You’ll find lactic acid (also called butyl lactate, ethyl lactate) in all sorts of things.
Pickles, bread, soy products, gnocchi etc.
It’s common to be worried about it because we associate it with lactose (a sugar in dairy).
Is Lactic Acid the same as Lactose?
Lactose is found only in dairy, and it’s not vegan.
But despite the name similarity, they are not the same thing.
Lactic acid is made by fermenting sugars.
That sugar can be lactose (from dairy), but most lactic acid comes from sucrose, beet juice, or cornstarch (source). That’s why you’ll often find it in products made for vegans like Earth Balance butter.
So Is Lactic Acid Vegan?
In general, it’s reasonable to assume that lactic acid comes from a plant source and is vegan.
However, some lactic acid does indeed come from lactose, and would not be considered vegan.
If you want to be 100% sure that the lactic acid on a product label comes from a vegan source, you’ll have to contact the company, there’s no way around it.
If you’re buying lactic acid itself, it’s usually really easy to tell if it’s vegan or not because the product will state the sugar used in the fermentation process.
For example, this top seller on Amazon makes it clear in the product description that it’s made using “natural corn starch”:
Overall, lactic acid isn’t something that you should have to worry about too much as a vegan. I’d recommend worrying more over trickier ingredients like natural flavors.