By Jeanne Yacoubou, MS
VRG Research Director
An online reader emailed The VRG that he had seen an article on the Internet stating that tricalcium phosphate could be derived from cow bone char. Another source we found made the same point. The reader asked if our Guide to Food Ingredients’ vegan classification for this compound needed to be revised in light of this information.
Food-Grade Calcium Phosphates
“Calcium phosphate” is the general name for a class of compounds containing one or more calcium and phosphate ions.
The form with three calcium ions (tricalcium phosphate or tribasic calcium phosphate) is commonly used as an anti-caking agent or nutritional supplement.
The form with one hydrogen ion attached in the phosphate group (dicalcium phosphate or dibasic calcium phosphate) is often used as a dough conditioner. It is frequently used in growth media (for fermentation-derived ingredients) and nutritional supplements.
The form with two hydrogen ions attached in the phosphate group (monocalcium phosphate or monobasic calcium phosphate) is often used as a leavening agent, dough conditioner, or firming agent. It may also frequently be used in growth media (for fermentation-derived ingredients) and nutritional supplements.
Phosphate Manufacturers and Distributors
The VRG contacted major manufacturers and several distributors of calcium phosphate compounds in December 2013 and January 2014.
A Technical Services employee of major manufacturer Prayon wrote to us that: “Our phosphate salts are produced using raw materials of mineral origin. They are suitable for vegan products.”
In a follow up email from Prayon Technical Services we learned that: “All of Prayon raw materials are of mineral origin. Tricalcium phosphate rock is mined from the earth. The rock is crushed and purified to form phosphoric acid, which may be reacted with alkali salts to produce purified phosphate salts.”
Prayon only manufactures phosphate salts for food/pet food use, pharmaceutical excipients, and industrial and horticulture applications.
Suqian Modern Chemical Co., Ltd. in China also manufactures phosphates of various types. The VRG was informed by emails from a Suqian sales manager that: “We can supply both calcium phosphates from bone ash and calcium phosphates from mineral rock… There is no calcium phosphate from bone [that is] food grade; only feed grade. We sell calcium phosphate mineral food grade…”
UK-based Fertecon Ltd. a leader in the global fertilizer industry states on its website that “Phosphate rock is the basic raw material of the phosphate fertilizer industry…” http://fertecon.agra-net.com/home/phosphate
The VRG also contacted the multinational chemical distribution company Brenntag. A long-time employee told us by phone that “all of the major manufacturers that we distribute for use phosphate rock…for human food- and for animal feed-grade.”
Prinova, another global chemical distribution company, told us by email that “Ours are all sourced from phosphate rock” when The VRG asked if they distributed any from bone ash.
California-based chemical distributor Wintersun Chemical confirmed that all of their phosphates are mineral-derived.
Freeda Vitamins told us by phone that “According to the information we have from the company we buy the calcium phosphate powder from, the source is natural minerals.”
Calcium Source in Calcium Phosphates
The VRG asked Prayon and Suqian Modern Chemical about their sources of
the calcium in all of their calcium phosphate products.A Technical
Services employee at Prayon told us by phone that “Our calcium
phosphates are manufactured using calcium oxide (lime) as a raw
material.” An employee of Suqian wrote to us that their calcium source
“…is all from long-ago mineralized plant and animal material that we now
We asked Prayon and Suqian if their calcium source could ever be derived from cow’s milk or oyster shell. (The latter may be used as a source for calcium carbonate which could be involved in chemical reactions to form the calcium phosphates.) Both companies told us that cow’s milk or oyster shell could never be used as their calcium source.
Sources of Phosphates Information on the discovery of phosphorus from urine and how it was obtained for commercial purposes over time can be found in Weeks’ The Discovery of the Elements. Using this and other sources, Peter Childs in his article titled “Phosphorus: Fire from Urine” elaborates on the animal sources of phosphorus:
Bone ash became the major source of phosphorus until the 1840s. Phosphate rock, a mineral containing calcium phosphate, was first used in 1850 and following the introduction of the electric arc furnace in 1890 this became the only source of phosphorus. Phosphorus, phosphates and phosphoric acid are still obtained from phosphate rock.
Another website providing information about the historical sources of phosphorus is located at: http://www.phosphatesfacts.org/faqs.asp
The writer observed during research for this article that bone ash-derived calcium triphosphate is available for purchase on eBay: It is described there as a lab chemical that can be used to make ceramics, as plant food or as fertilizer.
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 judgment about whether a product is suitable for you. Further research or confirmation may be warranted.
For more information on vitamins, sweeteners, and other food ingredients as well as the processing methods used to make them, visit http://www.vrg.org/ingredients/index.php. You can also purchase a print version for $6.