Lecithin is used in many commercially-produced foods to thicken or stabilize the ingredients. It can be derived from animal sources, such as eggs or plant sources. One of the most common types of lecithin is soy lecithin. If you are allergic to soy, or if you just don't want lecithin in your diet, here are some alternatives that you can use at home.
If your recipe calls for lecithin as a thickener, you can use cocoa butter instead. In breads, you can substitute cocoa butter measure for measure. Cocoa butter contains more fat than lecithin and is more expensive, but if you wish to use it, you can obtain it at most grocery and health food stores. If you are concerned about the taste of the cocoa butter, you can use deodorized cocoa butter to preserve the original taste of your recipe.
Egg yolk is an easy-to-find lecithin substitute that is a very effective emulsifier, or binder. Substitute one large egg yolk for every tablespoon of lecithin powder. One disadvantage to using egg yolk is that egg yolks have a much higher fat content than lecithin. If fat content is a problem, look for an egg replacer powder at your local health foods store. Follow the instructions on the box to determine the proper measurements.
PGPR, or polyglycerol polyricinoleate, is a castor oil-derived emulsifier that is used as a substitute for lecithin in chocolate and confections. It allows chocolate manufacturers to use smaller amounts of fat in its recipes. PGPR has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration since 2006, and multiple studies have proven it to be not harmful. However, it is not as healthy as cocoa butter, which it is usually used to replace.
If you are allergic to soy, or if you are averse to genetically engineered soy, you can use sunflower lecithin in your cooking. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it in 2009 as safe to eat. Sunflower lecithin is extracted using a cold-press process without harsh chemical solvents, making it the only raw type of lecithin.