Milk substitute

A milk substitute (or, more precisely, an analogue of mammalian milk) (also called milk alternative or milk analogue) can refer to a liquid used (particularly in the United States of America and in other western countries) as a replacement for the milk from a mammal (mainly cows and humans). Mammalian milk analogues are white or whitish liquids that resemble either dairy or human-breast milk.

Milk substitutes for non-infant consumption take two very different forms: plant milks, which are liquids made from plants and may be home-made or commercially produced, and coffee creamers, synthetic products invented in the US in the 1900s specifically to replace dairy milk in coffee.

Non-dairy milks are less likely to be regarded as substitutes for dairy milk in non-western countries where dairy production has been less predominant and which have much higher incidences of lactose intolerance. Around the world, humans have traditionally consumed plant milks for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.[1][2]

Due to their composition, alternatives to dairy milk may have a longer shelf-life and may be able to withstand higher temperatures than dairy milk without spoiling.[3] Some milk substitutes are marketed as being healthier than cow's milk due to being lower in saturated fat and (if entirely free of animal products) cholesterol-free. When milk analogues lack the vitamins or dietary minerals present in dairy milk (such as vitamin B12 or calcium), they may be fortified.

Fortification & substitution

Humans may consume dairy milk for a variety of reasons, including tradition, availability and nutritional value (especially minerals like calcium, vitamins such as B12, and protein). Dairy milk substitutes may be expected to meet such standards, though there are no legal requirements for them to do so. This may result in additives being put into milk substitutes to compensate for the absence of certain vitamins, minerals and/or proteins.[3] Infant formula, whether based on cow's milk, soy or rice, is usually fortified with iron and other dietary nutrients.

A 2017 investigative documentary by Deutsche Welle stated that calves in dairies in the German Alps were being fed cow milk substitutes due to the higher cost of fresh cow milk.[3]

Non-dairy milks

Coconut milk is made by mixing water with the freshly grated white inside pulp of a ripe coconut. Though considered by some in the west as a substitute for dairy milk, coconut milk has been used as a traditional ingredient in Southeast Asian, South Asian, Caribbean, and northern South American cuisines for centuries, if not millennia. It is also a source of calcium and vitamins C, E, B1, B3, B5 and B6.[4] 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.

Almond milk is produced from almonds by grinding almonds with water, then straining the pulp from the liquid. This procedure can be done at home. Almond milk is low in saturated fat and calories.[5][6]

Oat milk is a relatively recently developed plant-based milk substitute. Different preparations are available for either direct consumption or to use in coffee. Oat milk has a smooth oatmeal flavour and is often supplemented with calcium and vitamins to be a viable vegan mammalian milk replacement. Oat milk is marketed as an environment-friendly alternative to almond milk.

Soy milk is made from soybeans and contains about the same amount of protein as dairy milk. When enriched by the manufacturer, it may be a source of calcium and vitamin D and some B vitamins such as B12; however, this is not in all brands of soy milk. According to one study, soy protein may be a substitution for animal protein to prevent and control chronic kidney disease.[7]

Rice milk is mostly used for baking because of its 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 with water, which are then strained to yield a nutty creamy flavored milk. Hemp milk is naturally rich in protein and amino acids.

In yeast-derived milk products, sugar is mixed with yeast and the resulting fermentation process creates the whey and casein proteins (which are identical to those found in milk). 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. Milk substitutes produced in this way do not require the use of animals and compared to regular milk production are more efficient, produce fewer greenhouse gases and utilize less land (as no animals need to be fed, medicated, impregnated, milked, and slaughtered when no longer productive).[8][9][10][11]

Composition of plant milks

In the United States, dairy milk is required by federal law to contain a certain amount of vitamins A and D. However, there is no such requirement for milk substitutes. In Germany, milk substitutes tend to contain 30% milk powder, with the remaining 70% consisting of whey and cheaper vegetable extracts, especially palm oil and coconut oil.[3]

Lactose intolerance

Lactose is the major sugar found in dairy 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. Due to genetic differences,[12][13] intolerance of lactose is more common globally than tolerance.[14][15][16][17][18] Rates of lactose intolerance vary globally, from less than 10% in Northern Europe to as high as 95% in parts of Asia and Africa.[19] In a modern western context, food products which have been manufactured as dairy substitutes partly to cater for lactose intolerant individuals include milk, yogurt, whipped topping and ice cream. In Asia and Africa, where the rate of lactose intolerance is much higher than in the west and dairy production has been less predominant, many traditional analogues to dairy milk beverages exist, including amazake, douzhi, kunnu aya, kokkoh, poi and sikhye.

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.[20]

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 based on cow's milk, soy or rice can be a supplement to breast milk or a sole source of nutrition before solid food is introduced. Infant formula is usually fortified with dietary nutrients optimised for babies and toddlers, such as iron, to ensure survival, growth and health of the baby.[21]

See also


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  3. "Documentary - Too much milk in Europe (Interview with Sprayfo)". DW Germany. 25 March 2017.
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  9. Perfect Day: Meet the startup that makes milk—without cows
  10. Cow Milk Without the Cow Is Coming to Change Food Forever
  11. This Startup Wants to Make Cow's Milk—Without Cows
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  19. Deng Y, Misselwitz B, Dai N, Fox M (September 2015). "Lactose Intolerance in Adults: Biological Mechanism and Dietary Management". Nutrients (Review). 7 (9): 8020–35. doi:10.3390/nu7095380. PMC 4586575. PMID 26393648.
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