Glycerides are the constituent molecule present in animal fats and vegetable oil. Triglycerides account for 99% of glycerides; monoglycerides and diglycerides make up just 1%. The only difference between the molecules is in the number of fatty acid chains attached (you can infer the numbers from the suffixes). Your body naturally breaks triglycerides into mono- and diglycerides during digestion, though they are converted back to triglycerides in the bloodstream.
I’m aware that isn’t very interesting. So let’s move on.
What do monoglycerides and diglycerides do?
Monoglycerides and diglycerides allow a food processor to mix oil and water in a process known as emulsification. This very useful property makes monoglycerides and diglycerides a common food additive to extend shelf life. They would be unnecessary if grocery store customers could stomach seeing natural separation in peanut butter and other products. Alas, Americans hate that.
Note: Trans fats were used, for a time, as a common emulsifier. Monoglycerides and diglycerides have picked up the slack in recent public backlash against trans fats.
How are monoglycerides and diglycerides made?
Monoglycerides and diglycerides can not usually be captured naturally, but can be sourced naturally. One common production method is to heat palm oil (or another oil) to a high temperature. At high temperatures, triglycerides are capable of rearranging into monoglycerides and diglycerides. This process is enhanced with an alkaline catalyst (such as sodium or calcium hydroxide) and eventually stopped with a phosphate salt (that must be filtered out afterward). Though rearrangement is random, it can be controlled to achieve specific ratios of monoglycerides, diglycerides, triglycerides, and free glycerine.
As I mentioned, monoglycerides and diglycerides can be sourced naturally, but the typical method of production is not something that ever occurs in nature.
Are there any health risk associated with monoglycerides and diglycerides?
Presently, there is no research that suggests negative health impact from monoglycerides and diglycerides.
What food products contain monoglycerides and diglycerides?
Processed baked goods are a major mono- and diglyceride player. Flour tortillas are often laced with them. Peanut butter, too. Basically, any food product that combines water and oil and sells for less than others.
Would you eat this?
I think about monoglycerides and diglycerides like I do trans fats. They are not something I would typically want to consume, but they are acceptable in very limited situations. Because monoglycerides and diglycerides are typically added to smooth out consumer appearance and extend shelf life, they are something I usually avoid.
But, they are natural (to an extent), so don’t immediately shrug them off.