Donkey milk

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Suckling donkey Foal and mother.jpg
Suckling donkey

Donkey milk (or ass milk/jenny milk) is the milk from the domesticated donkey (Equus asinus). It has been used since antiquity for cosmetic purposes as well as infant nutrition.



Donkey milk has been used by humans for alimentary and cosmetic purposes since Egyptian antiquity; [1] doctors recommended it to treat several afflictions, due to its healing and cosmetic virtues. [2]

Hippocrates (460 – 370 BC), was the first to write of the medicinal use of donkey milk and prescribed it for numerous conditions including poisoning, fevers, infectious diseases, edema, healing wounds, nose bleeds, and liver trouble. [3] [4] In the Roman era donkey milk was a recognized remedy; Pliny the Elder (23 – 79 AD) in his encyclopedic work, Naturalis Historia , wrote extensively about its health benefits, i.e. to fight fever, fatigue, eye strain, weakened teeth, face wrinkles, poisonings,ulcerations, asthma and certain gynecological troubles, [5] but it wasn't until the Renaissance that the first real scientific consideration was given to donkey milk. Georges-Louis Leclerc the Comte de Buffon (1707–1788) mentions the benefits of donkey milk in his Histoire naturelle [6] and Pauline Bonaparte (1780–1825), Napoleon's sister, is reported to have used donkey milk for skin care. In France in the nineteenth century, Dr. Parrot of the Hospital des Enfants Assistés spread the practice of bringing motherless babies directly to the donkey's nipple (Bullettin de l’Académie de médicine, 1882). The donkey's milk was then sold until the twentieth century to feed orphaned infants and to cure delicate children, the sick and the elderly. For this reason, in Greece, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland many donkeys are born on farms. [7] Nowadays donkey milk is largely used in the manufacture of soaps and moisturizers, but new evidence show its possible medical use, especially to treat, under the supervision of a doctor, infants and children with cow's milk protein allergy (CMPA) [2] and with appropriate precautions such as a natural "formula" for infants.


The donkey is considered a seasonal polyestrous one, but the latitude in which the farm is located can greatly influence the reproduction cycle. The female is normally pregnant for about 12 months. [8]

Donkey milk production differs greatly from that of conventional dairy species, especially in terms of milk supply which is much more limited. The equid mammary gland has a low capacity (max 2.5 L) and a part of the milk production should be left to the foal and milking may be carried out two or three hours after separation from the foal. [9] Donkeys should be milked three times a day from 20 to 90 days after foaling. [10] A female gives between 0.5 and 1.3 litres of milk a day for about 6–7 months. [ citation needed ] The variability of donkey milk production is due to many factors, such as individual milkability, nutrition, genetics, management of reproduction, etc., in addition to milking management. [11]

Generally, a donkey farm (breeding), aimed at milk production is small, with some tens of heads and rarely more. In Europe, and specifically in Emilia Romagna (Italy) there is only one very large donkey farm with 800 head.



Gross composition

Published data on donkey milk gross composition confirm the closer resemblance to breast milk for lactose, protein and ash levels when compared with cow, sheep and goat milk. [11] Despite the high lactose content of donkey milk the average fat content is lower for this purpose. When used in infant nutrition, donkey milk is usually supplemented with vegetable oil (4 mL 100 mL−1 milk) to conform to human milk energy. [12]

Composition of donkey's, mare's, human and cow's milk (g/100 g) [13]
composition donkey mare human cow
pH 7.0 – – 7.56.6 – 6.8
Protein g/100g1.5 – 1.81.5 – 2.80.9 – 1.73.1 – 3.8
Fat g/100g0.3 – 1.80.5 – 2.03.5 – 4.03.5 – 3.9
Lactose g/100g5.8 – 7.45.8 – 7.06.3 – 7.04.4 – 4.9
Total Solids (TS) g/100 g8.8–11.79.3–11.611.7–12.912.5–13.0
Casein Nitrogen (CN) g/100 g0.64–1.030.94–1.20.32–0.422.46–2.80
Whey protein g/100 g0.49–0.800.74–0.910.68–0.830.55–0.70
NPN g/100 g0.18–0.410.17–0.350.26–0.320.1–0.19
Casein Nitrogen (CN) %47.285026.0677.23
Whey protein  %36.9638.7953.5217.54
NPN  %15.7611.2120.425.23

The casein to whey protein ratio in donkey milk was lower compared to the value on cow milk.

The non-protein nitrogen (NPN) accounts for an average of 16% of total nitrogen in donkey milk, is much closer than values reported for human milk (20%) but higher than those of domestic ruminants (5%).

The amino acid profile of the donkey milk proteins shows a very similar percentage of essential amino acids (36.7 e 38.2 g amino acid /100 g protein) than in human milk proteins (40.7 g amino acid /100 g protein), according to Guo et al. [13]

Functional and bioactive components

Among the functional proteins detected in donkey milk, there are molecules active in antimicrobial protection such as lysozyme and lactoferrin. The lactoferrin content of donkey milk is intermediate between the lower values of cow milk and the higher values of human milk. Lactoferrin inhibits the growth of iron-dependent bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. This inhibits certain organisms, such as coliforms and yeast, that require iron. Lysozyme in donkey milk is present in large amounts, indeed ranges from 1.0 mg/mL to 4 mg/mL, depending on the analytical method used (chemical or microbiological); [11] this substance is present also in human (0.12 mg/mL) but only in trace amounts in cow and goat milk. [14] Lysozyme in donkey milk is highly thermo-stable and is very resistant to acid and protease and may play a significant role in the intestinal immune response. [15]

In donkey mammary secretion, defatted or not, growth factors and hormones have also been determined. In detail, donkey mammary secretions contain human-like leptin at levels close to human milk (3.35 e 5.32 ng/mL milk). [11] The bioactive peptides insulin like growth factor 1, ghrelin and triiodothyronine were also found in frozen donkey milk. These molecules, and many others present in human milk, are increasingly receiving attention from a nutraceutical point of view because of their potential direct role in regulating food intake, metabolism, and infant body condition. [11]

Nutritional use

Natural hypoallergenic milk for infants with CMPA

Donkey milk pasteurized is used as a natural hypoallergenic milk, [16] because it is tolerated by about 90% of infants with food allergies, e.g., cows’ milk protein allergy (CMPA), a common food allergy in childhood with a prevalence of approximately 3% during the first 3 years of life. [11] However the infants tolerance of donkey milk must be evaluated first subjectively, under medical supervision and after carrying out specific allergy tests

Natural infants "formula"

Donkey's milk is similar to human milk for its lactose, proteins, minerals, amino-acid content.

In terms of energy despite the high lactose content of donkey milk the average fat content is lower.

When used in infant nutrition before weaning, due to its low fat content to mimic breast milk, like all infant formulas, donkey milk should be integrated with a source of fat [12] particular attention must also be given to essential fatty acids. [17]

Omega‐3 and omega‐6 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are known to play an essential role in the development of the brain and retina. Intakes in pregnancy and early life affect growth and cognitive performance later in childhood,ensuring adequate intakes of fat, essential fatty acids and especially DHA through these life stages is crucial, cost effective dietary sources of these fatty acids  are needed to ensure adequate essential fatty acid and DHA intakes in these populations. [17]

The integration of these substances can take place with supplements of essential fatty acids (omega-3; omega-6) and vegetable oil certified for babies; this aspect is important to exclude the presence of spores that can pass the gastric mucosa in the first 4 months.

For children who are not allergic to cow or goat milk, a part of fat can be compensated naturally by adding 1-2% of cow or goat butter.

From the point of view of hygienic-sanitary safet, like all milks, donkey milk and its ingredients must be pasteurized before taking; the process of pasteurizing donkey milk deactivates bacterial and viral contaminants.

Donkey milk contains immune-enhancing compounds (in particular lysozyme and lactoferrin) to help protect infants from disease. In addition, the flavour and appearance of donkey milk have been found to be attractive to children. [11]

Fermented donkey milk

Equid (donkey and horse) milk can be considered a suitable substrate for probiotic beverage production.


The use of fermented equid milk is an ancient tradition in central Asia, like koumiss [18] or airag, a fermented mares milk very popular in Asia and Russia; but there are also traditional variants made from donkey milk. [19]

In Mongolia, where koumiss is the national drink, people have a saying that ‘kumys cures 40 diseases’. [20]

Pule Cheese

Pule cheese is an artisanal cheese from Serbia made from donkey's milk and is usually the most expensive cheese in the world.

Cosmetic use


It is said that Cleopatra, Queen of Ancient Egypt, took baths in donkey milk to preserve the beauty and youth of her skin. Legend has it that no less than 700 donkeys were needed to provide the quantity of milk necessary for her daily bath. [3] [4] [21] [22]

This was also the case of Poppaea Sabina (30–65), second wife of Roman Emperor Nero, who is referred to in Pliny’s description of the ass milk virtues for the skin:

"It is generally believed that ass milk effaces wrinkles in the face, renders the skin more delicate, and preserves its whiteness : and it is a well-known fact, that some women are in the habit of washing their face with it seven times daily, strictly observing that number. Poppaea, the wife of the Emperor Nero, was the first to practise this; indeed, she had sitting-baths, prepared solely with ass milk, for which purpose whole troops of she- asses used to attend her on her journeys " [5] [23]

The Roman poet Ovid.(43 BC. – 18 d.C.) also in his poem Medicamina Faciei Femineae, suggest beauty masks made with donkey milk.

Pauline Bonaparte (1780–1825), Napoleon's sister, is also reported to have used ass milk for her skin's health care. [3] [23]

Cosmetics with donkey milk

In recent years, the cosmetic industry is mainly focused towards products made with natural ingredients and it is oriented to a sustainable consumption. Because of their natural origin, milk components correspond in many fields to the needs of cosmetology. [24]

Recent scientific study on a cream containing of lyophilized donkey milk showed different benefits for the skin. These results are related to the effectiveness of donkey milk components like proteins, minerals, vitamins, essential fatty acids, bioactive enzyme and coenzyme which allow the skin a balanced nourishment and a proper hydration. In particular vitamin C content in donkey milk is almost 4 times more of cow's milk. Donkey milk contain more lactoferrin of cow milk and a considerable mounts of lysozyme, from 1.0 mg/mL to 4 mg/mL (depending on the analytical method used: chemical or microbiological), instead cow's milk only traces. For this reason, it has the potentiality, when properly formulated, to reduce problem skin with eczema, acne, psoriasis and herpes and properties in calming the irritation symptoms as reported by some authors.

Some authors have preliminarily evaluated whether the use of a face cream made from donkey milk affected the perception of some sensory aspects. The results showed that treated cream resulted appreciated by dry skin consumers for the following sensory aspects: spreadability, total appearance, smoothness, moisturisation and total effectiveness . The overall judgement also resulted highest for face cream made with donkey milk. [24] [25]

Today, donkey milk is still used in the manufacture of soaps and creams. [26]


Freeze drying

Donkey milk can be freeze dried to preserve the biological quality of the milk, and so preserve its nutritional, functional and cosmetic properties. This is possible because in freeze drying the milk is frozen and brought under vacuum at low temperatures. During this process the water is removed by sublimation. The result is approximately ten percent of dry matter that is called lyophilized (or freeze dried) donkey milk. This powder is easy to reconstitute. The lyophilized product has to be packaged without any oxygen. It has a shelf life of two years.

Concluding, the treatment of lyophilization (freeze dried) of donkey's milk demonstrated that the natural colour, flavours, nutrients, bioactive substances of the fresh donkey milk are retained. [27] Instead, with the spray-drying method, another way to dry products, the milk is being heated whereby vitamins and other important bioactive substances will get lost. In addition Freeze-dried don't require chemical preservatives and can be either consumed directly or re hydrated easily. However, this method for its high costs is practiced only by a few companies.

This product it is easy to find in Italy, where it was for the first time put on the market, but can be difficult outside of Europe.[ citation needed ]

Related Research Articles

Dairy product Food produced from or containing the milk of mammals

Dairy products or milk products are a type of food produced from or containing the milk of mammals, most commonly cattle, water buffaloes, goats, sheep, and camels. Dairy products include food items such as yogurt, cheese and butter. A facility that produces dairy products is known as a dairy, or dairy factory. Dairy products are consumed worldwide, with the exception of most of East and Southeast Asia and parts of central Africa.

Milk White liquid produced by the mammary glands of mammals

Milk is a nutrient-rich liquid food produced by the mammary glands of mammals. It is the primary source of nutrition for young mammals, including breastfed human infants before they are able to digest solid food. Early-lactation milk is called colostrum, which contains antibodies that strengthen the immune system and thus reduces the risk of many diseases. It holds many other nutrients, including protein and lactose. Interspecies consumption of milk is not uncommon, particularly among humans, many of whom consume the milk of other mammals.

Infant formula

Infant formula, baby formula or just formula or baby milk, infant milk or first milk, is a manufactured food designed and marketed for feeding to babies and infants under 12 months of age, usually prepared for bottle-feeding or cup-feeding from powder or liquid. The U.S. Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) defines infant formula as "a food which purports to be or is represented for special dietary use solely as a food for infants by reason of its simulation of human milk or its suitability as a complete or partial substitute for human milk".

Kitten Juvenile cat

A kitten is a juvenile cat. After being born, kittens display primary altriciality and are totally dependent on their mother for survival. They do not normally open their eyes until after seven to ten days. After about two weeks, kittens quickly develop and begin to explore the world outside the nest. After a further three to four weeks, they begin to eat solid food and grow adult teeth. Domestic kittens are highly social animals and usually enjoy human companionship.

Casein Family of proteins found in milk

Casein is a family of related phosphoproteins. These proteins are commonly found in mammalian milk, comprising about 80% of the proteins in cow's milk and between 20% and 60% of the proteins in human milk. Sheep and buffalo milk have a higher casein content than other types of milk with human milk having a particularly low casein content.

An essential amino acid, or indispensable amino acid, is an amino acid that cannot be synthesized from scratch by the organism fast enough to supply its demand, and must therefore come from the diet. Of the 21 amino acids common to all life forms, the nine amino acids humans cannot synthesize are phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, and histidine.

Essential fatty acids, or EFAs, are fatty acids that humans and other animals must ingest because the body requires them for good health but cannot synthesize them.

Whey Liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained

Whey is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. It is a byproduct of the manufacture of cheese or casein and has several commercial uses. Sweet whey is a byproduct resulting from the manufacture of rennet types of hard cheese, like cheddar or Swiss cheese. Acid whey is a byproduct brought out during the making of acid types of dairy products, such as cottage cheese or strained yogurt.

Lactoferrin Mammalian protein found in Homo sapiens

Lactoferrin (LF), also known as lactotransferrin (LTF), is a multifunctional protein of the transferrin family. Lactoferrin is a globular glycoprotein with a molecular mass of about 80 kDa that is widely represented in various secretory fluids, such as milk, saliva, tears, and nasal secretions. Lactoferrin is also present in secondary granules of PMNs and is secreted by some acinar cells. Lactoferrin can be purified from milk or produced recombinantly. Human colostrum has the highest concentration, followed by human milk, then cow milk (150 mg/L).

Breast milk Milk produced by the mammary glands in the breast of a human female

Breast milk or mother's milk is milk produced by mammary glands, located in the breast of a human female. Breast milk is the primary source of nutrition for newborns, containing fat, protein, carbohydrates and variable minerals and vitamins. Breast milk also contains factors that are important for implications protecting the infant against infection and inflammation, whilst also contributing to healthy development of the immune system and gut microbiome.

Dairy cattle cattle bred to produce milk

Dairy cattle are female cattle bred for the ability to produce large quantities of milk, from which dairy products are made. Dairy cows generally are of the species Bos taurus.

Cat food

Cat food is food for consumption by cats. Cats have specific requirements for their dietary nutrients. Certain nutrients, including many vitamins and amino acids, are degraded by the temperatures, pressures and chemical treatments used during manufacture, and hence must be added after manufacture to avoid nutritional deficiency.

Whey protein Protein supplement

Whey protein is a mixture of proteins isolated from whey, the liquid material created as a by-product of cheese production. The proteins consist of α-lactalbumin, β-lactoglobulin, serum albumin and immunoglobulins. Whey protein is commonly marketed as a dietary supplement, and various health claims have been attributed to it. A review published in 2010 in the European Food Safety Authority Journal concluded that the provided literature did not adequately support the proposed claims. For muscle growth, whey protein has been shown to be slightly better compared to other types of protein, such as casein or soy.

Milk substitute

A milk substitute is any substance that resembles milk and can be used in the same ways as milk. Such substances may be variously known as non-dairy beverage, nut milk, grain milk, legume milk and alternative milk.

Protein (nutrient) Nutrient for the human body

Proteins are essential nutrients for the human body. They are one of the building blocks of body tissue and can also serve as a fuel source. As a fuel, proteins provide as much energy density as carbohydrates: 4 kcal per gram; in contrast, lipids provide 9 kcal per gram. The most important aspect and defining characteristic of protein from a nutritional standpoint is its amino acid composition.

Animal nutrition focuses on the dietary nutrients needs of animals, primarily those in agriculture and food production, but also in zoos, aquariums, and wildlife management.

Amino acid-based formula is a type of infant milk formula made from individual amino acids. It is hypoallergenic and intended for infants suffering from severe allergy to milk and various gastrointestinal conditions, such as food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome and malabsorption syndromes. It is sometimes referred to as elemental formula but this is considered a misleading name. Issues with the use of amino acid-based formula include its high cost and its unpalatable taste. Intake of amino-acid formula for healthy infants shows no advantage in growth.

Fish protein powder (FPP) describes a food grade powder product designated primarily for human consumption applications. It differs significantly from fish meal products which are designated for animal feed applications. Fish protein powders have various sanitary processing, purity and functional characteristics which establish them as human food ingredients. Production plants registered for the USA market are located in Peru and France.

Protein quality is the digestibility and quantity of essential amino acids for providing the proteins in correct ratios for human consumption. There are various methods that rank the quality of different types of protein, some of which are outdated and no longer in use, or not considered as useful as they once were thought to be. The Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), which was recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), became the industry standard in 1993. FAO has recently recommended the newer Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score (DIAAS) to supersede PDCAAS. The dairy industry is in favor of this, because while PDCAAS truncates all protein types that exceed the essential amino acid (EAA) requirements to 1.0, DIAAS allows a higher than 1.0 ranking: while for example both soy protein isolate and whey isolate are ranked 1.0 according to PDCAAS, in the DIAAS system, whey has a higher score than soy.

Pea milk

Pea milk is a type of plant milk made using pea protein, which is made of yellow peas water, sunflower oil, gums as thickeners, Tricalcium Phosphate, vitamins, and Dipotassium Phosphate. Commercial pea milk typically comes in sweetened, unsweetened, vanilla and chocolate flavours, and is usually enriched with vitamins. It is marketed as a more environmentally-friendly alternative to almond milk and a non-GMO alternative to soy milk. The two largest brands of pea milk are Ripple Foods and Bolthouse Farms. Pea milk is a plant-based alternative to dairy milk. It is available in several countries including the US, UK and Australia and is vegan, nut free and lactose free. Pea milk is a part of plant milks, which are gaining in popularity due to increased lactose intolerance among consumers and demand for environmentally sustainable products. The plant-based milk industry as per 2019 estimates is worth approximately US$5 billion and will reach a value of US$26 billion in 5 years. There has been research in the role of pea proteins in preparing infant formula, yoghurt and calf mixtures. The colour is off-white and pea milk is made through crushing yellow split peas and mixing the soluble components with water. Pea milk may also be prepared at home. It is perceived to be environmentally sustainable and requires less water than the production of dairy milk. There is limited information on the total carbon emissions and water consumption of producing ready to drink pea milk.


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Donkey Milk The girl who succeeded in a strange business