Abstract Microemulsions are transparent, isotropic solutions of oil, water and surfactant (and possibly cosurfactant) which are thermodynamically stable, and have been much studied in terms of pharmaceutical and cosmetic applications. However, the application of microemulsions in foods has been limited both due to toxic or irritant nature of ionic surfactants and the difficulty of solubilising large triglycerides. Three surfactants, food-grade ethoxylated mono- and diglycerides (EMD) and phospholipids, and non-food-grade polyoxyethylene oleyl ether (POE) were examined for their ability to form microemulsions using soybean oil, and their areas of formation expressed on phase diagrams. Microemulsions prepared with EMD and phospholipids required the presence of a short-chain alcohol for formation. Both oil/water (o/w) and water/oil (w/o) microemulsions could be formed using EMD, and the microemulsion area of the phase diagram increased on addition of sucrose and increase in temperature. Depending on sucrose and ethanol concentrations, microemulsions formed with EMD were found to retain their integrity at temperatures below which they formed. Microemulsions could be formed using phospholipids, but only at high surfactant concentration and in the presence of a short-chain alcohol. O/w microemulsions containing 10% oil (w/w) were prepared with POE at surfactant concentrations of >20% (w/w). Dynamic light scattering of microemulsion samples diluted with water indicated particle radii of 6.5 nm. Freeze-fracture SEM showed the structures to be of a droplet type, however, this was more evident at higher surfactant/oil concentrations. The results indicated that it is possible to formulate microemulsions at low EMD and POE surfactant concentration. These microemulsions systems may potentially be used for encapsulation of oil-soluble bioactives, e.g. α-tocopherol, in food systems.