We recently received an interesting inquiry from a Fooducate community member:
I just learned what “rennet” is (an enzyme used to make most cheeses and which is usually derived from the lining of calves stomachs). You can imagine what an unwelcome surprise this might be to some people.
For example, I do not eat 1. Red meat and 2. Baby animals of any kind.
So now I am looking for products, especially cheeses, which are made with “vegetable” rennet.
My question is “what more do I need to know”? Where else in the food world does the ingredient “enzymes” mean “stomach linings” or similar? What is vegetable rennet made from? Hope you can help.
What you need to know:
1. Cheese has been manufactured using rennet for thousands of years, mostly in Europe.
2. Indeed, rennet is extracted from the lining of the inside of the stomach of mammals, and most commonly from the fourth stomach of young calves.
3. Rennet contains enzymes that cause milk to become cheese, by separating it into the solid curds and the liquid whey.
4. Different animal rennet are used as well to create other types of cheese.
5. Most cheese in the US is NOT manufactured using rennet, mostly due to the availability of cheaper alternatives.
6. Vegetable rennet is made from certain vegetables that have coagulation properties as well. Thistle is the most common form.
7. Microbial rennet is derived from molds. Yum. A side effect is a slightly bitter tasting cheese.
8. Genetically engineered rennet is derived from plants that have been injected with cow genes.
What to do at the supermarket:
9. Companies are not legally required to disclose the source of the rennet, so unless the product specifically states a non-animal source for rennet, you won’t know.
10. Another way to verify that the rennet is not from an animal source is to look for a kosher symbol. According to Jewish dietary laws, milk and meat ingredients cannot be mixed or eaten at the same time.