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lactose (lăkˈtōs) [key] or milk sugar, white crystalline disaccharide (see carbohydrate). It has the same empirical formula (C12H22O11) as sucrose (cane sugar) and maltose but differs from both in structure (see isomer). It yields the simple sugars D-glucose and D-galactose on hydrolysis, which is catalyzed by lactase, an enzyme found in gastric juice. People who lack this enzyme after childhood cannot digest milk and are said to be lactose intolerant. Lactose is formed in the mammary glands of all lactating animals and is present in their milk. It is produced commercially as a byproduct of milk processing. When milk sours, the lactose in it is converted by bacteria to lactic acid. Lactose is less sweet-tasting than sucrose and is not found in plants.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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