Lactose-free biscuits are a type of baked food made from grain that has been made with ingredients that do not contain lactose (C12H22O11), a sugar found in large quantities in milk. Like other lactose-free foods, they are primarily made for people with lactose intolerance, a partial or total inability to digest and metabolize lactose. Biscuits made from conventional recipes usually contain dairy products such as butter, buttermilk, or cream that can cause digestive disturbances if eaten by someone who is lactose intolerant, so lactose-free biscuits are widely made and sold as an alternative. They are also marketed to people who restrict their consumption of dairy products for philosophical or religious reasons.
People who are lactose intolerant do not produce enough of the enzyme lactase, which metabolizes lactose, to digest dairy products properly. For this reason, the condition is also sometimes called hypolactasia or lactose deficiency. At least some degree of lactose intolerance is actually the norm among most of the Earth's adult population, with most people's lactase production dropping or stopping altogether in adulthood. If a person whose lactase levels are extremely low consumes lactose or someone with a milder deficiency consumes a large amount of lactose in a short period, this can cause symptoms such as cramping, flatulence, and diarrhea. Many people who suffer from lactose intolerance actively try to limit their lactose intake or even eat an entirely lactose-free diet as a result.
Due to differences in the evolution of American and British English, the word “biscuit” can have two different meanings. In the United States, a biscuit is a small, soft piece of bread, while in most other English-speaking countries it is a small, hard baked item that would be referred to as a cookie or cracker in American English. Both types of biscuits typically contain dairy products that can make eating them problematic for the lactose-intolerant, but both can be made in lactose-free forms.
Lactose-free products such as lactose-free biscuits are generally made from recipes that replace dairy products with non-dairy alternatives. Butter is frequently replaced with vegetable oils or margarine, which usually contains skim milk but can be made without it. Normal milk can be replaced with soy milk, made from water and soybean proteins, and soy can also be used to create nondairy alternatives to butter and cream. Another popular cream substitute is coconut oil. It is also possible to make lactose-free dairy products by subjecting milk to a filtration process that removes its lactose, making the milk and its derivatives suitable for lactose-free food.
It should be noted that lactose-free does not necessarily mean dairy-free. Products like lactose-free biscuits are commonly made without dairy products of any sort, but milk-based products that have had their lactose removed through a filtering process may also be used. People who restrict their consumption of dairy products for reasons unrelated to lactose intolerance, such as people allergic to milk proteins, vegans who abstain from all animal products, or Jews who follow traditional kosher dietary rules that forbid eating or storing dairy products and meat together, should not assume that a lactose-free product is necessarily suitable to their needs.