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Recently we have started suspecting that one of our children has hypolactasia (lactose intolerance), and so accordingly I have had my first exposure to lactose-free dairy- and dairy-like products. In addition to soy milk and almond milk, we have recently purchased actual dairy milk that was labeled lactose-free. This gave me the impression that they had used some process to remove the lactose, but looking at the ingredients more closely, it seems that they simply added lactase enzyme to the milk to assist breaking down the sugars.

My question is this: when is the lactase enzyme active? Does the lactase activity begin right as it is added to the milk, or will it not become active until ingested?

Essentially, I'm wondering if this type of milk can/should be used in cooking or baking. High temperatures will certainly denature the lactase enzymes in the milk, but if the lactose has already been broken down, this shouldn't be a problem.

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Having done an inordinate number of rather mind-numbing A.S. practicals involving milk and enzymes the year before last, in my experience lactase always began breaking down the lactose immediately and converting a boiling tube worth of milk in less than 50 minutes at below room temperature.

To further allay your concerns, this website suggests that most Lactose Free milk has undergone UHT treatment - therefore cooking shouldn't be a problem as the enzymes have presumably been added before the pasteurisation, and are therefore denatured - I can't see why you'd then go to the extra trouble of adding the lactase aseptically after pasteurisation; and if the lactase shows in the ingredient list it presumably wasn't done with immobilised enzymes in the factory.

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I would just add that lactase has an optimum temperature of action of 25 °C and an optimum pH of 6. So, for sure the stomach (very low pH) is not the good place for it to function. –  nico Aug 4 '12 at 7:21
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