It’s pretty obvious that sodium caseinate is not vegan-friendly when you hear its other name – milk powder.
On ingredients list, milk powder is the more common term, but sodium caseinate is sometimes listed.
It’s often used in powdered coffee mixes, lactose-free milks, and even in the cream versions of instant oatmeal.
If you buy coffee (and related products), you need to be read the ingredients carefully to check for sodium caseinate because the product still might be labeled “dairy-free”. This is allowed in some places for some reason if a product doesn’t have lactose.
Note that even if you’re interested in vegan creamers just for allergy reasons, it’s still very possible to have an allergic reaction to sodium caseinate in “lactose-free” products.
How is Sodium Caseinate Made?
Milk from animals has many types of proteins.
From cows, which almost all dairy products come from, there are 2 main ones: whey and casein.
Casein makes up about 80% of the proteins in cow’s milk.
Sodium caseinate is just a specific form of casein (which describes a family of proteins) that’s the most popular form used in foods.
It’s has many useful properties for food products, like as a foaming agent or emulsifier.
There are only 2 main steps needed to make sodium caseinate:
- Acid coagulation – A common technique in cheese making that causes casein micelles (bunches of molecules) to clot and essential form blobs.
- Alkaline sodium reaction – The extract casein is reacted with sodium hydroxide, which forms a casein salt (sodium caseinate).
The reason for the second step is because pure casein doesn’t dissolve well in water, but the salt version dissolves easily.
Can Vegan Sodium Caseinate Be Made?
In theory, a vegan version of just about any ingredient can be made in a lab.
All we’d need to do is recreate its molecular formula (C47H48N3O7S2Na).
And while that’s probably possible, there’s no easy way to do it, so it’d be expensive.
In other words, there won’t be a vegan version of sodium caseinate for a LONG time.
In Summary: Watch Out for “Dairy-free” Products
Let’s be very clear: Sodium caseinate is never vegan, although it would be fine for a lacto-vegetarian.
It often hides near the end of ingredient lists, so check carefully.
You’ll find it most often in:
- Coffee products (powdered coffee or lactose-free creamers)
- Ice creams
- Grains in general.
To make things even more annoying, it’s allowed to go in “dairy-free” products in certain places.
I know it’s not convenient, but you have no other choice than to be diligent checking the ingredient label of any grain or milk product you buy.