An emulsifier (or an emulgent) is a substance that essentially helps in the formation and stabilization of an emulsion. Emulsifiers are surface-active agents that act as the interface between the two immiscible liquids, like oil and water. Emulsifier molecules have a hydrophilic end that forms chemical bonds with water but not with oils; and a hydrophobic end that forms chemical bonds with oils but not with water.
There are many different types of emulsifiers used in manufacturing. Here, we will highlight some of those used in the Food, Pharmaceutical and Cosmetic industries:
Emulsifiers in the Food Industry
The use of emulsifiers is prevalent in the manufacture of food products. Think of a simple vinaigrette salad dressing. If you apply kinetic energy (i.e. shake the bottle), the oil and water will form a fairly homogenous mixture. However, if you let it stand for a minute, it will separate out again. If you introduce an emulsifier like mustard or lecithin, the salad dressing will remain a homogenous mixture for longer. This produces the “creamy” style salad dressings that are preferred by many consumers.
Some common types of emulsifiers in the food industry include egg yolk (where the main emulsifying agent is lecithin), soy lecithin, mustard, Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Monoglycerides (DATEM), PolyGlycerol Ester (PGE), Sorbitan Ester (SOE) and PG Ester (PGME).
Emulsifiers in the Pharmaceutical and Cosmetic Industries
Different types of emulsifiers are used in pharmacy to prepare emulsions such as creams, balms and ointments. These products usually consist of a carrier, such as water, to which a chemical with medicinal properties is added. This emulsion is stabilized by the addition of an emulsifier to prevent separation and increase the shelf life of the product.
Emulsifiers are often used in beauty products like creams and lotions to mix water with essential oils. Water in oil emulsions are used for a heavier, greasier feel (e.g. night & sun protection creams). Oil in water emulsions are used in products with a lighter feel (e.g. moisturizing lotions or day creams).
Detergents are a type of emulsifier that will physically interact with both oil and water, thus stabilizing the interface between the oil and water droplets in suspension. This principle is exploited in the manufacture of soaps, to remove grease.
High Pressure Homogenization for Stable Emulsions
Emulsifiers clearly play an important role in the manufacture of countless products, but they are not always suitable (e.g. in the case of milk), and they are often not enough. DeBEE High Pressure Homogenizers can work alone or with an emulsifier for a smoother, more homogenous emulsion with more desirable properties.
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