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Surfactants are molecules that have a hydrophobic and hydrophilic part. This includes soap, detergent, and basically anything "bubbly".

I am trying to bake a vanilla cake (with chocolate icing) and would like to use a high dose of surfactants with extensive whipping to make a light stable foam. My hope is to lower the calorie density by incorporating air.

What is a common, edible surfactant home cooks can buy? Preferably one with a high concentration of active ingredient so that less inactive filler needs to be added.

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The normal emulsifier used in baked goods is egg yolk, which contains lecithin. There’s also soy lecithin, widely used in processed food but rarely used directly by home cooks and more difficult to source.

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    I would be wary of using lecithin. It's more of an emulsifier, and it isn't easy to create a foam with it. Even if one succeeds in whipping it into a foam, it won't be very stable, especially during baking.
    – rumtscho
    Dec 18, 2023 at 12:38
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I'm not sure how easy some of them are for home cooks to get in reasonable quantities, but https://www.pacmoore.com/blog/natural-surfactants-food/ lists:

  • Alkyl glycoside
  • Carrageenan (carbohydrate)
  • Cholesterol
  • Lanolin
  • Lecithin
  • Monoglyceride (fatty acid)
  • Phytosterol
  • Protein
  • Tea saponin extract
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Not all surfactants are foamy and not all of them are good to mix with other things. The suitability for foam (or other structures) is determined by the molecular structure, especially of the head/tail ratio. There is a whole branch of science around this.

So what I would use is something from which the desired properties are reported; good candidates are foamed egg white and aqua faba, both reportedly used to make fluffy doughs. I also know peole who just make a light dough and incorporate lots of baking powder and carbonated water (possibly with low pH). Best Luck!

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There are lots of edible surfactants, but they won't help you here.

People love airy cakes. Each good sponge recipe is already optimised for being as airy as possible while maintaining structural integrity and a pleasant texture during eating. Adding some random surfactant won't make it airier.

If you really insist on trying that, work with such textural modifiers is demanding. Sourcing the ingredients will be the smallest problem. You'll have to find out which one tends to work with your favorite cake recipe, which will require maybe a dozen of cake batches, and from there continue to experiment for several dozens of batches until you get a workable texture. At the same time, the improvement in aeration won't be all that great, and you'll sacrifice a lot of other properties of the cake.

All in all, I think that your premise is flawed. Not only is the expectation of "add some random surfactant in a random amount and you'll get a cake" physically wrong, but the idea of a superaerated cake isn't all that attractive either. Such cakes exist, with Meissner Fummel taking the idea to the extreme, but there is a reason they haven't replaced typical sponge cakes.

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