Sunflower lecithin is a type of phospholipid; microbes that part attract and part repel water; that, as the name suggests, is found in the seeds of the sunflower. It is obtained by separating the dehydrated seeds into three parts: liquids, gum, and solids. The lecithin specifically comes from the gum part.
It is commonly used as an emulsifier or binding agent in commercial foodstuffs. In fact, the word itself is derived from the Greek word for egg yolk ('lekithos'); egg being a traditional binding agent, and the first substance from which lecithin was isolated. In the case of chocolate, it serves to keep the cocoa solids and cocoa butter from separating.
Lecithin can come from many different sources. In addition to sunflower lecithin and the aforementioned egg lecithin, it can also be found in, amongst other things, rapeseed, peanuts, yeast, and soybean (or soya bean); that being a particularly common source, although sunflower is gradually rising in popularity largely due to concerns about soya’s effects on health. Due to the prevalence of soya beans, they are common candidate for genetic modification. Additionally there is a concern about the levels of phytoestrogens found in soya, which alleged to be carcinogenic in excess, although studies on the matter are inconclusive. Soya is also a relatively common allergen.
Sunflower lecithin avoids these pitfalls; genetically modified sunflower seeds are highly uncommon, and are a comparably rare allergen. There is no particular evidence relating to carcinogens, while having similar nutritional values to soya. Sunflower lecithin also has little odour or taste, making it ideal as a natural food additive.