Donkey milk

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Foal drinking milk from its mother.

Donkey milk (or ass milk/ jenny milk) is the milk given by the domesticated donkey or ass (Equus asinus).

The history of donkey’s milk[edit]

Hippocrates (460 – 370 BC), the father of medicine, was the first to write of the medicinal virtues of donkey milk [1][2] . In the Roman era donkey milk was recognized as a common remedy, Pliny the Elder (23 – 79 AD) in his encyclopedic work, Naturalis Historia, wrote extensively about its health benefits,[3] but it wasn’t until the Renaissance that the first real scientific consideration was given to this exceptional milk. Subsequently, the famous French naturalist, Georges-Louis Leclerc(1707- 1788) mentions the benefits of donkey milk in his Histoire naturelle [4] and Pauline Bonaparte (1780-1825), Napoleon’s sister, is also reported to have used Donkey milk for her skin’s health care. In France in the nineteenth century, Dr .Parrot of Hospital des Enfants Assistès spread the practice of bringing babies motherless directly to the donkey’s nipple (Bullettin de l’Acadèmie de mèdicine, 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 Italy, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland many donkey farm born.[5]

The scientific community today recognises the merit of this heritage: donkey’s milk is a key substitute to human mother’s milk as well as a natural product with rare and precious properties.

Donkey milk production[edit]

The asinine species 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.[6]

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 that milking may be carried out two or three hours after separation from the foal.[7] Donkeys should be milked from 20 to 90 d after foaling for three times a day.[8] A female gives between 0.5 to 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.[9]

Generally, a donkey farm (breeding), aimed at milk’s production are small, with some tens of heads and rarely more.

Donkey milk composition[edit]

Gross composition[edit]

Published data on donkey milk gross composition confirm the closer resemblance to breast milk [10] for lactose, protein and ash levels when compared with cow, sheep and goat milk.[9] 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 vegetal oil (4 mL 100 mL−1 milk) to conform to human milk energy[11]

Composition of donkey’s, mare’s, human and cow’s milk (g/100 g)[12]
composition donkey mare human cow
pH 7.0 – 7.2 7.18 7.0 – 7.5 6.6 – 6.8
Protein g/100g 1.5 – 1.8 1.5 – 2.8 0.9 – 1.7 3.1 – 3.8
Fat g/100g 0.3 – 1.8 0.5 – 2.0 3.5 – 4.0 3.5 – 3.9
Lactose g/100g 5.8 – 7.4 5.8 – 7.0 6.3 – 7.0 4.4 – 4.9
Total Solids (TS) g/100 g 8.8-11.7 9.3-11.6 11.7-12.9 12.5-13.0
Casein Nitrogen (CN) g/100 g 0.64-1.03 0.94-1.2 0.32-0.42 2.46-2.80
Whey protein g/100 g 0.49-0.80 0.74-0.91 0.68-0.83 0.55-0.70
NPN g/100 g 0.18-0.41 0.17-0.35 0.26-0.32 0.1-0.19
Casein Nitrogen (CN) % 47.28 50 26.06 77.23
Whey protein % 36.96 38.79 53.52 17.54
NPN % 15.76 11.21 20.42 5.23

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[edit]

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);[9] 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] Lysozyme activity is intense especially against Gram positive bacteria i.e protects the infant against E.coli and Salmonella. It also promotes the growth of healthy intestinal flora and has anti-inflammatory functions.[16]

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).[9] The bioactive peptides insulin like growth factor 1, ghrelin and triiodothyronine were also found in 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.[9]

Current use[edit]

Substitute to breast milk[edit]

Donkey milk contains immune-enhancing compounds (in particular lysozyme and lactoferrin) to help protect infants from infection and disease. 

In addition, the flavour and appearance of donkey milk have been found to be attractive to children.[9]

In terms of energy 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 vegetal oil (4 mL 100 mL−1 milk) to conform to human milk energy[11]

Natural hypoallergenic milk for infants[edit]

Donkey milk is used successfully as an natural hypoallergenic milk[17], because 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.[9] However the tolerability of donkey milk must be evaluated first subjectively, under medical supervision and after carrying out specific allergic tests.

Fermented donkey milk[edit]

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 veri popular in Asia and Russia; but there are also a tradizional variants made from donkey milk[19], according to William Rubruck[19][20], a Flemish Franciscan missionary who traveled through the lands that the Mongols between 1253 and 1255.

== Benefits of donkey milk for babies == While infant formula mimics the nutritional content of breast milk, formula makers are not able to duplicate all of the ingredients found in breast milk.   Donkey milk includes similar antibodies , growth factors,  some essential fatty acids and hormones of Breast milk that can protect the baby from illness and help the baby develop at just the right pace.  Artificial Formula does not contain all of these special components.

  • Better digestion: Donkey milk is typically easier to digest
  • Natural hypoallergenic milk[17], because tolerated by about 90% of infants with food allergies, e.g., cows’ milk protein allergy (CMPA). However the tolerability of donkey milk must be evaluated first subjectively, under medical supervision and after carrying out specific allergic tests.
  • Disease prevention:  Because donkey milk as breast milk includes antibodies and other immune-enhancing substances that protect babies from infant diseases, donkeymilkfed babies can reduced risk of many diseases, as allergies, diarrhea, etc.  

Cosmetic use[edit]


Hippocrates (460-370 BC) 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.[1][2][21]

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 " [3] [22]

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[1].[22]

Cosmetics with donkey milk[edit]

Ass milk is still used today in the manufacture of soaps and moisturizers.[23]

Commercial typologies of donkey milk[edit]

  • Raw donkey milk to be pasteurized at home
  • Donkey milk long pasteurized or Flash pasteurized (HTST)

Donkey milk lyophilized (freeze dried)[edit]

This product is made to safeguard the highest biological quality of donkey milk. It has a long shelf life until 2 years. It is in powder form easy to reconstitute. 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[24]. 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.

See also[edit]

Breast milk[edit]

English proverb[edit]

Better be the head of a donkey than the tail of a horse


  1. ^ a b c "Ass’s milk in allergy to Cow’s milk protein: a review" (PDF). 
  2. ^ a b Hippocrates. The Genuine Work of Hippocrates. Vol. 1. Sydenham Society 1843
  3. ^ a b Pliny the Elder. The Natural History. Book XXVIII “Remedies derived from living creatures”. John Bostock 1855.
  4. ^ Leclerc GL. L’Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, avec la description du Cabinet du Roy. Tome Cinquième. P. Duménil 1835; 40.
  5. ^ Angela, Costanzo (2013). "Characterization of donkey milk proteins by a proteomic approach" (PDF). Università di Napoli “Federico II”. 
  6. ^ Sewell, Sybil E. "Foaling out the Donkey Jennet," Alberta Donkey and Web page accessed March 4, 2008
  7. ^ Doreau M (1991) Le lait de jument. INRA Productions Animales 4 :297-302.
  8. ^ Doreau M, Martin-Rosset W (2011) Animals that produce dairy foods - horse. In Encyclopaedia of dairy sciences (2nd ed.), Fuquay JW, Fox PF & McSweeney PLH, eds., San Diego, CA, USA: Academic Press, volume 1, pp. 358-364.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Salimei E, Fantuz F (2012) Equid milk for human consumption. International Dairy Journal 24:130-142.
  10. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica: Arts, Science and miscellaneous Literature. Edinburgh: Archibald Constable & Cie. 1823. p. 752. 
  11. ^ a b Iacono, G., Carroccio, A., Cavataio, F., Montaldo, G., Soresi, M., & Balsamo, V. (1992).Use of ass’s milk in multiple food allergy. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, 14, 177 e 181.
  12. ^ Guo, H.Y.; et al. (April 2007). "Composition, physiochemical properties, nitrogen fraction distribution, and amino acid profile of donkey milk.". Journal of Dairy Science (Journal of Dairy Science) 90 (4): 1635–43. doi:10.3168/jds.2006-600. PMID 17369203.  Full text at [1]
  13. ^ H.Y. Guo; K. Pang; X.Y. Zhang; L. Zhao; S.W. Chen; M.L. Dong; F.Z. Ren (April 2007). "Composition, Physiochemical Properties, Nitrogen Fraction Distribution, and Amino Acid Profile of Donkey Milk". Journal of Dairy Science 90 (4): 1635–1643. doi:10.3168/jds.2006-600. PMID 17369203. 
  14. ^ "Nutritional qualities of donkey milk" (PDF). 
  15. ^ Tidona, F., Sekse, C., Crescione, A., Jacobsen, M., Bordonarom, S., Marletta, D., et al.(2011). Antimicrobial effect of donkeys’ milk digested in vitro with human gastrointestinal enzymes. International Dairy Journal, 21, 158 e 165.
  16. ^ "What’s In Breast Milk?". 
  17. ^ a b Fiocchi, Alessandro; Brozek, Jan; Schünemann, Holger; Bahna, Sami L.; von Berg, Andrea; Beyer, Kirsten; Bozzola, Martin; Bradsher, Julia; Compalati, Enrico (2010-04-23). "World Allergy Organization (WAO) Diagnosis and Rationale for Action against Cow's Milk Allergy (DRACMA) Guidelines". The World Allergy Organization journal 3 (4): 57–161. doi:10.1097/WOX.0b013e3181defeb9. ISSN 1939-4551. PMC 3488907. PMID 23268426. 
  18. ^ Uniacke-Lowe, T. (2011). Koumiss. In J. W. Fuquay, P. F. Fox, & P. L. H. McSweeney (Eds.) (2nd ed.).. Encyclopedia of dairy sciences, Vol. 2 (pp. 512e517) San Diego, CA, USA: Academic Press.
  19. ^ a b "Discussion on Kumiss". Dining with the Khan. Retrieved 2016-02-13. 
  20. ^ "William of Rubruck". Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
  21. ^ Chappez, Gérard (2000). L'âne: histoire, mythe et réalité : tiré de Bougres d'ânes. Editions Cabedita. pp. 56–57. ISBN 978-2-88295-278-3. 
  22. ^ a b "L’âne le meilleur ami de l’homme". L' 2008-07-15. Archived from the original on 24 March 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  23. ^ A list of online shops selling donkey milk soap.
  24. ^ "Effects of Lyophilization and Use of Probiotics on Donkey's Milk Nutritional Characteristics". Retrieved 2016-02-13.