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Dairy or Nondairy? The Experts Speak

Intro

Lactate. Lactylate. Lactalbumin. Caseinate.

These teasingly half-familiar words appear on hundreds of food packages. I get questions about them all the time.

As I wrote in my Planet Lactose Blog, in the Not all "Lact" Words Are the Same entry:

    The Latin term for milk is lac lactis. Because Latin was the international language of science for many centuries, especially during the centuries that our modern vocabulary for science was developed, any white fluid, or chemical that was discovered in a white fluid, had a "lact" put into its name.

My problem has always been that not only is it difficult enough to come up with solid information on these additives, but it's usually almost as tough to figure out what the real question is. There's a big difference between needing to know whether these additives are of animal origin, whether they contain any dairy products at all, and whether they are a concern to those of us with Lactose Intolerance.

The first of those is of critical importance for many groups, including vegans, those vegetarians who do not eat any animal-derived food, and those people who are trying to keep strictly kosher, and so must rigorously distinguish between foods that contain milk, foods that contain meat, and parve, or neutral, foods that contain not even a trace of either milk or meat.

For people with milk allergies, on the other hand, the more important question is whether these additives might still have a residue of dairy proteins that were not completely eradicated in the manufacturing process. There are many well-documented cases of the slightest bit of dairy residue triggering a reaction. Certain people are so sensitive that they can have a life-threatening reaction even if they eat nondairy foods that were made on equipment that had earlier been used to make a different batch of dairy-containing foods.

The vast majority of those of us with LI don't need to worry about the issue. Only a tiny percentage of any additive is going to be used in any product. If this additive contains a tiny percentage of lactose, you have a tiny percentage of a tiny percentage. I can say to just about every single person with LI who reads this page that they should be able to eat foods with any additive mentioned on this page without a moment's hesitation about the threat of a lactose reaction. (Assuming, of course, that there are no other high lactose ingredients in the food. Let's be reasonable.)

Information on these additives is sparse and wildly inconsistent. Worse, the same additive often can be derived either from dairy or non-dairy sources, with no way to know which has been used. And just about everything depends on the purity of the manufacturing process. The same additive that may be labeled "not a source of lactose" in one food may prove to have lactose in another.

The strictest prohibitions are religious prohibitions. The institutions that certify foods as Parve (or Pareve) will not put that label on any food that contains a dairy product, that contains an additive manufactured from a dairy product, or even on completely dairy-free foods that were made on equipment that is at other times used to make foods that contain dairy. The certifying organizations (or hechshers) go to tremendous lengths to ensure that nondairy really, absolutely, means nondairy. I consider them the best source of information on the subject.

And even they don't always agree with one another.

My life is hard.

Don't make yours any harder. Read this page carefully and then decide for yourself how you want to proceed.

Tips on how to read this list.

  • My descriptions of the additives are adapted and shortened from two major sources:

    • (Dictionary) A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives, Updated Fourth Edition, by Ruth Winters
    • (Guide)The Additives Guide, by Christopher Hughes

  • Can this additive be found in parve foods? If yes, then it is not intrinsically a dairy product. It can be produced from a non-animal source. If it is found in a parve food, then it contains no trace of dairy.
  • Chances it will contain lactose? This is a guesstimate, based on my opinion of how likely it is that the manufacturing process will start with a dairy product. As I stated before, none of these additives will contain sufficient lactose to be noticeable by any but the most sensitive individuals.
  • Should it be avoided if you are mildly allergic? This will be controversial to some people, but my reading on the subject leads me to believe that there is as great a variation in allergy sensitivities as there is in intolerance sensitivities. Many people have a much milder hypersensitivity rather than a true allergy. (For a more in-depth discussion of this issue, see Chapter 14 in my book, Milk Is Not for Every Body.) If you don't want to take any chances, and understandably so, then simply avoid foods that contain any of these unless they are parve, or unless you have checked with the manufacturer.



Lactic Acid
    A widely used acid, flavouring, preservative, and synergist for antioxidants which occurs as a by-product of lactic fermentation of carbohydrates in milk, meat and beers. Prepared by fermenting sugar or by chemical synthesis. (Guide) Produced commercially by the fermentation of whey, cornstarch, potatoes, and molasses. Also: Butyl Lactate; Ethyl Lactate. (Dictionary)

    Rabbi J. Schonberger, on JCN's Kashrut Q&A Forum, says that lactic acid is not derived from lactose, and is pareve.

    On the other hand, Rabbi Eliezer Eidlitz, the Rabbinic Administrator of the Kosher Information Bureau, provides a little more information:

      Sources: molasses, corn starch, glucose. Use: preservative, flavoring. (Lactic acid can also be produced from whey, in which case it is dairy, but its use is restricted to ice cream and cream cheese). Kosher, pareve without supervision.

    Note that FAAN (The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network) says of lactic acid that it does "not contain milk protein and need not be restricted by someone avoiding milk."

    Can this additive be found in parve foods?  Yes.
    Chances it will ever contain lactose?  Slim outside of dairy products.
    Should it be avoided if you are mildly allergic?  Doublecheck before using.

    


Lactates

    Lactates are salts of lactic acid.

    Calcium Lactate

    Prepared by neutralizing lactic acid with calcium carbonate. It is used as an acidity regulator and firming and crisping agent in jams, a humectent in confectionery, an emulsifier in shortenings, a forming agent in whipped toppings, and a synergist for antioxidants in cheese. (Guide)

    Sodium Lactate

    Plasticizer substitute for glycerin. (Dictionary) Otherwise, its uses are essentially identical to calcium lactate.

    There are several Ask the Rabbi sites around the Web. The OU 'Vebbe Rebbe.' is written by Rabbi Moshe Lazerus, Rabbi Reuven Subar, Rabbi Avrohom Lefkowitz and other Rabbis at Ohr Somayach Institutions / Tanenbaum College, Jerusalem, Israel. The December 21, 1996 issue, # 131, contains this statement, "Thank you for your inquiry to the OU 'Vebbe Rebbe.' In response to your question: Calcium Lactate is not a dairy ingredient."

    Similarly, the July 1995 (Vol. 2 No. 6) issue of THE KOSHER NEXUS A Publication of the Union For Traditional Judaism contains this: "Minute Maid Orange Juice - Non-Alert: Some packages contain calcium lactate. Not to worry. The product is pareve. This lactate is made from sugar cane."

    Note that FAAN (The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network) says of calcium and sodium lactate: "They do not contain milk protein and need not be restricted by someone avoiding milk."

    Can this additive be found in parve foods?  Yes.
    Chances it will ever contain lactose?  Slim to None.
    Should it be avoided if you are mildly allergic?  Probably Not.

    


Lactylates

    Calcium Stearoyl-2 Lactylate

    The calcium salt of the stearic acid ester of lactyl lactate. (Dictionary) Improves the mixing properties of flour and the gas-holding properties of dough, and thus allows larger, lighter loaves to be made. Also used to improve the whipping and baking properties of egg whites, and as an emulsifier in packet mixes. (Guide)

    Calcium Stearoyl Lactylate

    See Calcium Stearoyl-2 Lactylate. (Dictionary)

    Sodium Stearoyl-2 Lactylate

    Used as an emulsifier, plasticizer, or surface-action agent in [millions of things]. (Dictionary)

    Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate

    See Lactic Acid. (Dictionary) [Why the difference between this and the calcium equivalent? I have no idea.]

    Sodium Isostearoyl Lactylate

    See Stearic Acid and Lactic Acid. (Dictionary) Stearic acid can be found in both vegetable oils and animal fats and oils, so neither it nor lactic acid is intrinsically a dairy product.

    JCN's Kashrut Q&A Forum's Rabbi J. Schonberger says,"After checking around, I have discovered that sodium lactylate is not derived from lactose, and is pareve."

    The ubiquitous Rabbi Eidlitz says of Calcium Stearoyl Lactylate, "Use: as a dough conditioner, whipping agent and as a conditioner in dehydrated potatoes. Requires kosher supervision."

    Rabbi Eidlitz says much the same of a Calcium Sterol Lactylate, although he gives milk or soybeans as a source, but I cannot find any reference to it anywhere else. Similarly, he mentions a Stearyl Lactylic Acid, of which he says "Requires Kosher supervision. (Kosher forms are often dairy.)" (Dictionary) mentions a Lactylic Stearate that is a salt of Stearic Acid. That's as close as I can come.

    Note that FAAN (The Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network) says of calcium and sodium stearoyl lactylate: "They do not contain milk protein and need not be restricted by someone avoiding milk."

    The Canadian Food Inspection Agency website says on its milk allergy page:

      Ingredients that do not contain milk protein

      Calcium/sodium lactate
      Calcium/sodium stearoyl lactylate

      Note: These lists are not complete and may change. Food and food products purchased from other countries, through mail-order or the Internet, are not always produced using the same manufacturing and labelling standards as in Canada.

    You can find some anecdotal evidence of reactions to lactylates. I cannot disprove these, but I also know of no formal medical confirmation of them.

    The Wikipedia entry on sodium stearoyl lactylate has, at this writing in October 2008, a line in it reading "Lactose intolerant people may find this substance to be troubling to their digestive system." This is flatly wrong and I hope it will be corrected soon.

    Can this additive be found in parve foods?  Yes.
    Chances it will ever contain lactose?  Slim to none.
    Should it be avoided if you are mildly allergic?  Probably not.

    


Casein

    The principal protein of cow's milk. Used as a texturizer for ice cream, frozen custard, ice milk, fruit sherbets, and in special diet preparations. (Dictionary) Casein itself will not dissolve in water, so it has limited usefulness in commercial food processing. You will more likely see caseinates, which are the salts of casein, on ingredients labels.

    Ammonium Caseinate

    Used in standard foods, particularly bakery products. Therefore, it does not have to be listed on the label. (Dictionary)

    Calcium Caseinate
    Used as a nutrient supplement for frozen desserts, creamed cottage cheese. (Dictionary)

    Potassium Caseinate

    Used in ice cream, frozen custard, ice milk, and fruit sherbets.

    Sodium Caseinate

    Used as an emulsifier in coffee whiteners, cottage cheese, and some meat products, and to improve the whipping properties of dessert whips. (Guide)

    Because casein is the heart of what makes dairy dairy, the Rabbis don't spend much time on it, except that Rabbi Eidlitz notes that since it is precipitated by acid or by animal or vegetable enzymes, it requires supervision to be declared Kosher.

    Casein and caseinates are often found in foods that boldly proclaim themselves "nondairy." This is simply a leftover from the old days, when dairyness was legally defined as containing milkfat. You could even find products containing skim milk that called themselves nondairy.

    This sort of nonsense is no longer legal, but casein's nondairy status still is. The major change is that it must be followed by the words "a milk derivative" or some similar phrase when it is used on an ingredients label. This at least provides some protective to alert consumers who have dairy allergies.

    For those of us who are LI, casein is normally not an issue. It is easy to find products which straightforwardly tell us that the casein used in them is "not a source of lactose." We have to hope, at least. Some older studies had found up to 1.2% lactose in samples of casein. My guess is that the increasing awareness of LI has forced manufacturers to tighten up their processes and produce purer final products.

    Hydrolyzed Casein

    Casein that has been broken down partially or completely to its constituent amino acids.

    Federal regulations now require manufacturers to state whether the hydrolyzed protein used in a food comes from vegetable or animal sources. Casein is the usual animal source. You will often find it in tuna fish, for example. Theoretically, completely hydrolyzed casein should not cause an allergic reaction. In practice, nobody believes that this state is achieved and people with allergies avoid it the way they do casein.

    Can this additive be found in parve foods?  No.
    Chances it will ever contain lactose?  Caseinates - Fair to Good, unless package specifically says otherwise. Hydrolyzed casein - Slim.
    Should it be avoided if you are mildly allergic?  Definitely.

    


Whey Proteins

    Lactalbumin
    Lactoglobulin

    So rarely seen in commercial foods that they are not listed in either (Dictionary) or (Guide).

    Three-fourths of the protein in milk is from the family of casein proteins. Most of the rest is from these two families of whey proteins. (The residue is something called a proteose-peptone fraction.) All the various proteins in milk can produce allergic reactions in humans. In fact, reactions to beta-Lactoglobulin (which occurs, oddly, in the Lactalbumin family) can be even stronger than reactions to caseins.

    It is possible, however, to be allergic to casein proteins without being allergic to whey proteins and vice versa, although I do not have figures to say how common this condition is. In practice, because of the uncertainties of the manufacturing process, I would assume anyone who knows of an allergy to milk avoids whey proteins as diligently as the casein proteins.

    Can this additive be found in parve foods?  No.
    Chances it will ever contain lactose?  Hard to say, but it does come commercially from whey, which is high in lactose.
    Should it be avoided if you are mildly allergic?  Definitely.

    


Glucono delta-lactone

    Just to be completist, I'm adding Glucono delta-lactone, which is used as an acidity regulator in foods.

    One maufacturer defines it as "a neutral inner ester of gluconic acid, crystallized through dehydration. It is manufactured by fermentation of pure D-glucose." An ester is a chemical compound made up of an alcohol and an acid.

    Just more proof than food words beginning with "lac" normally have nothing to do with milk. The following are just my opinions, until further evidence surfaces.

    Can this additive be found in parve foods?  Yes.
    Chances it will ever contain lactose?  None.
    Should it be avoided if you are mildly allergic?  No.

    




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