The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Anti-Caking Agents Including Calcium and Magnesium Stearate: Non-Animal According to US Industry

Posted on May 06, 2015 by The VRG Blog Editor

By Jeanne Yacoubou, MS, RD

The VRG received a question from an online reader about anti-caking agents. These are food additives that prevent ingredients from clumping together by absorbing moisture or oils/fats or by sealing ingredients against either water or oil. Citing silicon dioxide a very common anti-caking agent sourced from minerals the inquirer asked us why The The Vegetarian Resource Group’s Food Ingredients Guide states that anti-caking agents “may be non-vegetarian.”


“Anti-caking agent” is a general class of compounds with a specific function in foods. Thus they are also known as “functional ingredients.” They are sourced from many different materials. New ones are developed by the chemical industry, approved for food use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and then introduced to the market. It is difficult if not impossible to generate an exhaustive list of all anti-caking agents and survey all companies manufacturing all of them. So we have focused on the most common examples and especially those that may have been derived from animal sources.

Calcium stearate and magnesium stearate may be used as anti-caking agents. (Herein referred to as “stearate compounds” or “stearates”: chemicals with a portion derived from stearic acid which could be animal fat- or vegetable oil-derived). Among all of the anti-caking agents commonly used today, only stearates possibly may have an animal origin.

Industry Sources

Acme-Hardesty® a supplier of calcium and magnesium stearates told The VRG on the phone in March 2015 that today “Food grade kosher [FGK] stearates are derived from vegetable oils…the industry standard.” When we asked whether all food grade kosher stearates are vegetable oil-based, we were told “Yes.” Acme-Hardesty wrote to us that “Our vegetable-based calcium and magnesium stearates are made from palm oil.”

However, not all food grade stearates must be kosher since the kosher designation is not FDA-mandated for foods. So the theoretical possibility remains that calcium or magnesium stearate, stearic acid and all related compounds used in foods could be derived from animal fats such as lard or tallow. Acme-Hardesty wrote to us that

“We do not give any of our tallow products the “FGK” designation, although a number of them do meet the FDA 21 Code of Federal Regulations requirements to be an indirect food additive.”

Employees of Brenntag Northeast, Inc.® a large distributor of stearates to the food industry told us that:

“…it appears that most of the food grade stearates are vegetable-based now. Ten years ago our suppliers sold some tallow-based but our suppliers are vegetable-based now. The tallow-based seems now to be selling into industrial applications.We identify if our products are tallow based in the product name.”

When we asked Brenntag Northeast what they thought was the percentage of animal-sourced stearates used today in the US food industry, we received by email in April 2015 this ratio of vegetable- to animal fat-based stearates:

“…I’m betting the ratio is 10:1 vegetable [oil] to tallow. No one wants tallow in foods these days.”

An employee at another Brenntag division, Brenntag Specialties, Inc.,® told us while reviewing sales data since 2007 that “almost all…[or] a large majority” of the calcium stearate they sold was vegetable-based and that only their vegetable-based stearates received kosher designation. As a raw ingredient supplier, Brenntag told us that they could not know the end products their calcium stearate was used to create or even know definitively that it was purchased to make food products.

The VRG heard this view echoed by some other company representatives. Clients may purchase food-grade products for non-food applications such as personal care products. We asked a few companies if they had any data on this point but all declined to provide any claiming client confidentiality.

Several other chemical companies spoke to us in Spring 2015 about calcium stearate production. We learned from Seidler Chemical Company that sells mainly to the pharmaceutical industry that “no one wants tallow anymore…I haven’t gotten a call for it in years.”

An employee in technical support at EMD Millipore told The VRG that they “do not sell tallow-based calcium stearate…all is from vegetable oils.”

A technical services manager at the Penta Manufacturing Company told us that their food-grade calcium stearate is “synthetic” with “no animals involved.” (product search code number for calcium stearate: 03-02900). Available on the calcium stearate page are links to PDF documents which state that the calcium stearate is suitable for vegans.

An account manager at Graham Chemical Company wrote to us that he had not “sold or stocked” calcium stearate for a food application “in some time.” However he said that:

“From what I understand, the tallow-based material is generally only being used in industrial applications due, in some part, to the ‘Mad Cow’ disease scare some years back. I know that calcium stearate in use for tableting in the nutraceutical markets (supplements, vitamins, etc.) has almost exclusively been vegetable-based for quite some time.”

Huzhou Sifeng Biochem Co. Ltd. told us that their food grade calcium stearate “…is from plant fat not animal fat.”

An employee of Huzhou City Linghu Xinwang Chemical Co., Ltd. wrote to us that “We only produce…stearate [compounds] of vegetable origin.”

A marketing officer of FoodChem International Corporation in China told us that “Yes, we sell food grade calcium stearate from animal fat.”

An Indian company Forbes Pharmaceuticals states on its website that their food-grade calcium stearate is derived from “edible tallow.” Forbes describes its function in foods as a “conditioning agent.”

The FDA specifies only “edible sources” as the source of calcium stearate given Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status for food use, implying that lard or tallow could be used as its source.

With the exception of two foreign companies, chemical companies in the United States in 2015 use vegetable oils (such as palm oil) as a starting material to make stearate compounds.

VRG’s Ingredient Classification Scheme

When The Vegetarian Resource Group’s Food Ingredients Guide was first published in 1997, animal sources of stearate compounds used in foods were common. Ingredient suppliers told us so at that time. However, over the past few years several food ingredients suppliers and manufacturers have told The VRG that a general trend regarding ingredient sources is that whenever possible non-animal sources are preferred. A major reason for this preference is lack of BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) or avian influenza threats that many consumers associate with animal ingredients.

In 1997, because of stearates, The VRG had initially given anti-caking agents the “May Be Non-Vegetarian” classification. In light of current information about stearates, The VRG is now changing the classification for anti-caking agents to “Vegan*.” The asterisk alerts consumers that the theoretical possibility exists that calcium or magnesium stearate could be derived from animal sources but practically speaking on a commercial scale in 2015 in the United States we have not found this to be the case. With the possible exception of stearate compounds, all other major anti-caking agents used today are non-animal derived. Most are derived from petrochemicals and/or minerals.

Stearate Labeling

The source of calcium stearate (and all related compounds derived from stearic acid) will most often not be stated on a food label especially given the fact that none of its possible sources is a major allergen that must be declared on a food label according to the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2004.

Interested consumers must contact food companies to find out the source of calcium stearate in food products. If a consumer has difficulty obtaining this information from a particular company, determining whether the food product is kosher may be an indirect way to infer information about calcium stearate. If it’s kosher, the calcium stearate in the food product is most likely derived from vegetable sources.

The VRG has noticed that these days many food companies and fast food chains indicate their sources of ingredients in parentheses after the ingredient on a label especially for ingredients which could have multiple sources. A notable example is “natural flavors.” Increasing consumer awareness and greater numbers of people asking food companies more questions about their ingredients contribute to greater corporate transparency. This higher degree of labeling precision was not evident twenty or more years ago.

For the first time, we recently found a label which specifies that the calcium stearate is vegetable-based:

Smarties® candy has a vegan statement on its website regarding its source of calcium stearate:

Subway® Canada (but not Subway US) lists calcium stearate in its Honey Oat Bread. Consumer service representatives told us by phone and email that their source is “plant-derived.”

The contents of this posting, our website and our other publications, including 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 statements. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, info can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. Please use your best judgement about whether a product is suitable for you. To be sure, do further research or confirmation on your own.

For information about other ingredients, see:

To support The Vegetarian Resource Group research, donate at:

Join at:

Leave a Reply

  • Donate

  • Subscribe to the blog by RSS


    Sign up for our newsletter to receive recipes, ingredient information, reviews of new products, announcements of new books, free samples of products, and other VRG materials.

    Your E-mail address:
    Your Name (optional):

↑ Top