DATEM (Diacetyl tartaric acid ester of mono- and diglycerides) is another dough conditioner that helps to improve volume and uniformity. It acts as an emulsifier, pulling together water- and oil-based ingredients in the dough that have trouble combining on their own.
It also has the functions to increase stabilization, prevent staling, improve preservation, and prolong shelf life among other things. DATEM is widely used in the food industry, including in the production of baked goods, hydrogenated vegetable oil, butter, ice cream, coffee, salad dressings, salsa con queso, instant soups and noodles, and many other products.
The ubiquity of this product raises many questions, which I will try to answer in this article.
Is DATEM vegan? This ingredient is generally accepted in the vegan world because it’s a synthetic compound whose raw materials, as well as the manufacturing process typically, doesn’t involve the use of animal products or by-products. It can, however, be a grey area for some vegans since these materials can also be animal-derived.
From the above explanation, it seems as though DATEM is a fairly controversial dough conditioner in the vegan world. Some view it as being vegan-friendly while others don’t. There are different levels of veganism and the most basic one is staying clear of animal products and by-products.
Then, some stricter vegans go as far as abstaining from controversial ingredients like DATEM, which might or might not contain animal-derived ingredients, because they don’t want to take any chances. What I’ll do in this text is go over why this ingredient is considered vegan, as well as why others think it is non-vegan so you can make an informed decision.
Is DATEM Vegan-friendly?
We’ve already determined that it is but it can also be non-vegan when the materials used to make it are derived from animals. Before we get into the specifics, let’s look at how DATEM is made. Only by analysing all the raw materials will we be able to know when DATEM is vegan and when it’s not.
DATEM is made from tartaric acid, monoglycerides, and diglycerides. It is composed of mixed esters of glycerine where the hydroxyl groups of glycerin have been esterified by fatty acids and diacetyl tartaric acid. In other words, DATEM is produced from the reaction of tartaric acid with mono- and diglycerides. Additionally, DATEM always contains an ingredient that functions as an anti-caking and carrier agent such as trisodium phosphate, calcium carbonate, and tricalcium phosphate.
The mono- and diglycerides can be derived from any edible source, either vegetable or animal fat. In fact, they are considered animal-derived ingredients by PETA. However, the fatty acid used in the production of DATEM is derived from vegetable sources like palm oil, sunflower oil, etc, making it a vegan-friendly ingredient.
Perhaps the concern among those who consider DATEM to be non-vegan is that food manufacturers only list it as an ingredient but don’t state clearly the source of the compound. This makes it impossible to know whether it’s the animal- or the plant-based kind.
If there’s this much uncertainty, why is DATEM typically considered vegan?
Well, first off, it is contained in several vegan staple foods. Take bread for example; most bread products are acceptable in the vegan community and DATEM is added in bread to help stabilise and emulsifier ingredients. It’s hard to argue that an ingredient is not vegan-friendly when so many of the food products that are acceptable in the vegan world contain so much of that ingredient. In short, it doesn’t make sense to consider bread vegan and DATEM non-vegan when DATEM is found in bread.
Secondly, most vegans don’t judge ambiguous ingredients like DATEM too harshly because, unless you make every single meal or snack that goes in your mouth at home using only whole foods, it’s nearly impossible to avoid every single animal-derived ingredient. Processed foods, in particular, undergo so many processes that might make use of some questionable ingredients along the way.
I would advise to take veganism as a way of helping animals and not for maintaining personal purity. Sure, some food products will state plant diglycerides on their ingredients list, confirming that it’s plant-based, but that’s rare. If you are a strict vegan, your best bet for confirming the vegan status of DATEM is to reach out to the manufacturer about their source and production process.
Is DATEM Safe?
Today’s consumers prefer natural foods and have concerns about artificial ones given all the chemicals used in them. Seeing as DATEM is a synthetic compound, it’s only natural that I cover if it is good for our health.
First off, different bodies in different countries determine if a food product is safe for consumption in that particular country. Here are the most popular ones and what they have to say about DATEM:
- US FDA (Food and Drug Administration): The FDA generally recognises DATEM as safe for human consumption. It directs that this human food ingredient can function as an emulsifier in food products with no limitation. Applications include in baked goods, non-alcoholic drinks, dairy products, confections and frostings, as well as fats and oils. Additionally, the FDA recognises that this emulsifying agent is also safe when used in animal feed so long as it follows the right manufacturing and feeding practices.
- UK Food Standards Agency: DATEM is also an approved ingredient in the UK where it’s categorised as a gelling agent, thickener, stabiliser, and an emulsifier.
- Food Standards Australia New Zealand: DATEM is authorised in both New Zealand and Australia by this body, where it’s known by the code number 472e.
- European Food Safety Authority: In the EU, DATEM is approved as a food additive and known by the code number E472e
- JECFA: This international scientific expert committee approves DATEM as a food additive and as an emulsifier.
Are There Any Possible Health Effects Of DATEM?
Although a number of reputable organisations have deemed DATEM safe for human consumption, there have been some studies that state otherwise. For starters, a study that was conducted on lab rats showed adrenal overgrowth, heart fibrosis, endometrial hyperplasia, and sinus histiocytosis.
Don’t even get me started on the fact that this ingredient is tested on animals, which is just cruel and enough reason for some vegans to steer clear of it despite not containing any animal-derived ingredients. Veganism is all about minimizing and possibly stopping any form of animal suffering, which the production of DATEM contributes towards through animal testing.
Back on the possible health effects of this ingredient, a few risks have been reported in the past, including allergic reaction and toxicity. There may also be an increased risk of developing the leaky gut syndrome.
But the most concerning thing about DATEM is the fact that there’s no enough information about the ingredient. The exact process of creating it is also a bit hazy; plus, many people are not familiar with the term.
The lack of information and the unavailability of scientific studies concerning the safety of DATEM mean potential health effects are still unclear.
Bottom Line: Should You Consume DATEM?
We’ve seen that DATEM is vegan-friendly but also not the healthiest food choice given its chemical components. In my opinion, if you need to know chemistry and have scientific knowledge of a food product to eat it, then you probably shouldn’t or don’t have to eat it.
All these labels that look like they were written in a lab are likely using a lot of unknown ingredients to create a cheap product with a long shelf life. Generally, always try to stick to ingredients that you know and can tell their origin.
If you are a strict ethical vegan you may want to avoid it for the possibility that it could be made from animal-derived ingredients. There’s also the animal testing bit that, obviously, doesn’t sit well with some vegans. A lot of animals are killed during such tests just to show if a product is safe for human consumption. Such intentional exploitation of animals is unnecessary and as vegans, we should not support that!
With that being said, whether or not to consume DATEM comes down to one’s personal choice; that is, depending on why you are vegan and your level of veganism.
That’s it for DATEM and I hope this article has provided you with enough information about this ingredient to help you make the right choice. All the best in your vegan journey!