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Is E631 Flavor Enhancer Vegan?

Jason Hughes
Published by Jason Hughes
Fact checked by Markus Oliver, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: May 2, 2022

E631 is a popular flavor enhancer used in many manufactured food products, such as sauces, condiments, and baking mixes. Now, for most people wondering if it's vegan, it is essential to start with an understanding of what it is because there is no clear answer without knowing how it (E631) was derived. Suffice to say, that the flavor enhancer is derived in more than one way.

Disodium Inosinate aka E631 Flavor Enhancer

E631 Flavor Enhancer is chemically referred to as Disodium Inosinate. It is mainly derived from yeast and doesn't contain wheat, rye, or barley. Disodium inosinate is safe for people who have gluten intolerance, but it's not recommended for infants or children. That’s why E631 isn’t added to baby food products made in the US.

Originally called 'Di-inosinate,’ this flavor enhancer is an ingredient in various popular foods, such as Bisto gravy and Fantastic Noodles Chicken (we have a brief list in the next section).

Disodium inosinate is essentially a disodium salt of inosinic acid used to make food more flavorful. However, many critics argue that its use in fast foods and other processed products contradicts the principles of clean eating. Even more alarming is that some brands have begun using disodium inosinate in vegan foods. Why is this alarming? We’ll get to that in a moment, but for starters, it is because this isn’t healthy.

Disodium inosinate has not been found to cause many adverse health effects, especially for people with preexisting health conditions. Though it also has a high level of safety and is generally recognized as halal. In fact, some manufacturers have obtained MUI halal certification. As a result, disodium inosinate is also kosher pareve. It is gluten-free and free of all grains.

It is worth noting that disodium inosinate is not a natural product; it is produced from yeast and fish. Which means it is not suitable for vegetarians. Disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate can be used in foods without causing any ill effects. But they can’t be considered vegan. This is why E631 isn’t a vegan flavor enhancer if you don't know how it is derived.

Some brands tend to use an agent that is produced mainly from meat and fish, while others use a fermented version of the ingredient. However, things get worse because no manufacturer in our experience and during our research mentions the source of the flavor enhancer. So, you have no idea what’s in the food you are eating, a big problem for vegans, which is why you will want to stay away from foods with the E631 food code.

If you are a vegan, make sure that the products you buy don’t include E631, especially ones marked as “vegan.” The only way they can be considered vegan is if the derived source is mentioned as a clearly vegan source.

Examples of Products That Use E631 Flavor Enhancer

You may not have realized it, but some foods contain high levels of disodium inosinate. Here are some examples of common processed foods that use this ingredient.

Tootsie Rolls

The ingredients in Tootsie Rolls are controversial. Vegans rightly assume that palm oil is a vegan product, but this is not always the case. Palm oil is derived from a tree, not a person. But as practicing vegans, we should avoid all products that harm the environment. Then there are other ingredients like condensed skim milk, whey, and sugar that are blatantly nonvegan. So, while many vegans can’t live without their daily tootsie roll fix the fact is that it has not been a vegan-friendly product for the longest time. Interestingly, it was never claimed by the manufacturer to be a vegan product either. 

Tootsie Pop

A Tootsie Pop is a popular confection, known for being fat-free. They contain only 60 calories and 11 grams of sugar per sucker. The popular cherry flavor has been around for 75 years, and the original Tootsie Rolls were sold for a penny. Today, the Tootsie Pops line includes flavors like lemon, lime, and cherry. But the question remains, is Tootsie Pops vegan?

Tootsie Pops contain artificial flavors, palm oil, condensed skim milk, as well as sugar. These ingredients are not suitable for everyday consumption. While most of the ingredients used in Tootsie Pops qualify as non-vegan, some products fall into a gray area. For example, some Tootsie Rolls contain the flavor enhancer E631, which does not specify its source.

Lays Chips

Your beloved Lays Chips may be low in sodium, but it certainly contains the E631 flavor enhancer. While you may assume that Lays is vegan, after all, it claims to be made from potatoes, but all the other ingredients are strictly non-vegan. Don’t believe us? Read the packaging!

While these are the most common examples of packaged foods with E631 flavor enhancers, they are just the tip of the iceberg.

A Few Other Concerns Regarding E631 Flavor Enhancer

Over the past few years, numerous studies have shown that the E631 flavor enhancer may not be for everyone. Here are a couple:

  • Disodium Inosinate isn’t recommended for use in products intended for babies below the age of 12 weeks. If you are buying a product(s) for your baby, make sure that it does not contain E631. This should be mentioned on the pack of the product. It is worth noting that some overseas products may include E631 in infant products.
  • Some individuals may be allergic to disodium inosinate. It is especially harmful to people with certain conditions. For instance, people living with asthma should not consume products with E631. Products with flavor enhancers should also be avoided by people suffering from gout. However, it is worth mentioning that in most cases, the amount or concentration of the flavor enhancer is low in most products which means mild adverse effects.

If you suffer from a condition like diabetes, heart, blood pressure, etc., it is worth asking a doctor if you should consume products with E631 flavor enhancer, mainly because you may be required to eat low sodium food. Often packaged food with low sodium may use E631 to enhance the flavor of the food in question.

Conclusion

E631 continues to be one of the most widely used flavor enhancers in various food products. While we have shared a very short list of common products that contain E631, it’s mainly to demonstrate that you may be consuming the ingredient without even knowing it. That’s why reading food labels is so important.

However, as a vegan, the question you probably have is, is E631 flavor enhancer vegan? No, it’s not mainly because it is, in most cases, derived from fish or other non-vegan sources. While there is no law against vegans consuming the ingredient, especially since it is used in very low quantities, it isn’t strictly vegan. So, it boils down to being a personal choice, or you can choose a vegan alternative.


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