Home Articles Islam Emulsifiers and Stabilisers in Foods

What is an emulsion?
We know that oil and water do not mix. When we vigorously mix the two liquids it results in fine droplets of oil suspended in the water. This cloudy or white product is called an emulsion. The finer the droplets of oil that are suspended in the water, the better or smoother the emulsion. Examples of emulsions are milk, butter, margarine, mayonnaise and ice cream.

What are emulsifiers?
In order to form an emulsion a large amount of energy and work is required to vigorously mix and often to heat the two unmixable liquids. Emulsifiers are products that are added to the oil and water mix in order that the emulsion may form easily and with less work and energy.

Give some common examples of emulsifiers
The most common food emulsifier is lecithin (E322). Lecithin may be obtained from egg yolk or Soya beans. Egg yolk has been used in food preparation as a natural emulsifier, for example in making mayonnaise. Other emulsifiers are vegetable gums, some fatty acids like magnesium stearate, and glycerides. Pectin, which is found in some fruits, is also commonly used as an emulsifier.

Which emulsifiers are not suitable for Muslim consumption?
Emulsifiers may be derived from animal oils and fats, like lard and tallow, or from vegetable oils such as palm oil. Those from animal sources must be scrutinised for suitability. Any stearates, glycerides, palmitates, oleates etc may be from animal or vegetable sources.

What are Stabilisers?
When an emulsion is left to stand, the oil droplets may start separating from the water. In order to stop this process, a stabiliser may be added to the emulsion. Examples of stabilisers are gelatine and carrageenan. Stabilisers may also be found in other systems such as suspensions.

Can an emulsifier be a stabiliser?
Yes. Some emulsifiers work so well to produce the emulsion system that the emulsion does not break. These emulsifiers act as stabilisers as well.

Are emulsifiers and stabilisers only found in foods?
No. Emulsion systems are found in other types of products as well. Cosmetic emulsions are known as lotions or creams or milks. Metal working fluids are other examples of emulsions.