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Since I live in Switzerland, many people around the world keep asking me questions about the country. How is it to live here? Is it really as beautiful as we can see on TV? Do you have a secret bank account? Most of all: Is the Chocolate really good, and can you send me some!

Generally, I must say I am a good ambassador for the country and no: I do not have a secret bank account (at least I would not say it here obviously). There is one thing I always bring with me, as a good ambassador for Switzerland, while travelling is Swiss chocolate. Know-How and quality are purely magical. Very recently people started asking me about the ingredients they can read on the packages of Swiss chocolates. One ingredient caught my attention; Soy Lecithin. Why do we need it and why Swiss Chocolate brands use it? Here is an explication that hopefully you will find useful.

What is Soy Lecithin And Why People Talk About It So Much?

First things first, here is a bit of history about Soy Lecithin. The word Lecithin comes from ancient Greek “Lekhitos” which means “yolk”. This is due to its discovery. It was in 1845 when French Chemist and Pharmacist Theodore Gobley isolated lecithin from egg yolk. He named it Phosphatidylcholine lécithine. Once discovered, Mr Gobley established the complete chemical formula in 1874. During this time he managed as well to demonstrate the presence of Lecithin in a whole variety of biological materials, which includes venous blood, human lungs, liver’s bile, brain tissue, fish eggs, Sunflower and Soya Beans oils.
Today, most of the lecithin used in the market comes from Sunflower oil and Soya beans which is a much more efficient way to produce it rather than from sheep brains or fish eggs. Why lecithin became so popular? Generally, when someone finds a substance easy to produce, non-toxic and that provides a multitude of different usage, you get a blockbuster in the industry. This is the case of lecithin. Sunflower and Soya beans are some of the most popular cultures in the world in the past 50 years. When we discovered all the different roles this substance could play, it became a flagship in many industries. Two of these industries are really developing very well in the past 10 years: Dietary supplements and Chocolates.

Being a natural material, Soy lecithin became a very popular ingredient and being used at less than 1% in different formulas there is almost no risk to humans.

How To Extract Lecithin from Soya Beans?

In order to extract lecithin from Soya beans, there are several processes. The most natural one has 2 steps. The first step is to squeeze or press the soybeans to extract the oil. This step happens by simple pressing the soybeans at normal temperature. The second step is to extract the lecithin from the oil. The process requires to blend the soybean oil into the water.

The mixture is then added to a centrifuge to separate the degummed soybean oil and mucilages (soy muds). Raw soybean sludge undergoes drying to yield raw soy lecithin, which in turn undergoes a set of operations before being marketed.


There are also other methods to extract soy lecithin with petroleum solvents which is a bad thing if we want to use it in food. Traces of solvents can be found in this lecithin.

Another challenge with soy lecithin is the origin of the soybeans and if the crops are genetically modified or not. While Switzerland has opted for non-transgenic animal feeds (, and therefore for non-transgenic soybeans, there is a worldwide increase in transgenic soybean (GMO) cultivation. It is currently estimated that around 82% of the soybeans produced in the world are genetically engineered (transgenic). Of the top three producers, the USA, Brazil and Argentina, only Brazil produces a significant amount of non-transgenic soy. The USA produces about 94% of transgenic soybean and 100% Argentina. The non-transgenic (non-GMO) soybeans imported by the EU and Switzerland are therefore sourced from Brazil and Europe.

In 2014, in Switzerland, the harvest amounted to 3’882 tons of soybeans. The UN World Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that global soybean production will reach 330 million tonnes in 2020. In 2017, 96% of the soybeans imported into Switzerland for a starter came from responsible production. The degree of achievement of this goal is measured annually.

The Role Of Soy Lecithin In Making Chocolate

Many friends asked me why can we find Soy lecithin in Swiss chocolate? To answer this question, we need to understand the role of lecithin and why it is important for certain brands to add it to some of their products.


The nontoxicity of lecithin leads to its use with food, as an additive or in food preparation. It is used commercially in foods requiring a natural emulsifier or lubricant. In confectionery, it reduces viscosity, replaces more expensive ingredients, controls sugar crystallization and the flow properties of chocolate, helps in the homogeneous mixing of ingredients, improves shelf life for some products, and can be used as a coating.


We tend to say that 100% pure cocoa butter chocolate is the best quality. Nevertheless, the aspect of the chocolate is less beautiful as a thin white coating might appear. The cocoa butter separates from the rest and crystallizes on its surface. Also if you are looking for a shiny coating you might have some trouble to obtain this result without the help of lecithin. Lecithin operates as a natural emulsifier, meaning keeping the fat (cocoa butter) together with the hydrophilic ingredients (like sugar and milk).


In principle, lecithin is present at a very low percentage in chocolate (between 0.3 to 1% of the weight of the chocolate). Depending on the amount of soy in the chocolate, it will be more fluid or more compact.

In conclusion, Soy Lecithin is not a bad thing in Swiss Chocolate. If the Soybeans from which it is made of comes from a reasonable, non-GMO-crops, it remains an interesting emulsifier.

José Amorim
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