Sunflower Lecithin

Austrade, Inc

Pouring a bowl of One Degree’s Brown Rice Cacao Crisps is like setting out on a global tour at daybreak. The sprouted brown rice is grown in Latin America. The rich cacao is from Bali, Indonesia. And matching the two ingredients together is an organic additive made from pure European sunflowers.

The name for this natural emulsifier is lecithin, and its purpose is to keep dissimilar ingredients from separating. In the case of our popular Cacao Crisps, lecithin is the indispensable matchmaker that binds cacao with brown rice.

As with so many ingredients, there is a wide range in the quality of lecithin available on the market. Many manufacturers use chemicals during processing, and conventionally grown soy or sunflowers as basic ingredients. Our standards don’t allow for this type of corner-cutting; and so our search for the best available lecithin was extensive.

Our research led us to Austrade Inc., an importer of European lecithin founded by Austrian Gary Bartl in 1997. “When I came to U.S. it was very difficult to find organic or non-GMO products,” he told us. His company fills that need by purchasing sunflowers grown organically in France, Spain, Italy, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and Hungary and refining the harvests at a facility near Milan, Italy.

Austrade contracts with such a wide variety of sources for the simple reason that producing lecithin requires large quantities of sunflowers. “When we have to source raw material, we need a lot of different growers of sunflower seeds in order to achieve a good yield of organic lecithin,” he says. “To get one gallon of sunflower lecithin you need 100 gallons of organic sunflower oil. Whereas if you have 100 gallons of organic soybean oil you receive 10 gallons of organic soybean lecithin.”

For One Degree, the choice of sunflowers rather than soy as a raw material was an easy one. In addition to its non-allergen quality, sunflowers ensure that the product will be GMO-free. No biotech conglomerate has yet invented a GMO sunflower, but genetically modified soybeans dominate the soy market. Some commercial varieties of lecithin can even be derived from corn, cottonseed, rapeseed, rice or eggs. “Our lecithin is certified vegan, vegetarian, kosher, gluten-free, non-GMO and allergen-free,” says Bartl.

The production process is similarly high-quality, safe and natural. The oil is extracted from the sunflowers mechanically, without the use of chemical solvents as a processing aid. “You take a handful of sunflower seeds and press them which yields crude sunflower oil, and then you have to separate the lecithin from the oil,” he explains. “We’re using hot steam to separate lecithin from oil without the use of chemical solvents such as hexane or acetone. Everything has to be organic, from seed to finished product.

“Lecithin in itself contains mostly lipids or fats. The fatty acid profile of sunflower lecithin is more favorable than the one with soy lecithin.” It’s also easily digestible. “The body knows what it is and knows where it needs to go,” says Laurel Vermette, who manages Austrade’s Florida office.

Lecithin is the kind of inconspicuous ingredient that most consumers wouldn’t notice on a nutrition panel, a fine detail that many companies wouldn’t spend much time researching. Our need was for a natural, organic additive that would be worthy of our Latin American brown rice; with a quality that could match our cacao, grown in the Indonesian archipelago and refined at the famed chocolate palace of Big Tree Farms in Bali.

On rich organic fields in Spain, Hungary, Ukraine and across Europe, we found the perfect match, and the ideal matchmaker.

— Charlie Dodge