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As Max points out, emulsifiers work by allowing two normally incompatible ingredients to mix. There are different ways that emulsifiers do this. Lecithin, probably the most common emulsifier, can do this because its molecule has a water-binding end and an oil-binding end. Hydrocolloids, like xanthan gum, can also have emulsification properties, but they work ...


Emulsifier will make two or more element blend together, for example the egg in the mayonnaise recipe will act as an emulsifier. A thickener will simply make something thick, as you wrote, cornstarch is a thickener. Personally, I would use neither cornstarch or xanthan gum in a chill sauce; seems to me that it is a shortcut instead of letting it cook down ...

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