What are Emulsifiers?

The term ‘emulsifier’ might sound like something from a lab, but for home cooks who have whipped up a vinaigrette, you’ll be familiar with it perhaps without even realising.

Emulsifiers are used in food and drink where they have the crucial role of mixing and stabilising ingredients that don't naturally blend together, like oil and water. A common example is mayonnaise: the egg acts as an emulsifier to help mix the oil and lemon juice. Away from home, emulsifiers are used in the food industry and added to all sorts of products, including salad dressings, peanut butter, ice cream and baked goods. They are the reason your food stays smooth, enhancing taste, texture and shelf life. As well as being present in food items, emuslifiers are also used in pharmaceutical, personal hygiene, and cosmetic products.

What are the different types of emulsifiers?

By law, manufacturers must provide information about any additives used and must list them on the label, along with their corresponding E number.

Here are a few common examples:

  • Lecithin (E322): Naturally present in egg and vegetable oils, and can also be derived from sources such as soybeans and sunflower seeds.
  • Carrageenan (E407): This natural emulsifier is extracted from certain types of seaweed.
  • Mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids (471): Derived from glycerol and natural fats, which can come from either vegetable or animal sources.
  • Carboxymethylcellulose (E466): A versatile additive, whose role varies from enhancing the texture of baked foods to serving as a stabilser.
  • Xanthan gum (E415): This emulsifier is created by fermenting sugar with a particular species of bacteria and acts as a thickening agent.

What is the concern with emuslifiers?

Some people claim that emulsifiers could adversely influence the gut microbiome and contribute to inflammation. This is mostly based on a 2015 study[1] which tested this theory on mice using two commonly used emulsifiers, carboxymethylcellulose (466) and polysorbate-80 (433). The researchers found these emulsifiers changed the makeup of microbiota in the guts of the mice, and resulted in a production of inflammatory molecules.

Carrageenan, another emulsifier, has been a subject of debate, with an animal study[2] hinting at potential health concerns, disrupting the gut epithelial function. Yet, it’s important to point out that in 2018, the European Food Safety Authority conducted a safety reassessment for carrageenan, ultimately approving their ongoing use[3]

As with all things in science, it is crucial to approach the research critically and evaluate the presented information. It’s important to note that most of the studies have been carried out on rodents, implying that the results may not directly translate to humans. Also, the concentrations of emulsifiers administered to the mice exceeded the average daily intake usually seen by humans, raising further uncertainties.

It’s important to note that many of the correlations discovered can be attributed to the presence of emulsifiers in processed foods which also contain a range of other ingredients, making it difficult to establish a clear cause-and-effect relationship.

Are Emulsifiers Safe?

Emulsifiers make up a very small proportion of a product and are safe for consumption when used within regulatory guidelines. It’s also important to remember that the FDA finds no safety concerns[4] with common emulsifiers at current consumption levels.

It's essential to be aware of individual sensitivities, but overall, emulsifiers play a crucial role in food and product formulations, contributing to texture and overall quality.

Emulsifiers in Huel

Huel Ready-to-drink and Huel Complete Nutrition Bars include sunflower lecithin which is technically classed as an emulsifier. Sunflower lecithin is used to help the texture and shelf life of the products as well as provide a small amount of essential fatty acids, fat soluble vitamins and electrolytes.

We use xanthan and guar gum in our powders (v3.1, Black Edition and Essential) to keep all our ingredients together and give Huel a thick, creamy texture. Without it, Huel would separate in your shaker in seconds. We also use gellan gum in our Ready-to-drink bottles.


  1. Chassaing B et al. Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome. Nature. 2015; 519(7541):92-6.
  2. Fahoum L et al. Digestive fate of dietary carrageenan: Evidence of interference with digestive proteolysis and disruption of gut epithelial function. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2017;61(3)
  3. EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food, Younes et al. Scientific Opinion on the re-evaluation of carrageenan (E 407) and processed Eucheuma seaweed (E 407a) as food additives. EFSA Journal 2018;16(4)
  4. International Food Additives Council. FDA finds no safety concerns with common emulsifiers at current consumption levels. Date Accessd: 19/12/23

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