Lactic acid is often confused with lactose which is a sugar derived from milk and therefore not vegan. They are not the same thing but is lactic acid vegan?
We take a look at what lactic acid is, where it comes from and how to check if lactic acid sources are vegan.
What Is Lactic Acid?
Lactic acid is a naturally occurring, organic acid that forms when some foods or bacteria go through a process of fermentation.
The following bacteria are commonly used to create lactic acid:
During the fermentation process the bacteria break down carbohydrates such as sugar and starch for energy.
This produces acids including lactic acid which is why it is found in a lot of fermented foods.
Fermentation is a natural process in some foods and requires no external additives, this is the case with yogurt and sourdough. Both of these foods ferment on their own.
Foods Containing Lactic Acid
So which foods contain lactic acid? Turns out quite a few. This is because lactic acid can either be present in a food as a result of fermentation in that food or as an additive.
As an additive to packaged foods lactic acid acts as a flavoring and as a preservative and pH regulator.
Lactic acid is an effective preservative as it kills and suppresses bacteria in food giving it a much longer shelf life.
It also acts as a gelling agent, curing agent, and it even helps to prevent discoloration in some foods.
When used as a flavoring, lactic acid gives food a tangy flavor. It is found in pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, sourdough bread, kimchi, miso and soy sauce.
Yogurt and kefir also contain lactic acid as does salami which is a fermented meat.
Lactic acid can also be found in some salad dressing, jams, olives, desserts and spreads.
If you want to know if a food product contains lactic acid, check the ingredients list on the packaging.
When Is Lactic Acid Not Vegan?
For vegans, it is not difficult to avoid the lactic acid that occurs in dairy products or meat as these foods are not consumed by vegans anyway.
But what if the source of the lactic acid in your vegan food is unclear, what do you do then?
Some lactic acid may be derived from bacteria which is fine for vegans but that bacteria may have been feeding on lactose.
There is no way to know what the source of the lactic acid is just from the ingredient list on a packaged food.
Is Lactic Acid Good For You?
The naturally produced lactic acid in fermented foods such as yogurt and kimchi have a lot of health benefits including:
- Helping your body absorb nutrients such as vitamins and minerals
- Strengthening the immune system
- Protecting against urinary infections
- Providing antioxidant effects to your food
Some types of lactic acid found in food are probiotics such as Lactobacillus. These probiotics are beneficial for a healthy gut and help to fight off bad bacteria.
Which Plant Based Foods Contain Lactic Acid?
The following plant based foods contain lactic acid:
- Pickled vegetables
- Sourdough bread
- Soy milk
The beneficial bacteria in these foods may be killed off if you cook them at too high a temperature. Eating them as condiments or as a topping to a meal will preserve the good bacteria.
Fermented foods are tasty, varied and often with great textures.
How To Check If The Source Of Lactic Acid Is Vegan?
Many people do not want to eat foods that contain lactic acid that has its origins in animal products such as lactose from milk.
As there is no obligation on food producers to state the source of the lactic acid in their foods, if you want to check whether it is vegan you will need to contact the manufacturer directly and inquire.
Lactic acid is an important part of the food industry. It has many functions in packaged food such as acting as a preservative to extend the shelf life of many things such as bread, jams, olives or desserts.
Without it these foods would spoil very quickly or go moldy.
Where the lactic acid comes from in packaged food cannot be determined from the ingredient list and the only way to find out if it is vegan is to ask the manufacturer directly.
Lactic acid in fermented food is naturally occurring and suitable for vegans.