A monoglyceride is a type of glyceride molecule, also known as a lipid or fat. It can come from plant oils or animal fats, and it can also be manufactured synthetically. Monoglycerides are added to processed food to act as emulsifiers, which means they bind liquids that don’t blend easily, such as oil and vinegar. They can be found on the ingredient list of many processed sweets, including baked goods, gum, and ice cream, and labeled as simply monoglycerides or as monoacylglycerols.
There are three types of glycerides, each of which consists of one or more chains of fatty acids bonded to a glycerol: monoglycerides, diglycerides, and triglycerides. Whereas a triglyceride is made up of three fatty acid chains and a glycerol, a monoglyceride is distinguished by the fact that it has only one fatty acid chain in its molecule. It can be produced by synthetic means, but it also can be created by breaking down a triglyceride, which is chemically the same, and removing two of its fatty acids.
Unlike triglycerides, which are found in vegetable oil and animal fats and associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, monoglycerides and diglycerides make up a very small percentage of the fats that humans consume. All glycerides have an identical caloric value of 9 calories per gram, but because this type are added to foods in such minute amounts, they do not contribute nearly the number of fat calories that the triglycerides found in oils and butter do. As such, they are not on their face considered to pose a health risk, but they have no known health benefits, either.
A monoglyceride as a food additive is both an emulsifier and a binder, meaning that it helps to combine fatty liquids like oils with water-based liquids as well as prevent the two from separating. An example can be seen in peanut butter. Natural peanut butter, which is made using only peanuts and sometimes salt, separates as the oil rises to the top. Processed peanut butter has an even consistency thanks to the addition of these molecules.
Similarly, they can act as a thickener in baked goods. When added to bread, monoglycerides help to increase the mass, resulting in a larger loaf. They also affect the texture of baked goods, making them not denser but lighter, softer, and fluffier. In addition, they are an important component of chewing gum. Not only do they lend a softer texture to the gum base, but they are the ingredient that delays the loss of flavor from the gum, making it possible to chew longer.