Verdict: The majority of lactic acid (but not all) is vegan.
- Lactic acid is made by fermenting sugars.
- The sugar used is usually from a vegan source, however it could be lactose (from dairy products) in rare occasions.
- If you have an allergy, are lactose intolerant, or want to be 100% sure, contact the manufacturer of a product with lactic acid to be sure there are no animal products in it.
You’ll find lactic acid (also called butyl lactate, ethyl lactate) in all sorts of food.
Pickles, bread, soy sauce, gnocchi etc.
Many products that look vegan, but we need to be worried about hidden animal products.
Lactic acid seems like an ingredient that might not be vegan because we associate it with lactose (a sugar in dairy). However, it turns out that almost all commercial lactic acid is made with plant, not animal products, and is suitable for vegans.
As a side note: Lactic acid is used to make sodium stearoyl lactylate, which isn’t always vegan (usually because the stearic acid in it).
How Is Lactic Acid Made?
The vast majority of lactic acid you’ll find in food products is made by fermentation.
In simple terms, lactic acid bacteria (of the Lactobacillius variety, which are actually probioitics) is fed sugar, which then produces lactic acid as a byproduct. No other food ingredients are needed.
Note that bacteria are not considered animal products, so this is a vegan process.
Almost any type of sugar can be used in this process.
Is Lactic Acid the same as Lactose?
Lactose is one specific type of sugar that is found only in cow’s milk and other dairy products, and it’s not vegan.
But despite the name similarity between “lactose” and “lactic acid”, they are not the same thing.
That sugar can be lactose (from dairy products), but most lactic acid comes from sucrose, beet sugar, or cornstarch (source). That’s why you’ll often find it in products made for vegans like Earth Balance butter.
Check the food ingredients list carefully.
So Is Lactic Acid Vegan?
In general, it’s reasonable to assume that lactic acid is made from a plant source (not milk) and is vegan friendly. That’s why you’ll find it in vegan products like vegan cheese, dairy free yogurt, and sourdough bread.
However, some lactic acid is in fact made through bacterial fermentation with 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 that makes the food, 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 of lactic acid on Amazon makes it clear in the product description that it’s made using “natural corn starch”:
You can buy it in 2 main forms: lactic acid powder or as a solution.
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 food ingredients like natural flavors, which can hide milk ingredients.