Last Updated on January 4, 2023 by Aaron
Lactose is a type of sugar that is found in milk and dairy products. Parmesan is a hard cheese made from cow’s milk and when the cheese is made, some amount of lactose remains in the final product.
Depending on the type of parmesan and how it’s made, the amount of lactose in parmesan can vary. For example, aged parmesans typically have lower levels of lactose due to the longer aging process. That’s because the bacteria in the cheese break down some of the lactose during that process. At the end, the detectable amount can be lower than a certain threshold — that’s why it can be marketed as “virtually” lactose-free.
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In general, however, natural parmesan still contains some amount of lactose anywhere from 0.01% to over 5% lactose content. In other words, there may be around 5 grams or less of lactose in each cup (100g) serving of parmesan.
That’s to say, people who are lactose intolerant may still be able to consume small amounts of parmesan without any adverse effects.
How much lactose is in your regular parmesan cheese?
It’s hard to say without testing it, but as a general rule of thumb, the longer the aging process and the older the cheese, the lower the amount of lactose. So if you’re looking for an option with less lactose content, opt for aged parmesan cheeses over regular ones.
In the United States, the legal requirement for parmesan cheese is to be aged for at least 10 months minimum. Most of the grated or shredded parmesan cheeses that we bought in grocery stores aren’t aged for too long — usually 10-12 months. Therefore, the lactose content falls around 1-3%.
Since they generally don’t label the lactose content on the packaging, some parmesan can actually have a much higher lactose. Always look at the ingredients list and see if there is any milk solids or whey powder (which contains lactose) included in the cheese — especially for some of the processed parmesan products like parmesan cheese powder. If you don’t see either of those ingredients, then it’s probably a good bet to assume the cheese isn’t very high in lactose. See the image below:
Another way you can gauge the lactose content is to look at the carbohydrate content on the nutrition facts label. Lactose is a type of carbohydrate, so if it’s present in the cheese, it will be included in the total amount of carbohydrates listed. So if you’re looking for a parmesan with lower lactose content, look for one that has fewer carbs as well.
According to the FoodData Central by USDA, Kraft parmesan USDA and Belgioioso USDA parmesan are containing 0g carbohydrates, while some others such as Stella parmesan USDA and Frigo parmesan USDA may have about 3g of total carbs per 100g serving.
What about Parmigiano Reggiano?
Parmigiano Reggiano is an Italian hard cheese and it’s often considered to be the best parmesan out there, due to its superior quality. Read more in Parmesan vs Parmigiano Reggiano post. It’s typically aged for 12 to 36 months, which means it tends to have less lactose content than our regular parmesan cheese. From the nutrition label, the carbohydrate is usually 1% or less. See below:
According to the Parmigiano Reggiano website, it’s naturally lactose-free with fewer than 1mg (0.01g) of lactose for the mean value of each 100g of product.
Other than lactose concern, is parmesan hard to digest?
Parmesan is a dairy cheese that is easy to digest. The proteins and lipids structure of hard cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano hydrolyzed by enzymes (1) into low molecular sizes — a process similar to predigestion — therefore, easy to be digested and absorbed by our body later on.