Batch fermentation studies were performed to evaluate the potentials of a complex nitrogen source, soybean, as an alternative to yeast extract for the economical production of lactic acid by Lactobacillus rhamnosus. An enzyme-hydrolysate of soybean meal, Soytone, with an adequate supplementation of vitamins was found to be highly effective in supporting lactic acid production from glucose and lactose. The effects of seven selected vitamins: d-biotin, pyridoxine, p-aminobenzoic acid, nicotinic acid, thiamine, pantothenic acid, and riboflavin, on cell growth and lactic acid production were investigated to provide the basis for the optimization of vitamin supplementation to minimize the cost. Pantothenic acid was the most required compound while the other six vitamins were also essential for high lactic acid productivity. As a result of the optimization, 15 g/l yeast extract could be successfully replaced with 19.3 g/l Soytone supplemented with the vitamins, resulting in a production of 125 g/l lactic acid from 150 g/l glucose. The volumetric productivity and lactate yield were 2.27 g/l/h and 92%, respectively, which were higher than those with 15 g/l yeast extract. The raw material cost was estimated to be 21.4 cent/kg lactic acid, which rr ns only similar to 41% of that with yeast extract. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.