This article will explore the two main reasons you may want to use lecithin in your cannabis infusions and cooking and explore when you should, and shouldn't, use lecithin when making your own cannabis edibles at home.
Lecithin In Cannabis Edibles
I recently received this question from Mollie, a member of my Well With Cannabis Facebook Community:
"Sunflower Lecithin in gummies.....is it necessary? Also, if I have it in powdered form, is there a way to mix it with water so I could use it in the recipe?"
A great question!
This article will give an in-depth look at what lecithin is, when and why you want to use it in your cannabis edibles, and explore the different forms like powdered or liquid, sunflower or soy.
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What is Lecithin?
Lecithin is a type of fat that is essential for the proper functioning of cells in our body.
This natural phospholipid substance can be derived from soybeans, sunflowers, eggs, avocados, and more.
Lecithin can be found naturally within these foods or as a supplement purchased online or at a health food store.
Lecithin may be a new ingredient you’re not used to cooking with, but it can be an important staple ingredient for any cannabis kitchen.
Next, we will dive deep into the two primary reasons people use lecithin when making cannabis edibles and explore if adding lecithin is right for you and your needs.
Why Use Lecithin?
If you're brand new to cannabis edibles, you may be unfamiliar with lecithin and why people use it in their at-home infusions and baked goods.
There are two primary reasons people use lecithin in cannabis edibles:
- To act as a stabilizer and emulsifier to combine oil and water for recipes like cannabis gummies
- To increase the potency of an infusion by increasing the bioavailability of cannabinoids in the body
The first reason for adding lecithin to edibles as an emulsifier is basic culinary science.
Like water and oil, two opposing ingredients will never naturally combine without the addition of an emulsifier.
They will naturally separate over time, leaving a layer of water and a layer of oil.
By adding an emulsifier, like an ingredient that contains lecithin, you can help to naturally bond the two opposing ingredients together, preventing separation.
Lecithin has the ability to combine oil in water AND water in oil, making it ideal for all infusions.
The second reason for adding lecithin to edibles is a theory that believes lecithin can increase the potency of an infusion by increasing the bioavailability of cannabinoids in the body.
It is believed that this increased bioavailability, defined as the "ability of a substance to be absorbed and used by the body", will produce a more potent effect.
We will explore both of these reasons in detail below so you know if using lecithin in your edibles is the right choice for you.
Reason #1 - Lecithin to Emulsify Ingredients Together
Emulsification, or to emulsify, is a process used in culinary science, in restaurants, by Chefs, and even at-home-cooks.
By definition, "when you emulsify something, you mix it so thoroughly that it becomes an emulsion."
In other words, it will no longer separate over time.
For example, in your home kitchen:
You know that it is hard to keep opposing ingredients together in certain recipes, like oil and vinegar in a salad dressing.
When you vigorously shake the dressing, the two ingredients combine, but when left to sit for some time, they separate back out again.
This is because there is nothing to hold the two ingredients together or emulsify them.
If you were to add another ingredient to your dressing that naturally contained lecithin, such as egg yolks, the dressing would remain emulsified and not separate.
When you make cannabis edibles at home, you will want to use lecithin as an emulsifier when making certain recipes.
Cannabis Recipes That Commonly Use Lecithin
The most common cannabis recipes that typically call for lecithin or emulsion include:
- Cannabis Gummies Made With Oil
- Zesty Cannabis-Infused Lemon Vinaigrette
- Hot drinks made with added cannabis oil such as: Coffee, Tea, and Lattes
How Much Lecithin to Add
Most recipes that require lecithin will tell you the amount that is needed.
For example, this gummy recipe specifically calls for 1 teaspoon of lecithin for the entire recipe.
However, if the recipe does not call for a specific amount, a good rule of thumb is to add 1 teaspoon of lecithin per 1 cup of liquid.
You don't need to add a lot to get the emulsification you need.
However, if separation continues to occur, you can add more lecithin as needed.
Warning: When NOT to Use Lecithin
There are a few members of my Well With Cannabis Facebook Community who have reported a common issue:
Accidentally adding lecithin to a cannabutter infusion made with water is a big disaster.
While I prefer to use the mason jar and crockpot method for making cannabutter, others use the stovetop method.
When cooking cannabutter on a stovetop, the temperature can fluctuate quite a bit, so folks add water to the pot.
The water helps to regulate the temperature of the butter, preventing it from getting too hot and burning the butter, potentially denaturing the cannabinoids.
However the water is removed and discarded at the end.
If you add water to your cannabutter infusion do NOT add lecithin as well.
This will bind the water and butter together, resulting in a soupy mess and an undesirable end product.
If you're using the stovetop method to make cannabutter, wait until all of the water has been separated from the final product before stirring in the lecithin at the end.
Reason #2 - Lecithin to Increase Potency of Edibles
Many cannabis cooks swear by adding lecithin to their oil-based infusions to make them stronger and more potent.
With this theory, it is believed that using lecithin will make valuable cannabinoids like CBD and THC more bioavailable, or ready for use by the body, ultimately making the edible stronger and more potent.
While there is little scientific evidence to support this claim, there is ample anecdotal evidence of people who claim that adding lecithin makes all the difference for their overall experience.
Lecithin is typically used as a health food supplement, so it won't hurt to experiment with it and see if it is right for you.
When experimenting with lecithin in oil infusions, it is common to add the lecithin to the oil before heating or infusing.
Again, a common recommendation is to add 1 teaspoon of lecithin per 1 cup of oil or butter.
Lecithin can be added to the following infusions:
- Cannabis Coconut Oil
- Cannabis Olive Oil
- Cannabis Butter or Ghee (*not butter infusions that have water, see disclaimer above)
If you have already made your infusion, you can still add lecithin to it.
Gently heat up your infusion and add the lecithin in, stirring until dissolved and well incorporated.
Cooking With Different Forms of Lecithin
There are many different forms of lecithin available on the market today that can be found online or in health food stores.
You will see the most common forms are either soy or sunflower lecithin found in powder, granulated, or liquid form.
Generally, they all function pretty much the same and can be used interchangeably in recipes unless a specific form is otherwise called for.
Powdered or Granulated Lecithin
Lecithin powder or granules are a dry, processed version of lecithin that has been removed from other ingredients, such as eggs or soy.
Most powdered or granulated lecithin is created as a by-product of making oil.
Lecithin granules or powders are typically less than 10% fat and have more hydrophilic properties, which means they can easily dissolve in water.
The main benefit of using powdered or granulated lecithin is that it allows you to use it without adding the flavor of eggs or sunflower to your recipes.
This is the powdered lecithin product I recommend.
Liquid lecithin is a less processed version of lecithin and is most often found in sunflower and soy versions.
Liquid lecithin contains about 20-30% fat and contains more lipophilic properties which make it great for high-fat content recipes and infusing oils.
While liquid lecithin is less processed, it does have a slight taste and odor that may turn off some people.
I prefer working with a liquid lecithin option, rather than a powdered or granulated version, as it tends to mix in easier to various infusions and recipes, but ultimately, the choice is yours.
Sunflower vs. Soy
As both a certified Holistic Cannabis Practitioner and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, my vote is for choosing sunflower lecithin over soy lecithin for health reasons.
Soy is a heavily genetically modified crop that often exacerbates health problems in certain individuals.
Skipping soy lecithin products is especially important for those who are looking to make healthy cannabis recipes or avoid GMO's.
However, if you only have access to soy-based products, soy lecithin can be substituted for sunflower lecithin in a 1 to 1 ratio, if need be.
Where to Buy Lecithin & Product Recommendations
If you can't find lecithin in your local health food store, you can buy it online.
Below are a few of our favorite brands of lecithin used in our own kitchen, and the kitchen of our community members.
Liquid Sunflower Lecithin
Made using a mechanical, cold-pressed extraction process. Careful control in the manufacturing process guarantees the vital nutrients in the lecithin remain preserved.
This sunflower lecithin is made from premium quality, non-GMO Project Verified sunflower lecithin free from gluten, soy, dairy, solvents, additives, and artificial ingredients.
Powdered Sunflower Lecithin
Non-GMO and soy-free, Magical Sunflower Lecithin Powder helps bind your herbal butter and oil extractions.
This high quality pure Sunflower Lecithin aids in emulsifying fats, enabling them to be more evenly dispersed in your recipe.
Add 1 tablespoon/capful per cup of butter or oil to get the most out of your herbal infusion.
Important To Know
Like MCT-infused oil, some people anecdotally report that lecithin causes digestive issues.
These issues are typically minor digestive side effects, including stomach aches and diarrhea.
As with all things cannabis, always remember to start low and go slow for a more enjoyable experience.
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Use An Infusion Machine For Your Edibles
Cannabis-infusion machines are countertop devices that do all the work for you by decarboxylating and infusing your butters, oils, and more.