Is Lactic Acid Vegan?
If you are one of many who has chosen to follow a vegan lifestyle, or perhaps you have a close friend or family member who is vegan and you are trying to cater to his or her wishes, you may be asking yourself is lactic acid vegan?
Before we address this question, let’s first take a look at what exactly lactic acid is and how it was discovered. This chemical compound was first uncovered by a Swedish chemist, by the name of Carl Wilhelm Scheele.
In his experiments, he revealed an isolated lactic acid that was present in sour milk, and since the Latin word for milk is Lac, he added the prefix onto his discovery. Although the term is also used to refer to the byproduct that is created from muscle exertion, the two are not to be confused.
It is understandable that since lactic acid was first discovered in a dairy product that it has the misnomer of being non-vegan, but it is actually found in many other fermented foods. Essentially, it is an organic acid that is soluble in water where it is a colorless solution when it is in a liquid state but is white when it is in a solid state.
It can be artificially synthesized but can also be found in natural sources. It occurs naturally in foods when they ferment; think sourdough bread, sauerkraut, and even beer. It is often artificially synthesized when companies choose to place it in their products to aid in maintaining freshness and flavor.
It is generally used as follows: the lactic acid bacteria, known as Lactobacillus, ferment sugars into lactic acid, which, in turn, prevents the growth of other bacteria that can cause spoilage to occur. This is what allows for many products to have a shelf life for weeks or months at a time, and also ensures that they won’t lose their original taste.
Why many vegans become worried when they see a food item that says lactic acid on the ingredient list is that they know this acid is found in many dairy products; think kefir, cheese, and yogurt.
The Source of the Lactic Acid. Is it Important?
So, the worry then becomes, how do I know if the lactic acid in my food is sourced from vegetable products or animal products.
Well, if you are vegan, you will be relieved to know that most artificially created lactic acid actually comes from vegetable sources, specifically, beet sugar and corn starch which stand as the top two sources.
That said, international food sources outside of North America may come from animal sources, although it is rare since vegetable sources are cheaper and are less likely to spoil. And since most companies are trying to save money on food production the less expensive option is their first choice.
Understand How Lactic Acid is Derived
Knowing how lactic acid is derived is helpful in putting your mind at ease, so, let’s take a look at that. Lactic acid is produced through the fermentation process of carbohydrates, whether through the use of cornstarch or beet sugar.
Be sure, however, to not confuse lactic acid with lactose which is also found in dairy products. The difference being that lactose is sugar or rather a disaccharide containing glucose and galactose units, so if you see lactose you know that it comes from dairy.
So… is lactic acid vegan? The Verdict
Ultimately, what’s the takeaway? Can you trust that a food product you are eating that contains lactic acid is vegan and safe for your consumption? The answer is, yes. In fact, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group, a site that lists food items that are safe for vegetarians or vegans to consume, states that lactic acid is vegan.