Where does glycerine come from?

Reader Mark writes:

i am a vegetarian, i bought a nutri grain bars, after i had one i looked at the ingredients and found that is contains glycerin. i have heard that glycerin comes from the fat of pigs. is that true, or not

Hey Mark! Good question. Most of the glycerine that’s used these days vegetable-derived, though glycerine can be made from animal fats. It also comes from other sources. So-called “crude glycerine” is the main by-product of biofuel (ethanol) production, which means that assuming ethanol continues to be mandated in auto fuel blends we’ll be seeing a lot more of it. But biofuel glycerine isn’t the type we typically eat since in its raw state it contains a fair amount of water plus a few residual whatsits.

That said, when it’s refined and purified, crude glycerine can be used in food products, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and for “personal lubricants”. However given how much glycerine the biofuels industry is making, there’s no way even the global sexual lubricant industry will be able to use it all. Thus many governments around world are currently offering cash prizes to people who can think of practical uses for the stuff.

Food-grade (also known as “vegetable”) glycerine is made via a very similar process, but done on a smaller scale using palm and/or coconut oils. You can typically find it at candy-making supply houses or via online confectioner’s sites.

22 thoughts on “Where does glycerine come from?”

  1. Well…that makes me want to run out buy a jar for my holiday candy making. Not! Too funny, Joe!

  2. We always had a bottle of it in the bathroom cabinet when I was a child. I remember what it tastes like, but damned if I can remember why I got dosed with it.

    1. Hey Bronwyn!

      Some people used to use it to help them rehydrate after a stomach bug. Perhaps that was the purpose?

      – Joe

      1. Don’t think so. I’m vaguely associating it with sore throats. But that might be because I have one.

        1. Sore throats might be right…it’s used as a lubricant, obviously. That would probably alleviate some discomfort for kids.

          Interesting.

          – Joe

      2. I HATE Coca Cola because I was …administered pure cola syrup mixed with a scant bit of water when I had any sort of stomach issues as a kid. SO . . . I associate Cola with barfing. Yay….

        1. They’d love to hear that down in Atlanta at Coke HQ. Talk about a negative brand association…that’s pretty much textbook.

          Better days!

          – Joe

          1. The Crap started out as medicine, so I guess my grandparents just kept up with it. (Nevermind I was an 80s child)
            They can blame the start 🙂
            Of course, I don’t think it would have been such a bad association if it hadn’t been mostly pure syrup with a bit of water and obviously no bubbles.

    2. Yep,
      My mom always had a bottle of glycerin and rosewater. He used it as a refresher and splashed it on her face and neck and probably under arms it really smells good

  3. Hehe…hey Katie! Yes that glycerine is vegan is a pretty safe bet these days. It’s possible to make it from animal fats, but given how cheap biodiesel glycerine is these days, I doubt anyone in the soaps and cosmetics industry is using anything other than the vegetable stuff.

    Good luck with the vegans! 😉

    – Joe

    1. Dear Joe & Katie, thanks a lot for bringing up the vegan subject (both question and answer). It’s great to hear that! As a vegan myself now I feel much more confident to buy goods made with glycerin. Best regards 🙂

  4. I found glycerin on a bottle of e-cig juice. Hopefully it is not harmful in anyway with all the people smoking e-cigarettes. Especially 0 mil…. What you think?

    1. Honestly Linda I have no idea. I’m not aware of glycerine being harmful, but I’m not the right person to ask about this. Sorry!

      – Joe

  5. Hey Sue!

    Thanks for the comment. I shall look more closely at that and make a revision — though this comment may be correction enough! Thanks for taking the time to write it. I rely on readers like yourself to keep me honest!

    Cheers,

    Joe

  6. Glycerin is a derivative of palm oil , and whether or not that palm oil is from so- called sustainable sources , it’s production is still responsible for the relentless deforestation in places such as Borneo and Sumatra which in turn is destroying the natural habitat of Orangutans . These wonderful creatures should not be sacrificed.

  7. Hi Joe!
    I’ve been reading through your website with interest. I’m curious….do you happen to know if gelatin contains glycerin? I have an allergy to glycerin and I’m wondering if I should avoid using gelatin in my recipes.
    Thanks so much!

    1. Hello Yvonne!

      I’m pretty sure that gelatin does not contain glycerine, but unfortunately I can’t promise that categorically. There may be some mysterious process step that I don’t know about. If you’re extremely allergic, I bet you can get hold of a manufacturer and ask that question. Sorry I can’t give you a better answer!

      Cheers,

      – Joe

  8. My son recently started using Glycerin as a form of laxative. Ever since he started this, he is constantly vomiting. I wonder if Glycerin contains any form of dairy, whey or Casein? I’ve been googling like crazy and read it may contain Soured Milk? Any help is great!

    1. Hello Rolanda!

      I’m very sorry to hear about it. I have a sick daughter right now, and understand completely how awful it is to see a child suffering. To your question, I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of glycerine being derived from any kind of dairy product. If it’s animal-derived then it usually comes from fat, which is more or less a waste product these days. It’s hard to imagine that a glycerine maker would go to the trouble of buying something as expensive as dairy, only to turn it in to something as cheap as glycerin. But I’ve been surprised before!

      I wish you all the best in your search for an answer.

      – Joe

    1. Hey Mandy!

      There’s a lot of interest in this subject, and I’m learning as I go as well. But yes, a good deal of vegetable glycerine comes from corn, assuming that’s a grain (it can be considered a vegetable as well). Really any fat or oil can theoretically be made into glycerine. I would thing it would be possible for something like wheat germ oil too, but I’m not aware of such a thing.

      Hope that’s at least a little help!

      Cheers,

      Joe

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