Is Lactic Acid Vegan? What About Sodium Lactate?

“Lactic acid” really sounds like it might not be vegan… But that’s just because it sounds similar to “lactose,” which is in milk. As it happens, lactic acid is something else entirely.

Is lactic acid vegan? Yes, lactic acid is vegan. Commercial lactic acid is typically fermented from vegetables like corn starch, potatoes, or molasses, making it a vegan ingredient. Many people confuse lactic acid with lactose, which is not vegan. But lactic acid is vegan.

In this post, I’ll cover what lactic acid is and its role in vegan and non-vegan food and skincare products. I’ll also touch on sodium lactate, buffered lactic acid, the lactic acid found in olives, lactic acid powder, and E270 (actually just another name for lactic acid!).

Can You Consume Lactic Acid if You Are Vegan?

Yes, vegans can consume lactic acid. Some people suspect that lactic acid is not vegan because the name is similar to “lactose.” Lactic acid is also sometimes called “milk acid.” But this nickname is misleading.

Knowing the difference between lactose and lactic acid will help you understand why lactic acid is vegan and lactose is not. 

Lactic Acid Is Vegan.

The vast majority of lactic acid worldwide, especially in the United States, is made from vegetable products and not from animal products. 

Commercially used lactic acids are typically fermented from corn starch, potatoes, or molasses. Thus, they are considered vegan.

If you live outside the U.S or you eat imported foods, there is a small chance that your lactic acid many not come from a vegan-friendly source. If you are not sure, you can always contact the company and ask them where they source the lactic acid used in their products.

More About Lactic Acid

In our bodies, lactic acid is created by the breakdown of glucose. It is then converted into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which our bodies use for energy to carry out most chemical reactions.

The molecular structure of lactic acid.

Lactic acid has a molecular formula of CH3CH(OH)CO2H. It is white when it is in its solid state, and it can mix in with water to create a homogeneous solution.

Lactic Acid is ten times more acidic than acetic acid. In milk or whey products, lactic acid can be created by a fermentation process in which simple carbohydrates are turned into lactic acid by lactic acid bacteria.

Lactic acid in food is also known by its E-number, E270. So for anyone wondering whether E270 is vegan, the answer is yes! Lactic acid E270 is vegan.

Lactose Is Not Vegan.

Lactose is the name given to the sugar present in dairy products. It contains glucose and galactose units. It has a mildly sweet taste and is used in the food industry.

Lactose is mostly found in dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. But it can also be found in other products such as bread and baked goods, pancake mixes, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, instant soups, candy, cookies, salad dressings, deli meats, drink mixes, and margarine.

If you are vegan, it is important to check ingredient lists for lactose. 

Lactose is sometimes used in aromas and pharmaceutical products. It is also added to baby formulas to help it match the composition of human milk. 

Lactic Acid in Foods

Lactic Acid was first discovered in milk, and that is why it was given the name lactic acid, even though it is not the same as lactose. 

Lactic acid is found naturally in sour dairy products. It is also found in sourdough bread, which gives it the sour flavor. Sometimes on food nutritional labels, lactic acid is counted as a carbohydrate.  

It is also formed by natural fermentation in products like cheese, yogurt, soy sauce, meat products, and pickled vegetables.

Some beers, most commonly the “sour” beers, contain lactic acid. In winemaking, malic acid is converted into lactic acid.

Sometimes lactic acid is used as a food additive. If lactic acid is added to food synthetically, it is safe and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

It can also be used as a food preservative, curing agent, and flavoring agent. During meat processing, it is used to decontaminate the meat. 

Lactic Acid Starter Culture

Probiotics are often fermented with dairy. Most vegans do not consider such products vegan, but opinions vary since the final product does not contain animal products.

A starter culture is a microbiological culture that aids in the fermentation process. These starters usually consist of a culture medium, like grains, seeds, nutrient liquids or dairy.

Many people purchase starters to make their own yogurt or cheese at home. Starters are completely removed from the medium before use, but if you are a strict vegan who wants to make sure there was no dairy used in the making, check to make sure the label says dairy-free or vegan.

Lactic Acid in Skin Care

In the skincare industry, lactic acid is sometimes referred to as alpha-hydroxy acid, or AHA. It is used in topical preparations and cosmetics.

Lactic acid is gentler than other acids and at the right strength can be used as a moisturizer, exfoliate, or peel treatment.

For example, The Ordinary has a lactic acid product that functions as a peel treatment. And yes, The Ordinary’s lactic acid is vegan.

At higher concentrations, lactic acid can stimulate cell turnover and is great as an exfoliant to remove dead skin cells. At lower concentrations, it is more ideal as a nourishing agent and can help reduce the loss of water in the skin, making a good moisturizing agent.

Lactic acid has also been found to improve skin texture, reduce scarring, and help with acne. 

Is Sodium Lactate Vegan?

Sodium lactate is just the sodium salt of lactic acid, so it is typically vegan. In rare instances, sodium lactate can be derived from whey or other dairy products. But this is uncommon. Most sodium lactate that comes from dairy goes back into dairy products.

Sodium lactate is often used as a food additive, it is naturally liquid but also can come in a powder form. It can act as a preservative, acidity regulator, and bulking agent.

It is also sometimes used in some health and beauty products like shampoo, liquid soaps, or moisturizers. Sodium lactate is also used in some pharmaceutical products and medical procedures.

Sodium lactate is naturally produced in the skin and also naturally occurs in human and animal muscle tissue. It is also made from the fermentation of sugar that usually comes from corn or beets. 

Again, most sodium lactate in products was derived from lactic acid that did not originate from dairy. For common purposes, we can assume that sodium lactate is vegan.

Is Buffered Lactic Acid Vegan?

Yes, buffered lactic acid is vegan. It is simply a mix of lactic acid and its sodium salt, sodium lactate. Since both of those ingredients are vegan, buffered lactic acid is vegan, too.

Is the Lactic Acid in Olives Vegan?

The lactic acid in olives is vegan. Again, lactic acid is not the same as the milk sugar “lactose.” Lactic acid is almost always produced from vegetable sources. Vegans can eat olives.

Is Lactic Acid Powder Vegan?

Lactic acid powder is typically vegan. It is most commonly produced commercially from vegetable sources such as corn, potatoes, or cane sugar.

How to Check If Any Food Is Vegan

For more information on how to know if a food is vegan, refer to this article: “How to Check If Any Food Is Vegan: 3 Easy Steps (Illustrated).”

It may seem intimidating at first to read ingredients lists and know whether the chemical-sounding names are vegan. But you’ll get so quick once you know what you’re looking for and you’re accustomed to it!

Two More Recommendations for Your Plant-Based Journey

1. This is the best free video training I’ve found on plant-based nutrition. You’ll learn how to reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and obesity—all with plant-based food. Watch the free “Food for Health Masterclass” here.

2. This is the best vegan multivitamin I’ve found in my 14 years of being vegan. It has vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3—and nothing else. Translation: It only has the nutrients vegans are actually low in. Read my full review of Future Kind’s multivitamin here (with 10% discount).