you up-to-speed on the why and how of veganism, bust myths, and give you a healthy 3-day meal plan. The bloggers who made it (Nutriciously) are awesome people, and they make great e-books, too. But at least sign-up for their free course.

2. This is the best multivitamin I’ve found in 13 years of being vegan. It contains vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega-3, and nothing else. Translation: It has the nutrients vegans are actually low in. Not 100+ random vitamins. Read my full review of Future Kind’s multivitamin here (with 10% discount code).

3. More Guides to Vegan Ingredients: Have you wondered about other vegan baking ingredients like cream of tartar, cocoa powder, or turbinado sugar? Click each to check out my posts about them.

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