For vegans, thoroughly checking the ingredient list is an important task before buying any food item. And that has turned into a habit for most of us. This enables us to know the exact ingredients that are used in making a particular product, but it can be quite confusing determining whether an ingredient is vegan or not sometimes.
Lactic acid, Red 40, E631, and many more are among those ambiguous ingredients that confuse vegans so much because of their name and their sources. It can be especially confusing in terms of lactic acid, owing to the fact that the prefix “lac” means milk.
This can result in vegan individuals attempting to cut out lactic acid entirely from their diet – especially due to the fact that our bodies naturally produce lactic acid after a strenuous workout. So, let’s bring lactic acid to the center stage and get the necessary knowledge about whether lactic acid is vegan or not before shunning lactic acid from a vegan diet completely.
Lactic Acid – Vegan or Not?
What Is Lactic Acid? – Lactic Acid is an acid that forms when food is fermented. It is a natural process that ends up giving a tangy taste to food items like some pickled vegetables, such as sauerkraut and dairy products like yogurt. Lactic acid is also found in wine, beer, fermented soy products, and sourdough bread (check sourdough bread’s vegan status).
If your milk packet is left unused for several days, the fermentation of lactose begins to happen, which is caused by lactic acid bacteria. That’s why milk tastes sour and starts to have a thicker texture.
Also Read: How Long Does Vegan Milk Last Once Opened
Lactic Acid is also produced in our bodies. When our bodies’ oxygen level is low, which usually happens during laborious exercises, lactic acid forms through muscle tissues and red blood cells. Carbohydrate breaks down to acquire more energy and creates lactic acid. But, when the oxygen level is normal, carbohydrates produce water and carbon dioxide only.
Is Lactic Acid Vegan?
Yes, Lactic acid is vegan – especially lactic acid domestically produced in the US, which mostly has plant-based sources. Among the vegetable sources of lactic acid, beet sugar and corn-starch are the bases which are commonly used to produce vegan lactic acid. This article further explains each source properly.
However, outside of the US, determining the authenticity of vegan lactic acid is a bit tricky. As lactic acid has both vegetable and animal sources, you need to confirm from the manufacturer whether it is vegan or not.
What Is a Non-Dairy Lactic Acid?
Milk is only one of the sources of lactic acid – meaning that lactic acid does not depend on dairy, but on sugar instead.
The lactic acid bacteria are used in the food industry for the processes of fermentation on a large scale. These bacteria grow only when there is a presence of sugar. And sugar goes through the process of ‘carbohydrate fermentation,’ which produces lactic acid. It doesn’t mean that lactic acid cannot be produced if there is no dairy.
Commonly used lactic acid has vegetable sources of potatoes or molasses – rendering them completely dairy-free and a great option for vegan consumption.
Does Lactic Acid Come from Animals?
Yes. When our muscles are exerted for long periods for the purposes of working out, our muscle tissues burn and, along with red blood cells, start to produce lactic acid.
This fermentation of lactic acid happens in animals after glycolysis when their bodies’ oxygen level is low. So, the carbon molecules turn into lactic acid without making carbon dioxide.
Lactic Acid can be a result of man-made fermentation and, as mentioned before, is mostly used in packaged foods as flavorings or preservatives. Fermented meat or salami has it. However, animal-derived lactic acid is not commonly used as lactic acid from vegetables is a way better and cheaper option to go for. (Source)
How Is Vegan-Friendly Lactic Acid Produced?
Vegans would be glad to know that the lactic acid that the food industry uses as an ingredient in many foods, is mostly vegan-friendly. This acid, which is naturally created in our bodies and in other animals and plants, can be man-made too. This production of vegan lactic acid happens either by chemical synthesis or by bacterial fermentation.
The bacterial fermentation of lactic acid occurs when lactic acid bacteria is used to convert carbohydrates like glucose, galactose, or sucrose into lactic acid.
Another way of vegan-friendly lactic acid production is called chemical synthesis. In this process, acetaldehyde is used to react with hydrogen cyanide, which results in lactonitrile. But this process of making lactic acid is not a very usual method now.
Items That Contain Lactic Acid
Lactic acid is found in a bunch of foods that are consumed daily across the world. These foods are –
1. Dairy Products
The sour milk products, such as yogurt, laban, kefir, koumiss contain lactic acid. It also gives sourdough bread that tangy flavor it has.
2. Pickled Vegetables
Lactic acid is also present in kimchi and sauerkraut. Also, pickled vegetables are very much dependent on lactic acid to acquire a unique taste. These vegetables include leeks, cucumbers, and gingers. In some cultures, the fermentation of fruits like mangoes and papayas takes place using lactic acid as the main ingredient.
3. Soy Products
In Asia, lactic acid is used as a preservative and flavoring agent in fermented soy products. That’s why Miso and soy sauce (check vegan status) contain lactic acid.
Many wines go through a second process of fermentation, which converts malic acid into lactic acid. Some beers also include lactic acid, such as Belgian Iambics.
This article has provided everything you need to know about lactic acid. Based on careful research, it can be said that almost all food items in the US include vegan-friendly lactic acid. It is surprising to know how an acid our bodies create naturally can have multiple health benefits such as controlling intestinal infections, improving lactose digestion and contributing to upgrading the nutritional value of food. However, if you’re still confused about the source of lactic acid in a particular product, you should definitely contact the manufacturer to avoid any inconvenience.