Natural Rennet and Vegetarians
We are often asked by customers for "vegetable rennet" or "vegetarian rennet". Here are our answers to these questions:
Confusion of denotation
Vegetarians often use the denotations "animal rennet", "plant rennet" or "vegetarian rennet".
These terms "plant rennet" or "vegetarian rennet" instead of "microbial rennet substitute" are friendly but basically wrong. But because of the friendliness of these names, also the producers of microbial rennet substitutes like to use them. Fact is that by using these wrong denotations vegetarians are often manipulated and exploited for the aims of the industry.
Rennet is the correct name for the traditional natural product – extracted out of stomachs from young calves.
All other products have to be called legally and officially: microbial rennet substitutes.
Plant based rennet substitute is always discussed but except in some traditional cheeses in Portugal not in use – it leads to strange tastes in cheese.
The so called "vegetarian rennets" or also "microbial rennets" are always enzymes which are produced by the fermentation of moulds and should be called "rennet-substitute". These enzymes are totally dissimilar to the original Rennet enzymes and are so called Mucor-Pepsines. The only reason why they are also called natural enzymes is, because they are existing in nature for the degradation and decay of natural proteins.
"Pure" Chymosin produced by "natural" fermentation - Fermantation Produced Chymosin - FPC - is the copy of one of the rennet enzymes through fermentation of GMO organisms. The producers of these rennet substitutes avoid off course any hint to the GMO technique and accentuate the "natural" fermentation and the "identical" construction of the copied enzyme Chymosin.
Natural rennet is an enzyme extracted from the mucosa of the calves stomach. No calf has ever been slaughtered for the production of rennet. The calves are especially born for the milk-production and than slaughtered. Even if there was no demand for rennet, these claves would be slaughtered the same.
The only natural way to get milk from a cow is when she gave birth to a calf. Most of these calves are than slaughtered because there is only limited need for substitution of the mother-cow. There is an other method for the milk production by treatment of the cows with artificial hormones - BST - Bovine Somatotropin - which is not allowed in Europe and disliked by customers all over the world.
Many vegetarians are busy with avoiding cheese which was produced by the use of natural rennet. At the same time, they forget that the calf has been slaughtered for the milk production. In Europe the average life-span of a milk cow is 2.7 years and the average milk-production is 7.000 litres per year. This means that for the production of approximately 19,000 litres of milk 1 cow and 2.7 calves have to die. At the same time – 2.7 calf stomachs available – this milk quantity of 19,000 litres can be transformed to cheese by the enzymes of only 2 stomachs. Natural rennet is therefore also a sustainable product. A clear and definite YES to milk and milk products logically also means a clear YES to the use of natural rennet.
Animal products in cheese
Only the basic for the extraction of natural rennet is the calf stomach. The enzymes are extracted, the stomach and all the residues are either composted or delivered for the production of bio-gas to close the circuit of sustainability.
1 litre of rennet extract contains approximately 1,000 mg of enzymes and 18% of table salt. The rest is just water. For the processing of 10,000 litres of milk into 1 ton of cheese approximately 2 kg of liquid rennet extract is needed. This means: 2 grams of natural enzyme.
20% to 30% of theses enzymes remain in the cheese, the rest goes into the whey and is completely destroyed by the drying process of the whey-powder-production.
There is only approximately 0,5 grams of enzymes remaining in 1 ton of cheese. This means: 0,5 ppm (parts per million). 1 kg of cheese contains therefore 0,0000005 g rennet enzyme.
On the other side: for the production of 1.900 kg of cheese (19.000 litres of milk) 1 cow and 2,7 calves have been killed: this means: approx. 0,375 kg (dead cow) for 1 kg of cheese.
rennet substitutes really suitable for vegetarians?
Also in the fermentation process (this is the process used for the production of microbial rennet substitutes and also of the GMO product) there are often animal based products used for the alimentation of the moulds or bacteria. These are needed for the nitrogen supply and as basis for the amino-acid production. Sometimes the ingredients for the fermentation come from fermentation where again also meat-extract is used. It is only that these processing aids do not have to be declared and therefore will not be declared. The same legislation – no declaration duty – is also valid for allergens used in the fermentation process.
Vegetarism means that no animal had to die for the production of any vegetarian foodstuff - in this case neither milk, nor milk products nor rennet substitutes (neither microbially derived nor produced by GMO) would be suitable for vegetarians.