Created by a company based in Mexico, Valentina is a brand of spicy sauce sold in a 12.5-ounce and large (one-liter or 34-ounce) glass bottles. It’s thicker than Tabasco sauce, less vinegary, but it packs more punch, so Mexicans use it a lot as a condiment, especially in traditional street food.
Can you eat Valentina’s spicy sauce and call yourself a vegan? Valentina is suitable for vegans, as it doesn’t contain any animal ingredients. It contains water, chilli peppers, vinegar, salt, spices, and sodium benzoate, so you’re free to eat it without feeling guilty.
Valentina’s spicy sauce comes in two varieties: hot (900 SHU) and extra hot (2100 SHU), so you have to choose wisely, especially if you’re sensitive to spicy food. Plus, you can differentiate the two by the color of the label as the hot variety has a yellow label, while the extra hot variety has a black label.
Is Sodium Benzoate Really Vegan?
Among the different ingredients within Valentina’s spicy sauce, sodium benzoate is probably the only one that concerns vegans, but that’s because most people don’t know how sodium benzoate gets synthesized.
Sodium benzoate is a very common food preservative, also known as E211.
Manufacturers typically use sodium benzoate to preserve acidic foods such as carbonated drinks, salad dressings, jams, pickles, and fruit juices.
Sodium benzoate is produced by reacting benzoic acid with sodium hydroxide, creating the salt sodium benzoate, which doesn’t exist in nature, but is more water-soluble than benzoic acid.
Sodium benzoate is also used as medicine to treat conditions such as urea cycle disorder, and schizophrenia, and it can also be used to create fireworks, as part of the powder that emits the initial whistling noise.
The two ingredients used to make sodium benzoate are vegan-friendly:
- You can produce benzoic acid by reacting toluene, a by-produce of oil or coal, with oxygen, which is how it’s produced for industrial/food use.
- And sodium hydroxide is a by-product of the chloralkali process, which takes NaCl (salt) and water as its starting ingredients.
Some sources claim that benzoic acid is not vegan because it is sourced from “animal vertebrates”, so I want to cover it and explain why that isn’t true.
Why Benzoic Acid Is Vegan
Benzoic acid is comprised of a benzene ring core carrying a carboxylic acid substituent, and it plays a role in preserving a wide range of products, including perfumes, insect repellants, dyes, and medications.
However, because it’s not very soluble in water, it’s not ideal for food products, so it is used to create sodium benzoate, a more water-soluble compound.
Benzoic acid can be sourced from animal tissues, but that doesn’t happen in commercial production, and you won’t be able to find a reputable source confirming that’s the case.
Benzoic acid can also be found in castoreum, an excretion taken from the castor sacs of beavers, but this ingredient is rarely used in foods, and even less in the industrial production of sodium benzoate.
Some bacteria can also produce benzoic acid through fermentation (including of dairy products), but that doesn’t translate into the industrial production of sodium benzoate.
The Valentina spicy sauce is 100% vegan.
There is no reason to believe that an ingredient like sodium benzoate is controversial, since there’s no evidence to prove that the ingredients used to make it are animal-based.
By definition, an ingredient is only vegan if it doesn’t derive from animals or involve animals in production, and sodium benzoate production doesn’t involve animals or animal by-products. As such, it is vegan.
In fact, the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) – which is probably the best resource for finding out if ingredients are vegan – classifies sodium benzoate as a vegan product without listing any caveats or exceptions.