Autumn 2012 True Natural Health Magazine – Your Questions Answered
By Roger French
QUESTION: I would like to inquire about ‘animal rennet’ in various products, especially cheese, and whether cheese produced with vegetable rennet is readily available. What other products contain animal rennet?
The key ingredient in animal rennet is rennin, an enzyme that is secreted in the fourth stomach of calves, lambs, and goats. It is most often derived from the dried and ground stomachs of young unweaned calves.
Rennet causes the milk protein, casein, to curdle and the liquid that is strained off is whey. Hence “Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey”.
The kind of rennet that is used affects the flavour and texture of the cheese.
There are alternative sources of rennet, so we can relatively easily avoid animal rennet. The necessary enzymes occur in certain plants, fungi and microbes. Cheeses produced using any of these alternative sources of rennet are suitable for people on lacto-vegetarian diets. Examples of vegetable rennet are phytic acid derived from unfermented soybeans and genetically-modified soy rennet.
Vegetable rennet may be used in the production of kosher and halal cheeses, but nearly all kosher cheeses are produced with either microbial rennet or genetically-modified rennet.
Commercial so-called vegetable rennets usually contain rennet from the mold Mucor miehei. Another mold source is Rhizomucor miehei. Unfortunately, the European Food Safety Authority denies ‘Presumption of Safety’ status to enzymes produced by these molds. The most common source of GM rennet today is the fungus Aspergillus niger.
GM rennet is sometimes produced from soya beans or phytic acid, so people with allergies to soya products need to watch for this.
Genetically-engineered microbial rennet is now more commonly used in cheese-making than animal rennet because it is less expensive. On the other hand, cheese from Europe is more likely to be made traditionally using animal rennet.
A completely different kind of coagulator for milk is an acid, such as citric acid. Cream cheese, paneer, and rubing are traditionally made this way, as are some cheap mozzarellas. It is easy to make cottage cheese at home by adding lemon juice to milk at room temperature (see under ‘Cheese’ in ‘Food for Feeling Great’ in this issue). Coagulation can also be provided by bacterial fermentation, as in cultured milk.
The Vegetarian Network Victoria has done a great job in identifying and listing dairy cheeses made without animal-derived rennet. Details are to be found in their website www.vnv.org.au.
Brands mainly available in health food shops, delicatessens and cheese shops include:
– Alpine (organic)
– Cloverdene (organic)
– Cowra Cheese
– Elgaar Farm (organic)
– Highland Organics
– Mount Emu Creek
– Mungalli Creek (biodynamic)
– Piano Hills (biodynamic)
– Timboon Farmhouse (organic)
– Udder Delights
Brands mainly available in supermarkets include:
– Aussie Gold Fetta Cheese
– Farmland Shredded Light Mozzarella
– Italiano Perfect Light Mozzarella
– Mainland (“Vegetarian Cheese”)
– South Cape
– True Organic (organic)
– Woolworths Select Light Tasty Slices
– Woolworths brand (Colby, Mild, Tasty, Vintage Cheddar)
Re rennet in foods other than cheeses, in all my investigations of rennet, there was no mention of animal rennet being used in other foods. But my search was not exhaustive, so this is possible. As they say, more research might be required.