Is Cultured Dextrose lurking in your vegan food?

Home|Is Cultured Dextrose lurking in your vegan food?

Is Cultured Dextrose lurking in your vegan food?

I picked up some hummus at the grocer’s the other day of a brand I had not yet tried.  It was the grocer’s brand, Giant Eagle Market District.  As I do instinctively with every item I pick up, I read the ingredients.  “Cultured dextrose” appeared at the end.  Dextrose is basically glucose (sugar) derived from plant starches.  I’m personally not a fan of processed food additives such as this, but I suppose, it’s technically vegan.  But, the “cultured” part of this is what really stood out.

A quick search on my phone revealed cultured dextrose to be a bit of a mystery.  Preliminary results told me that it is dextrose that has been fermented using bacteria, and is used in the food industry as a “natural” preservative.   I also noticed it is most always mentioned with “cultured skim milk.”  This search appeared to require some time.  Needless to say, I wasn’t going to embark on any internet researching at the grocer, so I passed that hummus up.

Later, I found out that cultured dextrose is manufactured by Danisco under the name MicroGard, as a “patented natural, clean-label range for shelf life protection,” a.k.a.- a preservative.  Some MicroGard products are skim milk based, some are dextrose based, but both bases are fermented with a dairy based culture known as, P. freudenreichii.  See fda.gov and inspection.gc.ca, for more information regarding the bacteria.

Now, I’m aware of those who will call me out as being extreme on this, but cultured dextrose is probably not vegan and is most certainly not “natural.”  This food additive exists directly as a result of the dairy industry, and is used mostly in non-vegan processed foods.  It has also been tested on animals.

Regardless of cultured dextrose’s origins, I had to sift through a lot of abstracts of scientific studies, government websites, and company produced product literature to find the information, of which much was ambiguous (purposely or legally so, one supposes).  This alone should encourage anyone to question the safety and ethics of a product.

Vegans believe that the institutionalized use of animals in our society is rampant and unequivocally wrong.  Cultured dextrose appears to be yet another example of the depths of that institutionalism.

I’m no scientist, but as an ethical vegan trying to stay that way, I’ll be avoiding dubious ingredients such as “cultured dextrose.”  I’d like to hear some other opinions on this, especially from the biologist community.

Please visit Commercial Street for more interactive info on the institutionalized use of animals in our society.

UPDATE 3/12:  The manufacturer of cultured dextrose, Danisco, has removed it’s product literature from it’s site.  Whether due to high volumes of traffic from our site to theirs it’s unclear, however, it makes us question this product even further.  We have found information from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that explicitly states: “MicroGARD is an ingredient produced by the fermentation of either dextrose or skim milk with a standard dairy culture.”  Therefore, this preservative is made using a dairy culture.  This makes this (non-essential) ingredient, not vegan.

UPDATE 8/11: In our quest to determine exactly which cultures are used in producing cultured dextrose (with help from the community and Danisco themselves), we encountered additional information which prompted us to write more on the subject here -> Cultured Dextrose: Not Vegan

April 25th, 2011|Vegan Health|

About the Author:

Charleen Angle is a lover of all the Earth's animals an all the Earth's music. Trained in the Fine Arts, she's an outspoken and compassionate 12 year vegan who will spend the rest of her life working on behalf of animals everywhere.

18 Comments

  1. Dee May 2, 2017 at 7:46 pm - Reply

    This is vegan! It simply means they use bacteria to produce a natural product or nutrient, e.g. to enhance the nutritional value of a food. This product is a natural sugar, used to create an environment that inhibits growth of pathogenic bacteria aka. as a natural preservative (natural sugar, no harsh chemicals). It is extracted, so there are no actual bacteria present. It’s easy to misunderstand without the science background, which is why this lady has made this article sound so scary, but it’s really not. It simply means the species of bacteria used for the culture is the same species used for skim milk processes. But that is done separately to a plant fermentation, which has no interaction with dairy.

    Additionally, bacteria are crucial to our health, so please don’t try to avoid them or their natural products! We have 1kg of beneficial bacteria in our digestive system, and without them we would be dead. Studies show that populations that ingest higher amounts of beneficial bacteria are healthier and live longer. This is because it helps your bacteria defend your body from pathogenic infection by taking up the space so they can’t grow, and producing natural antibiotics to kill pathogens. They also produce essential metabolites (e.g. some people have a mix of bacteria that provide them with enough B12 so they don’t need to supplement). They also interact directly with the immune system (white blood cells) to increase the ability of the body to recognise and kill pathogens. So many benefits, I personally make a point of eating cultured products with live bacteria at least once a week with a soy yogurt or cheese. Other sources include kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut or tempeh. The most important bacteria to look out for and try to eat are Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus (lactic acid bacteria). Please don’t be afraid of bacteria or their products! :)

    Source – I’m a microbiologist

  2. Dug January 22, 2016 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    Bacteria are animals, so the milk point is a bit moot.

  3. bacteriophage November 2, 2013 at 8:23 pm - Reply

    If a single bacteria found on the cow’s skin lands on your lettuce, is the lettuce still vegan? I think that this discussion boils down to this.

    Even if the original bacteria is from the dairy culture mix, the term culture here refers to the bacteria. So the “dairy culture” really can be rephrased as “the bacteria often used for dairy processing.” The actual bacteria used in this final commercial product as we consume it may not have had any direct contact with dairy. (Though the original batch of bacteria to create the commercial product may have). No way to confirm unless the company discloses. BTW I like ur website. Nice.

  4. stevejust August 5, 2013 at 6:20 pm - Reply

    @KD Traegner

    Is this the Jason B. response you’re referring to? http://i.imgur.com/SCYCsPw.jpg

    • KD Traegner August 5, 2013 at 8:23 pm - Reply

      @Stevejust Yes (although Jason B. is the name he used on a comment on our other Cultured Dextrose article- see that one to see what I’m talking about). Also, just as an aside- this topic has been an on-going discussion and investigation since we originally posted the article in 2011. I’ve updated this (original) post with each of my findings. Aside from the fact this (non-essential) food additive is made using a dairy culture, it’s terribly complicated to find out any direct information about it at all. This make is questionable (in my eyes) as something we should even be considering consuming. But I think you and I agree on that. The bottom line is that it has roots in the dairy industry- an industry I do not support. To me, this makes it a “not vegan” item.

  5. stevejust August 4, 2013 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    Sigh. There’s a problem with this theory. If you follow this logic, bread and nutritional yeast are not vegan.

    Because they’re not using a dairy product or an animal product to make the culture. They’re using a bacterium, or two (either Lactococcus lactis or Propionibacterium freudenreichii, either one of which is found in cows and also elsewhere in our natural environment.)

    So… unless there’s evidence they have to use cows to grow it to extract it, which there isn’t that I’ve seen, then what’s that got to do with anything? This stuff is made by DuPont. It’s made in a laboratory, and the last time any of the bacteria saw the inside of a cow, if ever, was probably 100s or 1,000s of generations ago.

    Maybe I’m wrong and this might require further information, but it’s silly to conclude based on what we know that cultured dextrose is not vegan. It might turn out that it’s not vegan. But this blog post does not prove it’s not vegan– not even close. I agree maybe vegans should avoid it until more is known about it, but let’s be realistic about what is known and not known.

    If they are growing these cultures in a lab in the same way you might get cultured soy yogurt, or nutritional yeast, or any number of other cultured products — and cows haven’t anything to do with the process, which I suspect — then to say this isn’t vegan can only be based on two things.

    1) the bacteria itself. In which case we need to stop eating bread, yeast, Kombucha, and a lot of other things.

    2) the fact that the bacteria happened to be found in cows originally, at least according to the author of this blog post, despite the fact that the two bacteria species that are used can be found other places in the natural environment, and could have been synthesized from either.

    This stuff is made by DuPont. That’s reason enough to avoid it. But to say it’s not vegan? C’mon, use some critical thinking skills.

    • KD Traegner August 4, 2013 at 5:59 pm - Reply

      @Stevejust – Sigh. Cultured Dextrose is made from dairy cultures. We reported that in both of our posts and other themselves have confirmed it. In fact, YDV reader Jason B. confirmed it again when he received a reply from DuPont themselves that read (in part):

      “the cultures were originally isolated from fresh dairy products, as they are recognized as traditional dairy starter cultures.”

      In basic terms, cultured dextrose could not exist without traditional dairy starter cultures. Whether or not the culture was generations ago or not is irrelevant. A leather jacket made 50 years ago was still made from a cow. Something that originated from a dairy culture is still using an animal. That’s realistic about what’s known.

      Using my critical thinking skills I determined something that originated from dairy is not vegan.

      I would also like to suggest that you read the follow up post on this issue as we go into some of the things you mention in your comment.

  6. KD Traegner March 11, 2013 at 6:23 pm - Reply

    @Keli Kadota Taken from Canadian Food Inspection Agency that explicitly states: “MicroGARD is an ingredient produced by the fermentation of either dextrose or skim milk with a standard dairy culture.” Therefore, this preservative is made using a dairy culture. This makes this (non-essential) ingredient, not vegan.

  7. Keli Kadota August 3, 2012 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    Lactic Acid Bacteria (starter source for the culture) is not necessarily derived from dairy products. In fact, it is more commonly found growing on plants than in milk.

    I hesitate to judge this as non-vegan because of that. Animal testing aside.

  8. FE July 26, 2011 at 8:43 am - Reply

    It’s got to that I’m only eating stuff I have made myself from one ingredient foods. It is time consuming and pretty frustrating, but it is the only way I can be sure I am not eating animal-based products.

  9. Lis July 13, 2011 at 10:19 am - Reply

    Hi KD, would you mind posting your email address and I can give you more info? Thank you!

  10. Lis July 13, 2011 at 8:14 am - Reply

    Hey there! I have a spec sheet on cultured dextrose from Danisco and it says that is it completely dairy free and GMO free. There are no allergens in it i.e. eggs, nuts,. peanuts, sulphites, etc Just wanted to let you know!
    Thanks:)

    • KD July 13, 2011 at 9:08 am - Reply

      Lis- Thank you for the info, is there any way you can scan it so we can check it out? We searched quite hard for information on Danisco cultured dextrose and had very little luck. How did you come by the information? Can I go to the same website?

  11. Melissa Leith June 13, 2011 at 8:06 pm - Reply

    Thankyou for taking the time to research the origins of this food additive, and to publish your findings. I’ve been a vegan for seven months, and I too read all I ingredient labels on the food I buy. It’s very difficult, as the poor treatment of animals is so ingrained in mainstream culture, that almost everything available to buy has a non-vegan ingredient. I found cultured dextrose, and turned to the Internet to find out what it is. I came across your article, and it’s great to hear a response from an educated person. Thanks again, and now I know not to buy food with this ingredient.

  12. L. Pic. April 25, 2011 at 7:49 pm - Reply

    Ohhh, thanks for this! Will def be on the look out for it. Also, there’s nothing extreme about not eating food that has animal exploitation in it, especially when there’s an alternative!

  13. […] Is Cultured Dextrose lurking in your vegan food? […]

  14. urbancritter April 25, 2011 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    It shouldn’t be so hard to get straight forward, clearly labelled, honest-to-goodness no-animal-products-or-testing-involved FOOD (that doesn’t require obfuscation). Thank goodness for the produce section! At least there (in the organic section at least) I’m reasonably sure of what I’m buying :-)

Leave A Comment