Plant milk

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Plant milk
Cononut milk.JPG
TypeNondairy beverage and ingredient
FlavorVarious; creamy texture
IngredientsWater and a grain, pseudocereal, legume, nut, seed, or coconut (which is a drupe as defined by the US Library of Congress)
Amazake, Japanese rice milk Amazake by emily harbour in july.jpg
Amazake, Japanese rice milk
Glass of horchata de chufa (tiger nut milk) in a cafe in Spain Horchata de chufa 2.jpg
Glass of horchata de chufa (tiger nut milk) in a café in Spain
Shelves of Swedish oat drinks in original, organic, and coffee Oatly.jpg
Shelves of Swedish oat drinks in original, organic, and coffee

Plant milk (plant-based liquids, alternative milk, nut milk or vegan milk) is a plant juice that resembles the color of milk and refers to manufactured, nondairy beverages made from a water-based plant extract for flavoring and aroma. [1] [2] Plant milks are vegan beverages consumed as plant-based alternatives to dairy milk, and often provide a creamy mouthfeel. [3] For commerce, plant-based liquids are typically packaged in containers similar and competitive to those used for dairy milk, but cannot be labeled as "milk" within the European Union. [4] In 2018, among the roughly 20 plants used to manufacture plant milk, almond, soy, and coconut were the highest-selling plant milks worldwide. The global plant milk market was estimated at US$16 billion in 2018. [3]


Plant-based beverages have been consumed for centuries, with the term "milk-like plant juices" used since the 13th century. [5] Across various cultures, plant milk has been both a traditional beverage and a flavourful ingredient in sweet and savory dishes, such as the use of coconut milk in curries. Plant milks are also used to make "ice cream", plant cream, vegan cheese, and "yogurt", such as soy yogurt. A 2018 study found that 54% of U.S. consumers "would like to eat more plant-based foods and beverages". [6]


The Wabanaki and other Native American tribal nations in the northeastern United States made milk and infant formula from nuts. [7] [8] According to the American Vegan Society, this fact not being very well-known "shows how the historical record was unwittingly distorted to mask this proto-vegan tradition." [9]

Horchata, a beverage originally made in North Africa from soaked, ground, and sweetened tiger nuts, spread to Iberia (now Spain) before the year 1000. [10] [11] In English, the word "milk" has been used to refer to "milk-like plant juices" since 1200 AD. [5]

Recipes from the 13th-century Levant exist which describe the first plant milk: almond milk. [12] Soy was a plant milk used in China during the 14th century. [3] [10] In Medieval England, almond milk was used in dishes such as ris alkere (a type of rice pudding) [13] and appears in the recipe collection, The Forme of Cury . [14] Coconut milk (and coconut cream) are traditional ingredients in many cuisines such as in South and Southeast Asia, and are often used in curries. [15]

Plant milks may be regarded as milk substitutes in Western countries, but have traditionally been consumed in other parts of the world, especially ones where there are higher rates of lactose intolerance (see especially lactose intolerance: epidemiology section). [2]


Common plant milks are almond milk, coconut milk, rice milk, and soy milk. Other plant milks include hemp milk, oat milk, pea milk, and peanut milk. [2] [16] [17]

Plant milks can be made from:

A blend is a plant milk created by mixing two or more types together. Common examples of blends are almond-coconut milk and almond-cashew milk. Pacific Foods' 7 Grain plant milk consists of oat, rice, triticale, wheat, barley, spelt, and millet.

Other traditional plant milk recipes include:


Mean greenhouse gas emissions for one glass (200 g) of different milks [18]
Milk TypesGreenhouse Gas Emissions (kg CO2-Ceq per 200 g)
Cow's Milk
Rice Milk
Soy Milk
Oat Milk
Almond Milk
Mean water footprint for one glass (200 g) of different milks [18]
Milk TypesWater Use (L per 200 g)
Cow's Milk
Almond Milk
Rice Milk
Oat Milk
Soy Milk
Mean land use for one glass (200 g) of different milks [18]
Milk TypesLand Use (m2 per 200 g)
Cow's Milk
Oat Milk
Soy Milk
Almond Milk
Rice Milk

Although there are variations in the manufacturing of plant milks according to the starting plant material, as an example, the general technique for soy milk involves several steps, including: [2] [3] [19]

The actual content of the highlighted plant in commercial plant milks may be only around 2%. [3] Other ingredients commonly added to plant milks during manufacturing include guar gum, xanthan gum, or sunflower lecithin for texture and mouthfeel, select micronutrients (such as calcium, B vitamins, and vitamin D), salt, and natural or artificial ingredients—such as flavours characteristic of the featured plant—for aroma, color, and taste. [2] [3] [19] [16] Plant milks are also used to make ice cream, plant cream, vegan cheese, and yogurt, such as soy yogurt.

The production of almond-based dairy substitutes has been criticized on environmental grounds as large amounts of water and pesticides are used. [20] [21] The emissions, land, and water footprints of plant milks vary, due to differences in crop water needs, farming practices, region of production, production processes, and transportation. [18]

Nutritional comparison with cow's milk

Generally, because plant milks are manufactured using processed extracts of the starting plant, plant milks are lower in nutrient density than dairy milk and are fortified during manufacturing to add precise levels of micronutrients, commonly calcium and Vitamins A and D. [3] [16] [17]

Nutritional content of fortified cow, soy, almond and oat milks
Nutrient value
per 250 mL cup
Cow milk
(whole) [22]
Soy milk
(unsweetened) [23]
Almond milk
(unsweetened) [24]
Oat milk
(unsweetened) [25]
Energy, kJ (kcal)620 (149)330 (80)160 (39)500 (120)
Protein (g)7.696.951.553
Fat (g)7.933.912.885
Saturated fat (g)4.550.500.5
Carbohydrate (g)11.714.231.5216
Fiber (g)01.202
Sugars (g)12.32107
Calcium (mg) [lower-alpha 1] 276301516350
Potassium (mg)322292176390
Sodium (mg)10590186140
Vitamin B12 (µg)1.102.7001.2
Vitamin A (IU) [lower-alpha 1] [lower-alpha 2] 395503372267
Vitamin D (IU) [lower-alpha 1] [lower-alpha 3] 124119110144
Cholesterol (mg)24000
  1. 1 2 3 Commonly added to plant milks, which do not naturally contain significant levels of the nutrient. Added to all three plant milks presented in this table.
  2. Vitamin A fortification is only required for skimmed milk in the US.
  3. Vitamin D fortification for dairy milk is mandatory in the US.

Packaging and commerce

To improve competition, plant milks are typically packaged in containers similar to those of dairy milks. [1] [26] [27] Advertising for plant milks may contrast the intensive farming effort to produce dairy milk with the relative ease of harvesting vegan sources, such as oats, rice or soybeans. [3] [28]

In the United States, plant milk sales grew steadily by 61% over the period 2012 to 2018. [29] Among plant milks, almond (64% market share), soy (13% market share), and coconut (12% market share) were category leaders in the United States during 2018. [29] Oat milk sales increased by 250% in Canada during 2019, [30] and its growing consumption in the United States and United Kingdom led to production shortages from unprecedented consumer demand. [31] [32] In 2020, one major coffee retailer Starbucks added oat milk, coconut milk, and almond milk beverages to its menus in the United States and Canada. [33] During 2020, oat milk sales in the United States increased to $213 million, becoming the second most consumed plant milk after almond milk ($1.5 billion in 2020 sales). [34]

Labeling and terminology

Plants milks may be labeled to highlight their nutrient contents, or with terms reflecting their composition or absence of ingredients, such as "dairy-free", "gluten-free" or "GMO-free". [3]

Traditionally a variety of non-dairy products have been described with the word milk, including the traditional digestive remedies milk of magnesia [35] and milk of bismuth. [36] Latex, the complex inedible emulsion that exudes from the stems of certain plants, is generally described as milky and is often sold as "rubber milk" because of its white appearance. The word latex itself is deducted from the Spanish word for milk. [37]

In December 2013, European Union regulations stated that the terms "milk", "butter", "cheese", "cream" and "yoghurt" can only be used to market and advertise products derived from animal milk, with a small number of exceptions including coconut milk, peanut butter and ice cream. [38] In 2017, the Landgericht Trier (Trier regional court), Germany, asked the Court of Justice of the European Union, to clarify European food-labeling law (Case C-422/16), [39] with the court stating that plant-based products cannot be marketed as milk, cream, butter, cheese or yoghurt within the European Union because these are reserved for animal products; exceptions to this do not include tofu and soy. In the United Kingdom, strict standards are applied to food labeling for terms such as milk, cheese, cream, yogurt, which are protected to describe dairy products and may not be used to describe non-dairy produce. [40]

In the United States, the dairy industry petitioned the FDA to ban the use of terms like "milk", "cheese", "cream" and "butter" on plant-based analogues (except for peanut butter). [41] FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, stated on July 17, 2018 that the term "milk" is used imprecisely in the labeling of non-dairy beverages, such as soy milk, oat milk and almond milk: "An almond doesn't lactate", he said. [1] In 2019, the US National Milk Producers Federation petitioned the FDA to restrict labeling of plant-based milks, claiming they should be described as "imitation". [42] In response, the Plant-Based Foods Association stated the word "imitation" was disparaging, and there was no evidence that consumers were misled or confused about plant-based milks. [42] A 2018 survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation found that consumers in the United States do not typically confuse plant-based analogues with animal milk or dairy products. [41] [43] Labeling regulations for plant-based products with names such as "milk" or "yoghurt" were under review, as of 2018. [44]

See also

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.

Vegetarian cuisine Food not including meat

Vegetarian cuisine is based on food that meets vegetarian standards by not including meat and animal tissue products. Lacto-ovo vegetarianism includes eggs and dairy products. Lacto vegetarianism includes dairy products but not eggs, and ovo vegetarianism encompasses eggs but not dairy products. The strictest form of vegetarianism is veganism, which excludes all animal products, including dairy, honey, and some refined sugars if filtered and whitened with bone char. There are also partial vegetarians, such as pescetarians who eat fish but avoid other types of meat.

Yogurt A food produced by bacterial fermentation of milk

Yogurt also spelled yoghurt, yogourt or yoghourt, is a food produced by bacterial fermentation of milk. The bacteria used to make yogurt are known as yogurt cultures. Fermentation of sugars in the milk by these bacteria produces lactic acid, which acts on milk protein to give yogurt its texture and characteristic tart flavor. Cow's milk is the milk most commonly used to make yogurt. Milk from water buffalo, goats, ewes, mares, camels, yaks and plant milks are also used to produce yogurt. The milk used may be homogenized or not. It may be pasteurized or raw. Each type of milk produces substantially different results.

Soy milk Beverage made from soybeans

Soy milk, also known as soya milk or soymilk, is a plant-based drink produced by soaking and grinding soybeans, boiling the mixture, and filtering out remaining particulates. It is a stable emulsion of oil, water, and protein. Its original form is an intermediate product of the manufacture of tofu. Originating in East Asia, it became a common beverage in Europe and North America in the latter half of the 20th century, especially as production techniques were developed to give it a taste and consistency more closely resembling that of dairy milk. Soy milk may be used as a substitute for dairy milk by individuals who are vegan or lactose intolerant.

Rice milk

Rice milk is a plant milk made from rice. Commercial rice milk is typically manufactured using brown rice and brown rice syrup, and may be sweetened using sugar or sugar substitutes, and flavored by common ingredients, such as vanilla. It is commonly fortified with protein and micronutrients, such as vitamin B12, calcium, iron, or vitamin D.

Almond milk plant milk manufactured from almonds

Almond milk is a plant milk manufactured from almonds with a creamy texture and nutty flavor, although some types or brands are flavored in imitation of dairy milk. It does not contain cholesterol, saturated fat or lactose, and is often consumed by those who are lactose-intolerant and others, such as vegans, who avoid dairy products. Commercial almond milk comes in sweetened, unsweetened, vanilla and chocolate flavors, and is usually fortified with micronutrients. It can also be made at home using a blender, almonds and water.

Coconut milk Liquid that comes from the grated meat of a coconut

Coconut milk is an opaque, milky-white liquid extracted from the grated pulp of mature coconuts. The opacity and rich taste of coconut milk are due to its high oil content, most of which is saturated fat. Coconut milk is a traditional food ingredient used in Southeast Asia, Oceania, South Asia, and East Africa. It is also used for cooking in the Caribbean, tropical Latin America, and West Africa, where coconuts were introduced during the colonial era.


In kashrut, the dietary laws of Judaism, pareve is a classification of edible substances that contain neither dairy nor meat ingredients. Food in this category includes all items that grow from the ground, fish, eggs, and non-biological edible items.

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.

Silk (brand)

Silk is an American brand of dairy-substitute products owned by Danone North America.

Oat milk

Oat milk is a plant milk derived from whole oat grains by extracting the plant material with water. Oat milk has a creamy texture and oatmeal-like flavor, and is manufactured in various flavors, such as sweetened, unsweetened, vanilla or chocolate.

Alpro Food company

Alpro is a European company based in Ghent, Belgium that markets organic and non-organic, non-genetically modified, plant-based products, such as foods and drinks made from soy, almonds, hazelnuts, cashew, rice, oats or coconut. Alpro employs over 1200 people in Europe and has three production facilities in Belgium, France and the United Kingdom. Alpro markets its products in Europe and beyond with the majority of its business in Europe.

Cheese analogue Replacement for cheese

Cheese analogues are products used as culinary replacements for cheese. These include vegan cheeses as well as some dairy products, such as processed cheese or Kraft Singles, that do not qualify as true cheeses. These foods may be intended as replacements for cheese, as with vegan products, or as imitations, as in the case of products used for salad bars and pizza-making, which are generally intended to be mistaken for real cheese, but have properties such as different melting points or lower costs that make them attractive to businesses.

Plant cream

Plant cream is an imitation of dairy cream made without dairy products, and thus vegan. It is typically produced by grinding plant material into a thick liquid to which gums are added to imitate the viscosity and mouthfeel of cream. Common varieties are soy cream, coconut cream, and cashew cream. It is used as a dessert topping and in many other dishes and beverages.

Vegan cheese Cheese-like substance made without animal products

Vegan cheese is a category of non-dairy, plant-based cheese analogues. Vegan cheeses range from soft fresh cheeses to aged and cultured hard grateable cheeses like plant-based Parmesan. The defining characteristic of vegan cheese is the exclusion of all animal products.

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.

Oatly Swedish vegan food brand

Oatly Group AB is a Swedish food company that produces alternatives to dairy products from oats. A liter of Oatly product consumed in place of cow's milk results in around 80% less greenhouse gas emissions, 79% less land usage and 60% less energy consumption. Oatly was formed in the 1990s using research from Lund University. Oatly has headquarters in Malmö and a production and development center in Landskrona. Oatly's key markets are Sweden, Germany and the U.K., and its products were available in 60,000 retail stores and 32,200 coffee shops around the world as of 31 December 2020. Oatly can also be found in 11,000 coffee and tea shops in China, and at more than 6,000 retail and specialty shops across the country, including thousands of Starbucks locations.

ProVeg International is a non-governmental organisation that works in the field of food system change. ProVeg International works in four continents with eight offices. The organisation operates in Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Poland, Spain, China, South Africa and the United States. ProVeg's stated mission is to reduce the consumption of animal products by 50% by the year 2040.

Mooala Brands, LLC, or simply Mooala, is an American beverage company headquartered in Dallas, Texas. Primarily known for their "bananamilk" product, the company manufactures various dairy substitute products that are organic and plant-based.


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