As vegans, we tend to be very cautious about the ingredients in our food and we can’t simply eat whatever we please. Many food additives often present in processed foods come from animal sources.
E471, in particular, is a controversial food additive because it can come from both plant and animal sources. It is a mono or diglyceride derived from fatty acids and often acts as an emulsifying agent, though it has other uses as well. Since it is mostly derived from soy, it is considered vegan.
However, there are still lots of controversies regarding E471. There is more to it than meets the eye, and sometimes it’s not enough to just look at a product’s label to determine whether it’s vegan or not.
In this article, we’ll cover E471 in more depth so that you have a better understanding of what type of ingredient it is and whether or not it’s something we, as vegans, should consume.
What Is E471 In Foods?
E471 is a popular ingredient that you can find in the list of ingredients of any baked good. It is a food additive that helps in emulsification.
If you are not familiar with these numbers, you must still be in doubt about E471. Basically, the food additives that the European Union (EU) laws have approved to be safe for consumption start with an “E” in their names. And after the ‘E,’ you can see the number attested to the additive.
So, if the additives qualify through the tests to be safe, they are coded with numbers starting with ‘E’. Basically, E471 is an emulsifier that helps mix liquids. It is a mono-or diglyceride fatty acid.
Typically, it comes from soy but it can also come from an animal source, which makes it a rather controversial ingredient.
Foods that contain both water and oil require an emulsifying agent. Because water and oil are immiscible compounds, emulsifiers help to stabilize the mixture and keep them together. So, you can find E471 in most baked food items. However, E471 is also present in other food items such as:
- Cured meat
- Custard Powder
- Baby foods
- Processed foods
- Readymade foods or instant snacks
E471 has other uses too. It can act as a thickening agent, anti-caking agent, preservative, humectant, etc. It can also increase the shelf life of various foods. In most sweet foods, the use of E471 can prevent the crystallization of sugar.
However, the most common use of E471 is as an emulsifier or a stabilizing agent. They improve the quality, texture, and smoothness of the dish. Besides, there are many known vegan emulsifiers like agar-agar, soy lecithin, xanthan gum, etc.
Can Vegans Eat Food Containing E471?
Vegans can eat food containing E471 as long as it comes from a plant source.
If your packaging has no vegan approved seal or doesn’t clearly state the source of the additive, make sure to contact the company before consuming.
How Is E471 Obtained?
E471 is a mono or diglyceride. Glycerides come from the reaction between glycerol and fatty acids. The standard plant oils are mostly soy oil, palm oil, coconut oil, cottonseed oil, rapeseed oil, sunflower oil, olive oil, etc.
Glycerol can also come from a transesterification reaction between glycerol and triglycerides. The most common triglycerides are soybean oil and corn oil, the sources of most food emulsifiers.
Instead of plant oils, animal fats like lard or pig fat are also used, like beef fat. The mono or diglycerides that are produced from these animal sources are similar to the plant-based E471. So, you can never really differentiate between the two based on their taste or texture.
How To Know If Your Food Contains E471 And If It Is Vegan
To be fair, most foods have the food additives mentioned on their labels or list of ingredients. Either it will be revealed in the full name as Monoglyceride or Diglyceride, or simply you can find the code with ‘E’ for the additive in the list of ingredients.
Some vegan-friendly foods have a “Vegan-Approved’ seal, but a lot of them don’t. So it’s really difficult to know whether certain foods are actually vegan despite the lack of flagrant animal ingredients.
In this case, the best thing to do is to contact the company selling the product. Call them up and ask if the E471 comes from a plant source! The information you get from them directly will be more authentic than any other source. If they can’t provide you with any reliable data, it is best to not consume the product.
Is E471 Halal?
Another growing concern regarding E471 for most consumers is whether it is halal or not. As long as the fat comes from a plant source or a domestic animal source (cows, goats, sheep, buffaloes, etc.), it is halal.
Most halal foods come with a halal seal, so you need not worry. But if it doesn’t, try to research the sources. Pig fat is not halal, so Muslims can’t eat foods with E471 from pig fat.
Vegan Friends, Watch Out For These Too!
Several other food additives have passed the EU tests on acquiring an ‘E’ before the code. But they are not vegan as they come from animal sources.
The most controversial one is gelatine, which is almost always animal-based. And the perfect vegan substitute for it is agar-agar.
All red-colored foods contain E120. This color comes from crushing bugs, Coccus cacti. Also, E901 comes from beeswax, which most vegans also do not consume.
In addition, you should watch out for eggs when you consume foods with E1105 — which are lysozyme, an essential component in eggs!
Is E471 Harmful?
Scientists have confirmed that E471 is not harmful in any sense to consumers. It doesn’t have any potential side effects and does not produce any sort of toxicity.
As an emulsifier, E471 is relatively safe to use. It does not have any carcinogenic or toxic properties either. They are barely glycerides that are chemically comparable to fats.
Food additives and preservatives can cause cancer. Mostly, they contain nitrates, benzene, toluene, etc., compounds that can be carcinogenic or may convert to other harmful products when kept for a long time. For example, nitrates later convert to carcinogenic compounds. But E471 contains no such toxic chemicals.
The production of E471 may be messy because glycerol production can produce contaminants. You must know by now that glycerol is the byproduct of esterification reactions.
However, it does not make E471 harmful. In fact, there is no upper limit on how much of it can be used in a portion of food. That is, there is no limit to its Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI). But everything should be used in moderation always.
So, if the E471 in your food comes from a vegan source, you can consume it happily. There is no apparent or potential threat from E471 as a food additive.
Yes, as vegans we have to eliminate a lot of foods from our diet given the variety of ingredients that may be associated with animal cruelty.
Unfortunately, there are many hidden animal ingredients in everyday foods that most people are unaware of, so it might take extra effort to actually learn about these.
The most important step is to observe ingredient labels closely and if there’s an ingredient that you’re not familiar with, you should go online and try to search for more information as you’ve done here.
Well, I hope this article helped answer a lot of the questions surrounding this food additive, and hopefully, it may have been sufficient to curb your concerns.