Polysorbate 80

Polysorbate 80 is a viscous (thick), yellow, water-soluble non-ionic surfactant and emulsifier often utilized in the food industry and sold by a food chemical supplier.  Similar to Polysorbate 20 in its initial structure, Polysorbate 80 differs in the number of polyoxyethylene groups (80) attached to the sorbitan monolaurate base.

If you have ever enjoyed a bowl of ice cream, you have undoubtedly consumed Polysorbate 80.  Its power to emulsify foods, or mix two or more ingredients that are traditionally not compatible – such as water and oil – create an ice cream that is smoother, easier to handle, and more resistant to melting.  In the case of ice cream, Polysorbate 80 prevents the proteins in milk from completely coating the milk’s fat droplets, allowing the milk and fat droplets to adhere firmly in a netted pattern that holds in air more readily than it would normally. Along with ice cream, your trusted food chemical supplier can tell you that many other foods contain Polysorbate 80, such as whipped cream, gelatin, shortening, and condiments.  Also, almost every processed food contains Polysorbate 80.

Foods are not the only place you will find this substance, however.  The pharmaceutical industry finds Polysorbate 80 indispensable in emulsifying liquid mixtures to give proper dosages with each prescription.  Influenza and HPV vaccines, heart medications, contraceptives, and anti-cancer treatments all contain Polysorbate 80 to give exact measurements of the medication needed to treat a disease or illness.  Vitamins, tablets, and supplements also contain Polysorbate 80 because of its preservative nature.

The solubility of Polysorbate 80 allows it to assist in dissolving ingredients that would remain solid under normal circumstances.  Liquid and solid soaps, creams, and bath gels take advantage of this behavior to create an even distribution of oils and fragrances.  In cosmetics, the surfactant action of Polysorbate 80 gives a creamier, more appealing look to make-up.

In the laboratory, Polysorbate 80 acts as a lipase (a catalyst that dissolves lipid molecules); therefore it is used to identify the phenotype of an isolate by causing a distinct color change in a mixture.

For additional information, or to purchase Polysorbate 80, contact the Florida food chemical distributor, Bell Chem. We’re located in Orlando and can be reached at (407) 339-BELL.