Milk substitute

Coffee mate, used in coffee as a substitute for dairy cream or milk

A milk substitute a liquid meant to replace the milk from a mammal. It is a whitish liquid that contains similar amounts of proteins, fats, and other vitamins and minerals as milk. A milk substitute can replace dairy milk in tea, coffee, or a recipe. This overlaps with, but is distinct from, plant milk, which is used by those who want to avoid animal products for health or ethical reasons, including vegans, or because of taste preference.

Some milk substitutes are marketed to consumers as healthier than cow's milk, because they may be lower in saturated fat and, if they are entirely free of animal products, cholesterol-free. When milk substitutes are lacking in vitamins or dietary minerals present in dairy milk (such as vitamin B12 or calcium), they are usually fortified.


Humans consume milk because of the nutritional value, especially minerals like calcium, vitamins such as B12, and the high protein content, but also due to taste preference, as all human babies are weaned on mothers milk or similar infant formula, which leads to positive taste connotations later in life. Therefore, any milk substitute is usually required to meet such standards.

Milk composition

Dairy milk is required by the federal government to contain a certain amount of vitamins A and D. Unlike dairy milk, fortification of vitamins in milk substitutes are currently not required by federal law.

Milk substitutions

Substitution products for milk were created due to consumer demand. Customers worldwide wished for healthier beverages tasting and looking like milk, and a way of obtaining the same nutrients as in cow milk, but without the often present antibiotics, growth hormones, and painkillers caused by modern factory farming. Also very important is the fact that such substitutes allow vegans, and people who are seriously ill (gout, PKU, rheumatoid arthritis etc. require the avoidance of foods with high protein content because of the purine levels, among other factors), lactose intolerant, or allergic to dairy protein, to enjoy all commonly cow milk based foods without health problems or ethical concerns.

Alternative products

Soy milk

Soy milk is possibly one of the most popular non-dairy milk products on the shelf. It is made from soybeans and it contains about the same amount of protein as dairy milk. Although it is claimed by some to contain twice as much sugar and saturated fats , when enriched by the manufacturer it may be a source of calcium and vitamin D.

Almond milk

Almond milk is produced from almonds by grinding both almonds and water then straining the pulp from the liquid. This procedure can be done at home. Almond milk doesn't contain high amounts of saturated fat or calories.

Rice milk is mostly used for baking because of its especially sweet taste, but in case of a nut or soy allergy a grain milk processed from rice may be preferable. When fortified, this milk can be a source of calcium, vitamin B12, and vitamin D2.

Hemp milk is made by grinding hemp seeds and water, which are then strained to yield a nutty creamy flavored milk. Hemp milk is naturally rich in protein and amino acids.

Coconut milk is made by mixing water with the freshly grated white inside pulp of a ripe coconut. It is also a source of calcium and vitamin D . Coconut milk is usually very high in fat and calories, but low in protein, which makes it a good substitute for cream, as it can be whipped up in a similar fashion to decorate baked goods or desserts.

Yeast-derived milk products. A fermentation process is used to create whey and casein proteins—identical to those found in milk—using yeast, which does not require the use of animals and utilizes fewer resources. This is then combined with plant-based sugars, fats, and minerals to reproduce the milk, which can then be used like regular milk, including cheesemaking. Since the sugar used to produce the product is not animal-based it is often lactose free.[1]

Whey protein

Whey protein is commonly taken to supplement resistance exercise and help build lean tissue mass. Whey protein supplementation along with resistance exercise can help improve muscle protein synthesis and promote the growth of lean tissue mass. Whey protein is a complete protein and contains all 9 essential amino acids and is low in lactose content. Seniors, diabetics, athletes, bodybuilders, people who are on restricted diets can all benefit from the increasing whey intake. Health benefits from taking whey includes weight loss, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

There are three main types of whey:

  1. Whey protein isolate
  2. Whey protein concentrate
  3. Whey protein hydrolysate

Whey protein is created when milk is left over, coagulates, and eventually turns into a 5% solution of lactose in water, loaded with minerals. This leftover by-product, called whey, makes up 20% of the protein in milk; the other 80% is called casein, which is the curds that make cottage cheese. Then the liquid whey becomes separated from the casein and is filtered to remove the ingredients that aren't Whey. The final step is removing the water from the whey by turning it into a powder at a drying tower. The protein powder is then ready to be packaged and consumed.[2]

There are many different forms of whey protein such as dried whey, lactose reduced whey and liquid whey. Dried whey, being the most common, can consist of dairy whey, sweet dairy whey and whey powder. These all contain about 75% lactose.

Lactose intolerance

Dairy-free ice cream

Lactose is the major sugar found in milk. Lactose intolerance occurs when an individual is deficient in the enzyme lactase; which breaks down the lactose in the intestine. Bloating, cramps, constipation, or diarrhea may result when an individual who is lactose intolerant consumes a dairy product. A variety of products are available which contain milk substitutes, so those foods are still able to be consumed by individuals with a lactose intolerance. Food products which have been manufactured with milk substitutes include milk, yogurt, whipped topping and ice cream.

Lactose-free manufacturing

A lactose-free food, such as non-dairy ice cream, may require a different process during manufacturing. For example, traditional dairy ice cream is made with a combination of milk products that contain lactose, but non-dairy ice cream may be synthesized using hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (coconut oil, palm kernel oil and soybean oil) along with emulsifier, protein, sweetener and water. Some not yet widely prevalent synthetic ice cream products are claimed to have a similar flavour and texture to traditional dairy ice cream.[3]

However many smaller scale, organic, gourmet or slow food focused non-dairy ice cream manufacturers create all their products using traditional, natural and only slightly altered methods. The preferred base for non dairy ice creams are often coconut milk or plant cream, due to the higher fat and lower water content preventing the formation of ice crystals.

Infant formula

Breast milk substitutes are available for infants if breast feeding is not an option. Infant formulas made of cow’s milk can be a supplement to breast milk or as sole source of nutrition before solid food is introduced. It is vital that the formula is fortified with dietary nutrients optimised for babies and toddlers, such as iron, to ensure survival, growth and health of the baby.[4] Those wishing to avoid animal products can use soy-based or rice-based infant formula.

See also


  1. Love, Tessa (August 24, 2016). "Would you drink this milk made out of yeast? Berkeley startup bets the answer is yes". San Francisco Business Times. Retrieved August 24, 2016.
  2. Medical News Today
  3. Doris E. Pitz. Lactose-Free Synthetic Ice Cream. United States Patent No: 2,643,90, February 17, 1987. Retrieved November 8, 2011.
  4. Feeding baby infant formula. Government of Alberta Health and Wellness. Retrieved November 8, 2011.
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