For vegans, thoroughly checking the ingredient-list is surely an important task to do before buying any food item. And that has turned into a habit of most of us. This enables us to know the exact ingredients which are used in making a particular food. But sometimes, we have to face a great deal of puzzlement, determining whether an ingredient is vegan or not.
Lactic acid, Red 40, E631 and many more are among those ambiguous ingredients that confuse vegans so much because of its name and the general source, which most of us know about. For Lactic acid, as the prefix ‘lac’ actually means milk, it contributes to building up the confusion. And because of the lack of information, one may think to cut off lactic acid from a plant-based diet completely. Also, our bodies naturally produce lactic acid after a strenuous muscle work-out.
That leads to more hesitation. So, let’s bring lactic acid to the center stage and get the necessary knowledge about whether lactic acid is vegan or not before making any decision.
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 as most lactic acid, which is domestically produced in the US, has a vegetable source. 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 vegan source of lactic acid is a bit tricky. As lactic acid has both vegetable and animal sources, you need to confirm from the manufacturer if it is vegan or not.
What Is a Non-Dairy Lactic Acid?
Milk forms lactic acid. But that does not mean that this acid has no other source which is dairy-free as the lactic bacteria has everything to do with sugar and not with dairy.
The lactic acid bacteria are hugely used in the food industry to ferment many foods like sauerkraut and yogurt. These bacteria grow only when there is a presence of sugar. And sugar goes through the process of ‘carbohydrate fermentation,’ which produces lactic acid. So, it doesn’t mean that lactic acid cannot be produced if there is no dairy.
Lactic acid, which is most commonly used, has vegetable sources as potatoes or molasses, corn-starch, etc. So, these are great examples of dairy-free lactic acid.
Does Lactic Acid Come from Animals?
Yes. When we do tough and tiresome exercises for a long period of time, 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 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 lots 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.
Frequently Asked Question
1. Is Lactic Acid Dairy?
No, lactic acid is not a dairy product. In the food industry, lactic acid bacteria are used in many dairy items.
This article has provided everything you need to know about lactic acid. Based on careful research, it can be said that mostly 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.
Lactic acid helps control intestinal infections, improve lactose digestion, and contribute to upgrading the nutritional value of food. However, if you come across any hint of doubt about the source of lactic acid in food, you should definitely contact the manufacturer to avoid any inconvenience.