The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Update on Lipases

Posted on February 20, 2013 by Nina Casalena, The VRG Blog Editor

By Jeanne Yacoubou
VRG Research Director

Lipases are enzymes used to impart distinct aromas and flavors to certain cheeses through the breakdown of milkfat.

Traditionally, most lipases originated from cow and pig pancreatic glands as well as the pre-gastric juices of calves, lambs or baby goats. Animal lipases are predominantly used in artisanal European cheeses that traditionally contained lipases and are very common in the United States in certain cheese varieties possessing lipase-derived flavors.

Microbial lipases derived exclusively from yeast, bacteria or fungi without any animal genetic origin have become commercially available and are commonly used in a wide variety of industries including several food industries. Lipase researchers reported in a 2011 article in the Indian Journal of Science and Technology that mostly microbial lipases are used commercially today while animal lipases are used in approximately 18% of all applications.

Kraft told us in August 2012 that animal lipase and animal rennet are common in many Kraft products. If “lipase” appears on their label, it is animal lipase. Their customer service representative said “microbial enzymes” on a Kraft package means that more than one type of enzyme may be present; if so, one type could be animal while the other is microbial. Organic Valley told us in August 2012 that animal lipases are used in certain Organic Valley cheeses.

Dairy cheese-eating vegetarians should keep in mind that most European and many American cheese varieties including Parmesan, Romano, and provolone are made with animal lipase. Microbial lipases created without any animal gene recombinant technology are not preferred by most cheese makers due to poor taste results in the final cheese products. However, large cheese companies may still use microbial lipase because they want the byproduct of cheese production: kosher whey used widely in packaged foods.

Lipases are critical in the production of concentrated cheese flavors known as enzyme modified cheeses (EMC) and enzyme modified dairy ingredients (EMDI). EMC and EMDI are found in many types of packaged foods. It appears that they may be labeled as “natural flavors” with no mention of enzymes on an ingredient statement. (By contrast, when lipases are used in cheese, the ingredient label must state “enzyme” although further information on enzyme type is not mandatory.)

From our informal survey of vegan cheese crafters and companies in November 2012, non-dairy cheeses are not typically flavored with lipases. Companies are generally unwilling to share specific information about their flavor profiles.

The contents of this article, our website, and our other publications, including the Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company employees or company statements. Information does change and mistakes are always possible. Please use your own best judgement about whether a product is suitable for you. Further research or confirmation may be warranted.

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