Rennet or rennin is a natural complex of enzymes produced in any mammalian stomach to help a nursing baby digest mother’s milk. In the food industry, rennet is used as a coagulant – in cheese-making; in certain dairy products, including some yogurts; and in junket, a soft, pudding-like dessert.
Rennet is extracted from the inner mucosa of the fourth stomach chamber of young, un-weaned calves. These calf stomachs are a by-product of veal production (which is an off-shoot of dairy production).
According to the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, “After butchering, the fourth stomach…is removed and freed of its food content.” After this the stomach goes through several steps including being dry-salted, washed, scraped to remove surface fat, stretched onto racks where moisture is removed, then finally ground and mixed with a salt solution until the rennin is extracted.
To obtain rennet using the customary method still used by many European and traditional cheese-makers, stomachs of young calves are dried and “cleaned”, then sliced into small pieces and put into an extraction solution, which will be filtered after several days. In modern production, the stomachs are deep-frozen and ground up before rennet extraction.
Rennet can also be derived from non-animal sources, and in North America, GMO-Microbial rennet is used more often in industrial cheese-making because it is less expensive than animal rennet.
But before you breathe a sigh of relief at the discovery that your favorite dairy cheese or yogurt might not be coagulated with rennet from the stomachs of calves, don’t forget that they are all made with milk – the primary product of the dairy industry – which is the reason these calves are being slaughtered in the first place.
In other words, if you’re an ethical vegetarian who avoids the products of animal slaughter, keep in mind that offering financial support to the dairy industry is essentially agreeing to support the killing of male calves for the production of veal.
However, the good news is that there are many vegan varieties of cheese, yogurt and pudding available on the market, some of which are also suitable for those with soy allergies. And with a little time and effort, you can even make your own!
The many long-time vegans living healthy lives are evidence of the fact that human beings can thrive on a varied diet of wholesome and delicious foods from the plant kingdom. Try it today – it’s easy, it’s enjoyable, and it’s the source of ongoing rewards for your body, mind and spirit.