Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cheese and Rennet

It never really bothered me about animal rennet being in cheese when I was in Malaysia because all the cheeses sold were either halal or had no animal rennet in them. Living in Belgium now is completely different and I have to read labels to make sure that processed, packed or canned foods are animal free. The safest is of course to opt for vegetarian products…that is why I do much of my groceries from the Bio Planet. I LOVE cheese but I go for Rennetless Cheeses OR cheeses that contain emulsifying agents that are specifically vegetarian or microbial in nature. It’s truly a relief to know that there are non-animal sources for rennet that are suitable for consumption by vegetarians and people like myself. :) 

Cheese is a solid food made from the milk of cowsgoatssheep, and other mammals. Cheese is made by curdling milk using a combination of rennet (or rennet substitutes) and acidificationBacteria acidify the milk and play a role in defining the texture and flavour of most cheeses. Some cheeses also feature moulds, either on the outer rind or throughout.

Rennet is an enzyme used to make most cheeses and which is usually derived from the lining of calves stomachs, though rennet from other animals such as pigs or goats can also be used. This is definitely not acceptable or welcomed by many people.

Cheese without Rennet
Some cheese varieties can be made without rennet. These include:
  • Cream cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Quark
  • Paneer
  • Farmer's cheese
  • Some types of mozzarella
These cheeses are generally soft and can be packed in liquid. The milk in these cheese types is coagulated using citric or other acids rather than animal byproducts.

The good news is that there are several sources of non-animal rennet that can be used in vegetarian cheese, so vegetarians can have their cheese and eat it, too! Animal-based rennet is expensive, so cheese makers have been searching for other forms of rennin for a long time. Fortunately, there are three other ways to obtain the enzyme.
  1. Microbial Rennet is derived from moulds. Soft cheeses can be made using rennet that has been derived from bacteria. The bacteria itself is created and fermented under controlled conditions, to ensure that the mould is "clean" and safe for human consumption.
  2. Genetically Modified or Engineered Rennet is derived from plants that have been injected with cow genes. It is made by combining bacteria or yeast with the calf genes that contain rennin. Once the initial rennet is made, it can be genetically modified and bio-engineered so that no further animal products are needed to continue reproduction. This type of rennet is safe for vegetarians as long as there is no further animal-based rennet used during the cheese making process.
  3. Vegetable Rennet is made from certain vegetables that have coagulation properties as well. Several sources of plant-based rennet are perfectly suitable to make cheese. Some of these plant sources include: 
  • Wild Thisel
  • Fig leaves or bark
  • Safflower
  • Mallow
  • Melon
  • Stinging nettle

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 and finding certified vegetarian rennet cheese can be tricky. There are a few other options for vegetarians who want to eat cheese without worry:
  1. Any cheese labeled kosher is safe for vegetarians to eat. This is because kosher foods cannot contain any combination of meat products and milk. Check kosher specialty food stores or markets for these cheeses. 
  2. Other alternatives include soy cheese and other non-dairy cheeses that are made from tofu.
  3. There is even a product on the market that mimics parmesan cheese, but it is made from ground walnuts, called Parma Raw Parmesan Cheese Alternative.


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