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When you hear the term “lactic acid,” perhaps you first think of your body’s response to strenuous exercise; when your muscles fill to the brim with this biochemical fluid (also known as “lactate”) in an attempt to break down glucose for your oxygen-deprived cells.
While it’s the same compound, for our intents and purposes, we’ll be answering the question , “Is lactic acid vegan?” in terms of the food preservative, and identifying an overall grade of health. So, let’s alleviate any potential confusion right out of the gate, and take a look back at where lactic acid came from in order to give us a better context moving forward.
The history of lactic acid
Lactic acid is a chemical compound discovered by Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele. In 1780, he isolated lactic acid from sour milk, and therefore, the name is a reference to lac, the Latin word for milk.
In 1808, Jons Jacob Berzelius was the first to identify lactic acid as a byproduct of muscle exertion, and then, in 1856, Louis Pasteur identified lactic acid bacteria, Lactobacillus (more on this important breakthrough very soon), and its role in lactic acid production.
But milk is dairy! So how can lactic acid be vegan?
Though discovered in a dairy product, we can assure you that lactic acid itself is vegan as it is a chemical compound. While responsible for coagulating the casein in fermented milk and other dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir (see PETA’s lactic acid description on its list of Animal-Derived Ingredients), lactic acid can also be used with numerous plant-based foods, too.
And, perhaps most importantly, though living microorganisms, the lactic acid bacteria themselves (as we discussed in our article on yeast) are non-sentient beings, and so, they absolutely vegan as they feel no pain.
Now that we know lactic acid and lactic acid bacteria are both vegan (phew!), let’s talk about their function in plant-food preservation and whether this is or isn’t something we should be consuming.
What do lactic acid bacteria do exactly?
While yeast bacteria ferment sugars into ethanol, according to the Textbook of Bacteriology, lactic acid bacteria ferment sugars into lactic acid. This process inhibits growth of other bacteria that may cause food to spoil. As a result, these food items retain most of their composition, preserved with a distinctive taste.
Lactic acid bacteria are used for fermenting kimchi and sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers, miso and tempeh. They also buddy up with yeast bacteria to ferment wine and put the sour in sourdough bread (see our article on Is Bread Vegan? for more on which loaves you can still enjoy!).
But is this whole thing healthy, too?
Perhaps you’ve heard of or witnessed the relatively recent flooding of “probiotic” labels in the world of health. It’s been such a buzzworthy boom, fraught with misdirection and exaggeration, the EU has fought to ban the word from product descriptions altogether!
What is a probiotic? According to the World Health Organization, probiotics are “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a benefit on the host.” And it just so happens, a good amount of these “microorganisms” hail from the genus Lactobacillus, the lactic acid bacteria that our buddy Louis discovered so long ago.
For example, one such strain, Lactobaccilus acidophilus (also known as L. acidophilus), is a bacteria that’s also normally found in our intestines. L. acidophilus is crucial to our gut health, which is of utmost importance–so much so, that our gut is often referred as our second brain!
Here’s an insightful video on how your gut health can actually impact your mental health:
On top of improving our overall gut health and addressing acute digestion problems, a well-cited article by Healthline says some studies have shown that consuming foods with L. acidophilus may also help reduce cholesterol and lead to weight loss, improve Eczema and allergies, and prevent vaginal infections and flu and cold symptoms.
Real food Vs. supplementation
In addition to the foods we’ve mentioned above, L. Acidophilus can be supplemented. But, if you’re not such a fan of taking pills for your nutrition (other than your daily B12 supplement), we get it, and that’s a great mindset to have!
Instead, you can actually combine supplements with real food to concoct some probiotic wonders in your very own kitchen! One fun way to get a heaping helping of health? Through yogurt.
Vegans can still have yogurt?
We’re not talking about the kind you were possibly raised on that definitely harms cows, sheep and goats. We’re talking about non-dairy yogurt! These days, coconut milk yogurt has become very popular as more and more people hop on the vegan train.
Note: Coconut is made almost entirely of fat, so, as with something like olive oil, make sure to exercise caution to reap health benefits from this high-calorie food without packing on some unwanted pounds. For more info on this drupe – including what a drupe actually is – check out my coconut 101 guide.
Here’s a great video on how you can make your very own coconut milk yogurt at home using probiotics!
Final words on is lactic acid vegan?
So, to recap what we’ve learned, lactic acid, the chemical compound, is created when lactic acid bacteria, also known as Lactobacillus, (both of which are vegan) are used to ferment foods that then have a beneficial effect on your gut when consumed in moderation as probiotics (which is very healthy)!
We hope you feel a bit more comfortable now with consuming lactic acid and that this article has thoroughly enlightened you on all of its moving parts. But, should you have further questions or any comments, please leave us a message below–we’d love to hear from you!