Lipase is a water-soluble enzyme used in breaking down lipids, commonly called fats. In humans, lipase is mainly produced in the pancreas, and facilitates the absorption of fats by the intestines. This enzyme is also found in most living organisms, including plants, animals, bacteria and yeast. Lipase has a significant number of uses, both physiologically and industrially.
Physiological Uses of Lipase
Lipase plays a very important role in the way living things, especially humans, function. While it is a fact that too much fat is not healthy, fats are highly necessary in the human body. Vital structures, like cell membranes, are made up of fats.. It is, therefore, essential that the body is able to absorb fats from food, in order to keep these structures healthy. All nutrients transported via the bloodstream (a liquid medium) must be soluble. Lipase breaks down lipids, by hydrolysis (water-splitting), into fatty acids and glycerol, converting the insoluble fats into soluble form, so that they can be properly digested and assimilated. Lipase is especially important to babies, whose only food is milk (a lipid-rich food) that needs to be properly digested.
Industrial Uses of Lipase
The uses of lipase in industry cover a rather broad range, from food, to chemical synthesis, to skin care. Industrially, lipases from different sources, including plants and yeast, are utilized. Some industrial applications of lipase are:
- The manufacturing of soaps and detergent – lipases are used in the hydrolysis of tallow (hard fat made from the body parts of animals, such as horses and cattle), which is necessary for soap production. Lipases are also used as stain-digesters in detergents.
- The production of infant formula – The lipase is used in the synthesis of modified (or structured) lipids, which are prepared for their nutritional benefits, used to make infant formula.
- Flavor-enhancement of cheese and other dairy products – Lipases are used to speed up the cheese-ripening process, as well as to enhance flavors in cheese types, one of which is cheddar cheese. Lipase is used to hydrolyze milk fat. When a different lipase is used, it produces a fatty acid of different chain length, which then produces a unique cheese flavor, or a better dairy product flavor. A good example of this is the creamy flavor of coffee whiteners, as well as the butter texture which caramel and toffee have. Lipases are also vital in the production of what is called Enzyme Modified Cheese (EMC). An EMC is a cheese with a unique flavor, mainly used in things like dips, sauces, snacks and soups. EMCs are given their distinctive flavor by incubation at high temperatures, in the presence of an enzyme.
- The making of cosmetics – Lipases are used in the development of fragrances, the manufacture of a host skin-care products, and in most cosmetic products. Due to the versatility of lipases, they can produce various esters, which have uses ranging from unique fragrances to making skin-treatment products.
It is indeed abundantly clear – life wouldn’t be the same without lipase.