10 Things to Know About Rennet [It's in your cheese]

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.


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  • http://twitter.com/cortado Rune Smistad

    It is as easy as this: Cheese is made with rennet. If not, it is something else, a substitute. It’s like a veggie burger.. It´s not a burger, but looks liek one. Eat real food, come to Europe!

    • on: orbit

      come to central-coast California and enjoy the very cutting edge of healthy cuisine… (:

  • Amy in Colorado

    I don’t eat red meat or baby animals either. Makes me vomit, actually. If it can be derived from vegetables, why slaughter innocent animals? The food industry is disgusting, inhumane, and greedy here and in Europe and most people aren’t aware of what’s going on. Thank you very much for the tip!!

    • BARBARA WASHINGTON

      As a believer, I was grieved in my soul when I read this. Not because of you in particular, but because I wondered how many people who were grossed out at the thought of eating baby animals wouldn’t think twice about sacrificing an unborn child on the altar of convenience.
      Surely our nation will be judged for our sins.
      Repent while there is yet a little time.

      • tom

        Well, if you eat factory farmed chicken, pork or beef, you’re eating infant/young teenage animals, not sure whether it’s much better than eating babies…

      • BARBARA WASHINGTON

        Really, Tom? I hope you were exaggerating.
        Mostly I eat chicken, and judging from the size I’d say they’re full grown.

        • LuBabaChica

          My dog is fully grown. It doesn’t mean that he is not still young.. In a natural environment, chickens
          would live for seven years. The vast majority of those
          destined for the table live for six to seven weeks in windowless sheds shared with thousands of other
          birds. Stop being ignorant.

          • BARBARA WASHINGTON

            I’m ignorant? Because I have a different opinion about eating meat?
            Or because in my original post I dared say something against people who wouldn’t think twice about having an abortion,but get squeamish about eating meat and killing animals? It was about hypocrisy.

          • jo

            Whos saying we wouldnt think twice about killing babies? Your choices have an affect on many things. Not you in particular, in general. Both topics are very sad indeed. It is a personal choice, therefore no one should be taking comments personally. I choose not to eat the flesh of animals. It is because I have been awakened to the atrocities of factory farming. I know the difference with animals & humans but I choose not to support the exploitation of animals. Thats just me. Im not speciesist. Im no better than you. Just a personal choice.

        • jo

          Full grown by antibiotics.

    • andre laforest

      I am from quebec canada and i think like you.

  • http://twitter.com/awakewellness Rachel Assuncao

    Didn’t know about genetically modified rennet. Yet another reason to eat organic. Thanks for the informative post!

  • only local meet

    If you’re going to eat meat at all, why are you making those distinctions?

    If you’re going to eat meat, why not make it locally sourced, humanely raised meat?

    Not eating red meat & not eating baby animals is like saying you’re going to reduce your carbon footprint by trading in your Humvee for an SUV.

    @Rune Smistad: not all cheese is made with rennet. Many soft cheese such as mascarpone, ricotta, (some) cream cheese and cottage cheese use an acid as a coagulant. And there are cheese making traditions that favor vegetable rennets.

    • FrugalArugula

      Excuse me, but not eating red meat/baby animals is a choice and has nothing to do with humvees or SUV’s or really anything to do with the environment, though it is statistically proven to do more than that ridiculous comparison.

      I gave red meat up many years ago and have found ZERO reason to reincorporate it into my diet. So few places are doing humane anything. Most likely, EVEN LOCAL MEAT has animals slaughtered at a USDA approved industrial facility. Basically, that says to me that the happy lives and excellent dietary conditions of said animal are then thrown straight into the same squalid conditions everything else gets killed in.

      SO. That said, I love cheese. Real cheeses. From time to time, you’ll see “animal rennet,” sometimes it’s “vegetable rennet” and other times it just says “rennet.”

      I’ve battled with this for a long time over if I care. When I’m already eating cheeses from some small farm in god knows where…that costs me $26.95 a pound. I do my best to keep everything I eat “local” or at least small batch.

      Thanks for the rennet post. In all of my readings, I’d never seen that it was actually “calves.” Now maybe I re-think this a little more. There’s an acceptable amount of risk in eating high quality cheese to my red meat-free diet, and I’ve recognized that for a long time.

      If you’d like to then tackle the rumor of the legally allowed amount of cow blood in milk, that would be appreciated as well.

      As for red meat and baby things… Should the time come that this is all there is in the world, I’m sure they will have had as healthy as a life as myself when I have to kill it myself.

      • Sarahwinks

        I know of a number of “local farms” who use a mobile slaughtering service where a white truck comes to the humane farm and does it onsite. Some farmers do it them selves too…….

    • seemichellecook.com

      Not really sure where you’re going with this but trading in your Humvee for an SUV is still an improvement and if everyone just made one little change then isn’t that a good thing? How can you possibly find a way to criticise someone who makes their own personal distinctions? That’s why it’s called personal.

  • Lisa

    I was never a huge cheese lover, even when it came to my pasta. I broke the cardinal rule of Italian eating by refusing parmegiano for my pasta… thankfully this was after my grandma died, or I would have met the end of a wooden spoon, haha.

    Brie’s all right, but it’s so fatty that I haven’t eaten it for years. I like a bit of organic cheddar sprinkled in a wrap every now and then for something different and do make sure it’s rennet free.

  • Guest

    I’ve just unsubbed from your facebook page. The way fooducate has decided to present rennet as something that should be avoided-when it (along with acid produced by bacteria naturally found in the milk) are the top two most natural ways milk curdles, in order to form cheese. There is nothing wrong with it, unless people want to avoid everything animal-and if that’s the case, then maybe they could look into vegan cheeses (yes, they do exist).

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      Actually, this post (unlike many others we’ve done) did not present any opinion. Just answered a question and stated facts.
      Sorry to see you leave.

    • http://ithinkitneedsmoreturbinado.blogspot.com/ SL

      I try to be vegan and I didn’t feel Fooducate was on the same page on me with this one. It didn’t convey “avoid cheese” to me.

  • Bokumad12

    To Guest who unsubbed from fooducate: The question regarding this subject matter was asked by a fooducate member. All fooducate did was answer the question!!

  • http://bakerymanis.wordpress.com andreadevon

    Tillamook and Rumiano are both national brands that do not use animal rennet in their cheese (with the exception of the white chedder tillamook, old fashioned or something). These cheeses are good quality and flavorful, so if you choose to eat cheese you can do so without rennet. It is also possible to purchase vegetable rennet and make your own cheese, should you be interested in a more radical approach! aloha from maui!

  • http://profiles.google.com/clbrns Corey Colburn

    Thanks for answering this question. I have researched and knew most of it…but it is great to have all these details in one place.

    Another subject you could follow up with: clarifying just what kosher means, and all the different symbols that are used on packaging to denote a food as kosher.

    Thanks — always informative and thought-provoking.

  • clc7

    Thanks for answering this question. I have researched and knew most of it…but it is great to have all these details in one place.

    Another subject you could follow up with: clarifying just what kosher means, and all the different symbols that are used on packaging to denote a food as kosher.

    Thanks — always informative and thought-provoking.

    • clc7

      oops…a quick search of your site shows you’ve informed about kosher before — thanks!

  • http://profiles.google.com/dm.lilith Elizabeth Courts

    Tillamook Cheese does a great job at labeling the source of their rennet. Last time I checked, they used vegetarian-friendly rennet on their cheddar (not sure about the rest of the cheeses). Check the labeling!

    • Ch33ky1

      yes, just checked a package I just bought. On the ingredients it states that no animal rennet is used. Love Tillamook!

  • http://hcgbiggirlnot.wordpress.com/ Chava

    kosher cheese will not have any meat ingredients in it, so just buy that
    http://usa.kosher.com/store/kosher-dairy/cheese

  • I Like Lichen

    Any ideas on how people discovered rennet. Also, why is it from a calf rather than an adult cow?

    • http://www.canadianfoodiegirl.com Andrea T

      I read the answer to this recently. My memory is slightly hazy on this, but basically it was guy wandering the dessert, had milked a cow (or goat?) in the morning and stored the milk in a wineskin made from a goat’s stomach. When he went to drink the milk he discovered cheese. It sounds like an urban legend but I read it in a book about raising goats for cheese-making.

    • Emily

      Unweaned calves have the enzymes, adult cows do not.

  • http://www.culturezest.org/home/users/detail/?UserHexID=73427218-9BE9-4919-8842-F2D519B90147 Morgan

    I had no idea that’s what rennet was. I greatly appreciate the tips for identifying and avoiding cheese made with animal rennet, as I have a friend who also refuses to eat baby animals, and this ought to help her immensely.

  • Candice

    Yeah, this is thw reason Im learning to make cheese at home! I made queso fresco last month. All it is is Milk, salt and vinegar, that’s it! No preservatives and “other” ingredients to worry about. I have the recipe on my blog:
    http://theoldladyatheart.blogspot.com/2011/02/cheesy-does-it.html

    -Candice

  • Ann G

    Careful about the assumption that kosher cheese is free of renet. I researched this a few years ago for a vegetarian kid at a Jewish summer camp. Apparenly a few animal enzymes are forgivable as long as they’re super kosher. http://www.kashrut.com/articles/cheese/

  • vashini

    this really not believable,but it’s true
    i’m a vegetarian i ate cheese a lot more many times.and i just love it it when it is eaten with bread.

  • kj burnett

    The word “Kosher” does not always mean it is from non-meat sources, even when applied to dairy products. Once I called Dannon to find out if the Kosher gelatin in their yogurt was from animal sources. Dannon told me the Kosher gelatin they use is derived from cow leather.

  • Daisy

    You should read this article before you completely endorse #10: http://www.kosherquest.org/book.php?id=CHEESE.htm

  • Jon

    I am allergic to animal rennet. So you think its difficult to avoid it, can you imagine not being able to breathe if you ate it? I have a website where I list all of the cheeses in restaurants and stores that don’t contain animal rennet. http://www.safecheese.com

  • Shariq

    How can I make rennet at home if it is not easily available in the market?