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Vegetarian rennet

  1. Rennet is an auxiliary substance in cheese production and can have different origins. Traditionally, animal rennet is used for cheese preparation, which is extracted from the abomasum of slaughtered calves. That is why vegetarians sometimes choose to avoid animal rennet, but this can be difficult due to unclear information on packaging and limited options. This article explains different types of rennets and their importance to vegetarians.


  1. Rennet is an auxiliary substance in cheese production: by adding rennet to the milk the proteins in the milk can clump together and a thick mass is formed. This separates the milk into whey (the liquid part) and the curd (the grains that remain). The curd forms the basis for the cheese.

Types of rennet

  1. Rennet is originally prepared from an animal source: it is extracted from the abomasum of slaughtered calves. The enzyme responsible for coagulation (chymosin) is no longer produced by adult cows: therefore only newborn calves can be used.

Vegetable rennet

  1. This first alternative to animal rennet is derived from plants such as nettle or thistle. This type of rennet is rarely used, probably because it does not always work consistently and because it affects the taste of the cheese. There are foreign cheese brands that opt ​​for this type of rennet precisely because of its typical taste: this will often be stated on the packaging.

Microbial rennet

  1. This second alternative to animal rennet is increasingly being used, possibly because of cheaper production. Microbial rennet is obtained in a laboratory setting by extracting the enzymes (similar to chymosin) found in some microorganisms.

Genetically engineered rennet

  1. A third alternative to animal rennet, but this type is not used in the Netherlands. For genetically engineered rennet, a calf gene is used to obtain the rennet, although the final rennet is a 'second generation' and thus separate from the original gene. However, there are also people with fundamental objections to genetic manipulation who therefore also ignore this type.

Why is the type of rennet important?

  1. Vegetarians make different choices about the extent to which they ignore products such as leather, gelatin or rennet. Calves must first be slaughtered to obtain animal rennet, so animal rennet is not vegetarian. Animal rennet is, however, a by-product of the calf slaughterhouse: some vegetarians will therefore have fewer objections because production does not directly maintain the bio-industry. Other vegetarians generally try to participate as little as possible in the bio-industry and therefore avoid animal rennet. There are many other reasons why vegetarians choose whether or not to avoid animal rennet, such as that it is a very small portion of the cheese, out of ignorance, social, convenience, or principles.

Difference with a vegan or organic diet

  1. Confusion often arises when a vegetarian does not eat cheese in company. He or she is not vegan, is he?

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