Donkey milk

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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]

Hippocrates (460 – 370 BC), was the first to write of the medicinal virtues of donkey milk.[2][3] 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,[4] but it wasn't until the Renaissance that the first real scientific consideration was given to donkey milk. Subsequently, the Comte de Buffon (1707–1788) mentions the benefits of donkey milk in his Histoire naturelle[5] 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 Assistès 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.[6]


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.[7]

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.[8] Donkeys should be milked three times a day from 20 to 90 days after foaling.[9] 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.[10]

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[edit]

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.[10] 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.[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.[12]

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);[10] this substance is present also in human (0.12 mg/ml) but only in trace amounts in cow and goat milk.[13] 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.[14]

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).[10] 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.[10]

Nutritional use[edit]

Natural hypoallergenic milk for infants with CMPA[edit]

Donkey milk is used as a natural hypoallergenic milk,[15] 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.[10] However the infants tolerance of donkey milk must be evaluated first subjectively, under medical supervision and after carrying out specific allergy tests. Use of donkey's milk on infants under six months is inadvisable as this has been linked to cases of infant death and lowered immunity due to infection and the decreased ability of the infant to take up colostrum.[16][17]

Donkey's milk is similar to human milk for its lactose, proteins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty 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, donkey milk is usually supplemented with vegetable oil (4 mL per 100 mL milk) to mimic breast milk hyper energy.[11] 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.[10]

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 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]

Cosmetic use[edit]


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.[2][3][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 "[4][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.[2][23]

Cosmetics with donkey milk[edit]

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 with donkey's milk.[26]


  • Raw donkey milk
  • Donkey milk Long pasteurized or Flash pasteurized (HTST)

Freeze drying[edit]

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.


  1. ^ Uniacke-Lowe, T., 2011. Studies on equine milk and comparative studies on equine and bovine milk systems. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
  2. ^ a b c "Ass's milk in allergy to Cow's milk protein: a review" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-02-16.
  3. ^ a b Hippocrates. The Genuine Work of Hippocrates. Vol. 1. Sydenham Society 1843
  4. ^ a b Pliny the Elder. The Natural History. Book XXVIII “Remedies derived from living creatures”. John Bostock 1855.
  5. ^ Leclerc GL. L’Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, avec la description du Cabinet du Roy. Tome Cinquième. P. Duménil 1835; 40.
  6. ^ Angela, Costanzo (2013). "Characterization of donkey milk proteins by a proteomic approach" (PDF). Università di Napoli “Federico II”.
  7. ^ Sewell, Sybil E. "Foaling out the Donkey Jennet," Alberta Donkey and Web page accessed March 4, 2008
  8. ^ Doreau M (1991) Le lait de jument. INRA Productions Animales 4 :297–302.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Salimei, Elisabetta; Fantuz, Francesco (2012). "Equid milk for human consumption". International Dairy Journal. 24 (2): 130–42. doi:10.1016/j.idairyj.2011.11.008.
  11. ^ a b Iacono, G; Carroccio, A; Cavataio, F; Montalto, G; Soresi, M; Balsamo, V (1992). "Use of ass' milk in multiple food allergy". Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. 14 (2): 177–81. doi:10.1097/00005176-199202000-00010. PMID 1593372.
  12. ^ a b Guo, H.Y; Pang, K; Zhang, X.Y; Zhao, L; Chen, S.W; Dong, M.L; Ren, F.Z (2007). "Composition, Physiochemical Properties, Nitrogen Fraction Distribution, and Amino Acid Profile of Donkey Milk". Journal of Dairy Science. 90 (4): 1635–43. doi:10.3168/jds.2006-600. PMID 17369203.
  13. ^ "Nutritional qualities of donkey milk" (PDF).
  14. ^ Tidona, Flavio; Sekse, Camilla; Criscione, Andrea; Jacobsen, Morten; Bordonaro, Salvatore; Marletta, Donata; Vegarud, Gerd Elisabeth (2011). "Antimicrobial effect of donkeys' milk digested in vitro with human gastrointestinal enzymes". International Dairy Journal. 21 (3): 158–65. doi:10.1016/j.idairyj.2010.10.008.
  15. ^ Fiocchi, Alessandro; Brozek, Jan; Schünemann, Holger; Bahna, Sami L; von Berg, Andrea; Beyer, Kirsten; Bozzola, Martin; Bradsher, Julia; Compalati, Enrico; Ebisawa, Motohiro; Guzman, Maria Antonieta; Li, Haiqi; Heine, Ralf G; Keith, Paul; Lack, Gideon; Landi, Massimo; Martelli, Alberto; Rancé, Fabienne; Sampson, Hugh; Stein, Airton; Terracciano, Luigi; Vieths, Stefan (2010). "World Allergy Organization (WAO) Diagnosis and Rationale for Action against Cowʼs Milk Allergy (DRACMA) Guidelines". World Allergy Organization Journal. 3 (4): 57–161. doi:10.1097/WOX.0b013e3181defeb9. PMC 3488907. PMID 23268426.
  16. ^[full citation needed]
  17. ^ Pothapregada, S (2014). "Donkey's milk feeding in newborn: Myths and facts" (PDF). Indian Pediatrics. 51 (3): 233–4. doi:10.1007/s13312-014-0359-2. PMID 24736921.
  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. ^ "Discussion on Kumiss". Dining with the Khan. Retrieved 2016-02-13.
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  22. ^ "» Why did Cleopatra supposedly bathe in sour donkey milk? Office for Science and Society". Retrieved 2017-09-01.
  23. ^ 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.
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  26. ^ A list of online shops selling donkey milk soap.
  27. ^ "Effects of Lyophilization and Use of Probiotics on Donkey's Milk Nutritional Characteristics". Retrieved 2016-02-13.

Donkey Milk The girl who succeeded in a strange business