Plant milk

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Plant milk
Bowl of coconut milk
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
Glass of horchata de chufa (tiger nut milk) in a café in Spain
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 did make milk and infant formula from nuts.[7][8] According to the American Vegan Society because this fact is not very well-known it "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Horchata, a beverage originally made in North Africa from soaked, ground, and sweetened tiger nuts, spread to Iberia (now Spain) before the year 1000.[10][11] In English, the word "milk" has been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 Types Greenhouse 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 Types Water 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 Types Land 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[edit]

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
Soy milk
Almond milk
Oat milk
Energy, kJ (kcal) 620 (149) 330 (80) 160 (39) 500 (120)
Protein (g) 7.69 6.95 1.55 3
Fat (g) 7.93 3.91 2.88 5
Saturated fat (g) 4.55 0.5 0 0.5
Carbohydrate (g) 11.71 4.23 1.52 16
Fiber (g) 0 1.2 0 2
Sugars (g) 12.32 1 0 7
Calcium (mg)[a] 276 301 516 350
Potassium (mg) 322 292 176 390
Sodium (mg) 105 90 186 140
Vitamin B12 (µg) 1.10 2.70 0 1.2
Vitamin A (IU)[a][b] 395 503 372 267
Vitamin D (IU)[a][c] 124 119 110 144
Cholesterol (mg) 24 0 0 0
  1. ^ a b c 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[edit]

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[edit]

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 misused 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[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Benjamin Kemper (15 August 2018). "Nut Milks Are Milk, Says Almost Every Culture Across the Globe". The Smithsonian. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e Sethi, Swati; Tyagi, S. K.; Anurag, Rahul K. (2 September 2016). "Plant-based milk alternatives an emerging segment of functional beverages: a review". Journal of Food Science and Technology. 53 (9): 3408–3423. doi:10.1007/s13197-016-2328-3. ISSN 0022-1155. PMC 5069255. PMID 27777447.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Oliver Franklin-Wallis (29 January 2019). "White gold: the unstoppable rise of alternative milks". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  4. ^ "Dairy names for soya and tofu face new ban". 14 June 2017. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  5. ^ a b "Milk: Origin and meaning of milk". Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper. Retrieved 4 November 2018.
  6. ^ Donna Berry (6 December 2018). "State of the industry: Dairy". Food Business News. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  7. ^ Kamila, Avery Yale (8 November 2020). "Americans have been enjoying nut milk and nut butter for at least 4 centuries". Portland Press Herald. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  8. ^ "Wabanaki Enjoying Nut Milk and Butter for Centuries". Atowi. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  9. ^ "America's first milk was vegan milk". American Vegan Society. 14 November 2020. Retrieved 6 January 2021.
  10. ^ a b Zaslovsky, Nancy (2015). "horchata". In Goldstein, Darra (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. Oxford University Press. p. 341. ISBN 9780199313396. Retrieved 4 July 2018.
  11. ^ Cho, Susan; Almeida, Nelson (29 May 2012). Dietary Fiber and Health. CRC Press. ISBN 9781439899373 – via Google Books.
  12. ^ Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi (1226), The Book of Dishes (in Arabic), Baghdad
  13. ^ McSparran, Frances. "Middle English Dictionary Entry". Middle English Dictionary. University of Michigan. Retrieved 4 November 2018.
  14. ^ Fraser, Andrew. "Cooking in the Middle Ages, recipe reconstruction". History Alive. Queensland Living History Federation. Retrieved 4 November 2018.
  15. ^ Powell V. A brief history of plant milks. Vegan Food & Living. Accessed 11/30/2019
  16. ^ a b c Meagan Bridges (1 January 2018). "Moo-ove Over, Cow's Milk: The Rise of Plant-Based Dairy Alternatives" (PDF). Practical Gastroenterology, Nutrition Issues in Gastroenterology, Series #171; University of Virginia School of Medicine. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  17. ^ a b Vanga, Sai Kranthi; Raghavan, Vijaya (2 November 2017). "How well do plant based alternatives fare nutritionally compared to cow's milk?". Journal of Food Science and Technology. 55 (1): 10–20. doi:10.1007/s13197-017-2915-y. ISSN 0022-1155. PMC 5756203. PMID 29358791.
  18. ^ a b c d Clara Guibourg and Helen Briggs (22 February 2019). "Which vegan milks are best for the planet?". BBC News - Science and Environment. Retrieved 4 September 2019.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  19. ^ a b Zeki Berk (1992). Soymilk and related products; In: Technology of production of edible flours and protein products from soybeans. UN Food and Agriculture Organization. ISBN 92-5-103118-5. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  20. ^ "UCSF Sustainability". Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  21. ^ Naylor, Tony (5 September 2018). "Ditch the almond milk: why everything you know about sustainable eating is probably wrong". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 8 June 2019.
  22. ^ "Milk, whole, 3.25% milkfat, with added vitamin D (FDC #171265)". Agricultural Research Service. United States Department of Agriculture.
  23. ^ "Soymilk (all flavors), unsweetened, with added calcium, vitamins A and D (FDC #175215)". Agricultural Research Service. United States Department of Agriculture.
  24. ^ "Beverages, almond milk, unsweetened, shelf stable (FDC #174832)". Agricultural Research Service. United States Department of Agriculture.
  25. ^ Oat Milk Nutrition Facts (Report). Batavia, IL: Aldi.[full citation needed]
  26. ^ Dayna Fields (31 January 2019). "Investors Thirst For Plant-Based Milks". Forbes. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  27. ^ Charlotte Rogers (2 January 2019). "How marketing is fuelling the 'post-milk generation'". Marketing Week. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  28. ^ Tim Lewis (11 November 2018). "How we fell out of love with milk". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  29. ^ a b "US non-dairy milk sales grow 61% over the last 5 years". Mintel. 4 January 2018. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  30. ^ Alex Soloducha (7 November 2019). "From oat field to coffee shop: The latest non-dairy star is grown in Canada". CBC News. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  31. ^ Zara Stone (3 June 2019). "How oat milk conquered America". Elemental. Retrieved 12 September 2019.
  32. ^ Bethan Staton (21 November 2018). "Non-dairy surge leads to oat milk shortage in UK". Sky News. Retrieved 12 September 2019.
  33. ^ Nivedita Balu (7 January 2020). "Starbucks launches oat milk drink as vegan movement grows". The Chronicle Herald. Saltwire Network. Retrieved 22 February 2020.
  34. ^ Elaine Watson (25 September 2020). "Oatmilk edges past soymilk for #2 slot in US plant-based milk retail market"., William Reed Business Media. Retrieved 25 September 2020.
  35. ^ When was Phillips' Milk of Magnesia introduced? FAQ,, accessed 4 July 2016
  36. ^ Park & Davis Co catalog entry for milk of bismuth
  37. ^ Raulf, Monika. The Latex Story. In: History of Allergy, K.-C. Bergmann and J. Ring, editors. Karger Medical and Scientific Publishers, 2014. pp. 248-255.
  38. ^ "EU court bans dairy-style names for soya and tofu". BBC News. 14 June 2017. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
  39. ^ "Judgment in Case C-422/16 Verband Sozialer Wettbewerb eV v GmbH" (PDF). Court of Justice of the European Union. Luxembourg. 14 June 2017. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
  40. ^ "Food standards: labelling and composition". Gov.UK. Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  41. ^ a b "What's in a Name?: The Use of Dairy Product Names in Labeling of Plant-Based Alternatives". Science Meets Food. 13 December 2018. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
  42. ^ a b Watson, Elaine (22 February 2019). "Plant-based 'milks' should be labeled as 'imitation,' 'alternative,' or 'substitute' products, says NMPF petition"., William Reed Business Media. Retrieved 8 February 2020.
  43. ^ "What's in a Name? Survey Explores Consumers' Comprehension of Milk and Non-Dairy Alternatives". 11 October 2018. Archived from the original on 30 December 2018. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
  44. ^ "Use of the Names of Dairy Foods in the Labeling of Plant-Based Products". Federal Register. 28 September 2018. Retrieved 23 December 2018.

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