Something of a recurring concern is restaurants purporting to be vegetarian and their use of cheese. Specifically many of these restaurants appear to be completely unaware that the world’s milk derived cheese:-
* traditionally was mostly manufactured using slaughtered animal products
* is still widely manufactured using slaughtered animal products despite the increasing availability of alternatives marketed as vegetarian
To kill any doubt stone dead:-
* it is not milk that prevents a cheese being vegetarian
* it is slaughtered animal produce widely added that renders cheese non vegetarian
When looking at this more deeply though this can be a mine field for many people concerned about what they put into their bodies. Here’s 10 cheese questions and answers for lacto and vegan grade vegetarians:-
1) What prevents lacto cheese (i.e. cheese made from milk), from being vegetarian?
Cheese is manufactured by coagulating a protein named casein that occurs in the milk of mammals with four-compartment stomachs, e.g. cows, buffaloes, goats & sheep. The traditionally most widely used coagulant was rennet. Coagulant is essentially a fancy word for a setting agent.
2) What is rennet?
Rennet is a group of enzymes that occurs in the fourth compartment of the above mentioned stomachs. The important rennet enzyme for cheese making is chymosin. The mammal is killed & butchered to obtain the rennet. Rennet is typically extracted from newly born calves. Rennet is a meat product of the veal industry.
(Veal Crates. Pic courtesy of Farm Sanctuary)
3) What about lacto cheese with ‘vegetarian’ rennet?
For different reasons cheese with rennet marketed as vegetarian is increasingly available:-
* Vegetable rennet: This capitalises on coagulant properties found in some plants. Many such cheeses are relatively recent innovations. They have been developed to include the lacto vegetarian consumer in their market appeal. There are also a small number of cheeses traditionally made with plant derived coagulants. For example cardoon thistle is long used as a cheese coagulant in specific areas in Spain and Portugal.
* Microbial rennet: This takes advantage of the coagulant properties of some fungi.
* Fermentation-Produced Chymosin: FPC involves the GMO industry. Animal rennet was used as source for a genetic material that was then spliced into a yeast DNA. This has been increasingly used by the dairy industry to produce cheese since 1990 without a dependence on fresh animal rennet.
There is a lengthy VRG article on the topic of FPC. With long, long sentences it isn’t particularly easy to read. The following paragraph though is a bit more reasonable to understand:-
“The writer observed while working on this update that companies manufacturing bioengineered FPC produced originally through animal gene splicing use the phrase “microbial rennet” to describe their product. They refer to them as “acceptable to vegetarians.” They also use “non-GMO” or “GMO-free” to describe their products.”
A product based on genetic material originally extracted from calf stomach being vegetarian seems open to questioning. There are microbial rennets available without a history of animal derived genetic splicing. Finding out which such “microbial rennet” is in which cheese is trickier to ascertain.
4) What are acid-set cheeses?
Rubing, paneer, raejuusto, cream cheese and cottage cheese traditionally have been acid-set rather than rennet coagulated. Vinegar or lemon juice for example can be used to acid-set cheese. Cottage cheese though has an additional concern for lacto vegetarians. Some cottage cheeses are manufactured with gelatin.
(Paneer is an acid-set cheese popular in many South Asian dishes)
5) What about vegan cheese?
Vegan cheese increases in popularity daily. Some vegan cheese production works on the principle of being acid-set, some others don’t. Well known brands include Daiya, Miyoko and Sheese.
6) I’ve tried being vegan and craved lacto cheese. Was this real or what it just something I imagined?
Lacto cheese is physically addictive. Scientists (no points for guessing where), came up with the Yale Food Addiction Scale (YFAS). Similarly there’s no points for guessing what this scale is intended to help measure. Study results published in December 2015 scored lacto cheese as the food with the very highest addiction factor.
Addiction to lacto cheese shouldn’t be considered too much of a surprise. Milk contains casein. Cheese manufacture concentrates casein into stronger doses. Casein digestion produces casomorphins. There in the word casomorphin is the clue to why cheese is so addictive:-
* Casomorphin is a drug in the opioid family
* Its cousins include morphine (unsurprisingly), heroin and codeine
* Hence why like the other opioids mentioned, casomorphin has addictive properties. Hence also why like the other opioids mentioned casomorphin can have a constipative effect
(Take me to your dealer)
As well as smacking up on a fix of casomorphin there are numerous other concerns regarding negative health impacts of eating dairy cheese.
7) Whey is a product of the cheese making process. Is whey vegetarian?
When cheese has been manufactured using animal rennet the whey will not be vegetarian. A lacto vegetarian eating whey in a product that isn’t specifically labelled as vegetarian is significantly risking their vegetarianism being breached.
8) How widely used is whey?
Whey is used extensively by manufacturers usually in packaged foods. Read ingredients on food packaging next time you are in the supermarket. Whey is used a lot.
9) What about cheese retailed in HK as allegedly lacto vegetarian?
Some restaurants do use vegetarian marketed lacto cheese. Some restaurants purporting to be vegetarian knowingly mislead their customers and sell cheese made with animal rennet. Look out for the forthcoming best and worst restaurants of the month awards.
10) What about vegan cheese on sale in HK?
* Loving Hut in Wan Chai have an exclusively vegan retail policy. They offer two vegan cheese pizzas to eat-in and Sheese brand cheese to take home to eat / cook with yourself*
* Veggle Cafe in Kwun Tong use Daiya vegan cheese. [Update July 2017. Some may be interested that Daiya have been taken over by a non-vegan pharmaceutical corporation].
* One Vegan Shop in Yuen Long and online offer an extensive range of Sheese brand cheese. They also offer other products that include vegan cheese flavouring
* Pizza Veg in New Territories offer vegan cheese as an option. However vegan cheese has to be ordered in advance. Also they charge extra for vegan grade rather than lacto vegetarian cheese
* Topiary in Central HK has an omnivorous food menu with predominantly vegetarian dishes. This includes a vegan cheese pizza
* Ali Oli is an omnivorous bakery and café with branches in Sai Kung & Kwai Hing. They are reported to offer vegan cheese brands, Sheese and Tofutti
* Green Common stock vegan cheese such as Miyoko. Some though may be interested that the Green Monday people behind Green Common are very public partners of the body that organises the Hong Kong horse racing industry.
Info also reached this way that on stocking lacto cheese products, Green Common forgot to check the Vegetarian Society fact sheet on cheese. That fact sheet states some lacto cheeses such as Parmesan, Gorgonzola and Grana Padano are never vegetarian due to cultural legislation.
(Dairy Parmesan, Gorgonzola and Grana Padano are never vegetarian due to cultural legislation)
* Just Green – This omnivorous shop chain stocks Daiya, Sheese & Tofutti vegan cheeses
If you think this is a cheesy end to this article, you’re quite right. Say cheese.
(Veal Crates. Pic courtesy of Farm Sanctuary)
由植物提取的rennet是有的，部分是為迎合素食市場要求而研發出來，但亦有小數傳統芝士以植物提煉的酪蛋白為凝結劑，例如：在西班牙及葡萄牙可找到一些傳統方法製造的芝士以刺苞菜薊薊 (cardoon thistle)做凝乳劑。
* 微生物rennet: 利用了菇菌類植物中有凝結工能的微生物
(Chinese supplementary update in progress)