Q. What does EMULSIFIER mean on the label?

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Tuesday, 03 September 2013.
Tagged: additives, fat, food labels, FSANZ, salad

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A. Emulsifiers are substances which stabilise mixtures and prevent oil and water from separating. In a salad dressing, for instance, an emulsifier keeps the oil and vinegar mixed so they don't separate into two layers on standing.

Common uses for emulsifiers in food products

Emulsifiers are used in baking to help incorporate fat into the dough and to keep the crumb soft and tender. So they turn up in breads, cakes, cake mixes and pastry. They help form an emulsion to make mousses, meringues, ice-cream, mayonnaise, salad creams and margarine. You'll commonly find emulsifiers in foods like:

  • Margarine / low fat spread
  • Salad dressings
  • Ice-cream
  • Frozen desserts eg cheesecake, chocolate mud cake
  • Coffee whiteners
  • Bread
  • Cakes
  • Dried potato
  • Peanut butter
  • Marshmallows
  • Chocolate coatings eg Ice Magic
  • Caramels
  • Toffees
  • Chewing gum

label_ingreds_emulsifier Many emulsifiers such as lecithin and glycerides are closely related to fats and are considered quite safe.

Lecithin (code number 322) is one of the most common emulsifiers used. It's extracted from soy and also sold as a food supplement in health food stores. It's rich in B group vitamins and choline.

Other common emulsifiers are sorbitan monostearate (491), mono- and di-glycerides of fatty acids (471) and polysorbate 80 (433).

List of approved emulsifiers

Here's a complete list of ALL the 24  approved emulsifiers and their code numbers. Note however that there are only four commonly used ones -  lecithin 322, sorbitan monostearate 491, mono-and di-glycerides of fatty acids 471 and polysorbate 433:




Polyethylene (40) stearate                                                                      


Polysorbate 80


Polysorbate 60


Polysorbate 65


Ammonium salts of phosphatidic acid


Sucrose acetate isobutyrate


Potassium pyrophosphate or Sodium acid pyrophosphate or Sodium pyrophosphate


Potassium polymetaphosphate or Sodium metaphosphate, insoluble or Sodium polyphosphates, glassy


Salts of fatty acids


Mono- and di-glycerides of fatty acids


Acetic and fatty acid esters of glycerol


Lactic and fatty acid esters of glycerol


Citric and fatty acid esters of glycerol


Diacetyltartaric and fatty acid esters of glycerol


Mixed fatty acid esters of glycerol


Sucrose esters of fatty acids


Polyglycerol esters of fatty acids


Polyglycerol esters of interesterified ricinoleic acid


Propylene glycol mono - and di-esters or Propylene glycol esters of fatty acids


Dioctyl sodium sulphosuccinate


Sodium lactylate or sodium oleyl lactylate or sodium stearoyl lactylate


Calcium lactylate or Calcium oleyl lactylate or Calcium stearoyl lactylate


Sorbitan monostearate



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Catherine Saxelby has the answers! She is an accredited nutritionist, blogger and award-winning author. Her award-winning book My Nutritionary will help you cut through the jargon. Do you know your MCTs from your LCTs? How about sterols from stanols? What’s the difference between glucose and dextrose? Or probiotics and prebiotics? What additive is number 330? How safe is acesulfame K? If you find yourself confused by food labels, grab your copy of Catherine Saxelby’s comprehensive guide My Nutritionary NOW!