Plant Based Milk

Over the past few decades, the focus of most researches in all segments of the food product improvement industry has been to tackle the altering requirements of the consumers. The major aim is to meet their present-day necessities by producing fresher and different types of food items that are at the same time beneficial for consumer health. Growing urbanization has fast-tracked these demands; concentrated research efforts to come up with fresher products in the domain of specialty drink is the current trend. In this modernizing world, drinks and beverages are no longer considered merely as thirst quenchers, customers search for detailed functionality in these beverages, which then become a part of their day to day lifestyle.

Functionality in these drinks could be to meet the different daily requirements and the lifestyle of a consumer - to boost their energy levels throughout the day, fight some drawbacks of aging, finding an easy way to beat fatigue or stress, target a particular disease, etc. – what is clear is that this sector has been ever expanding. Over the past few years, these changes, fluctuations in demands and research-based developments have opened a door for newer and better products in the drinks/beverages sector. One such crucial functional requirement has for ages been served by milk for everyone’s benefit – however, the drink that was once marketed as a necessity has failed to answer the problems of people who suffer from conditions such as lactose intolerance. According to a study published by the Journal of Food Science and Technology, milk is not for everybody.

High percentages of populations across the globe suffer from issues such as:

  1. Cow Milk Allergy

  2. Lactose Intolerance – One of the most common disease, with over 10 million cases per year recorded in major countries

  3. Calorie Concern - Milk being a nutrient-rich liquid, has 42 calories/100 grams. It also consists of 1% fat for every 100 grams. For a lot of people, drinking milk is an unrealistic option as per their dietary requirements.

  4. Occurrence of Hypercholesterolemia

As a result, the drinking of plant-based milk has been on the rise. These kinds of milk have been marketed as drinks free of cholesterol and lactose, making it fit for a group of the population suffering from lactose intolerance or heart diseases and at large- for everyone.

The Rise of Plant Based Milk

Plant milk alternates are water extracts mainly drawn out of

  • Legumes

  • Oil Seeds

  • Cereals

  • Pseudo-Cereals

The one thing all the water based extracts have is that they highly resemble cow’s milk when it comes to their appearance. There is an amazing assortment of traditional plant based drinks around the world, for instance:

  1. Horchata, or “tigernut milk” in Spain

  2. Sikhye, a beverage of South Korea extracted from boiled rice and malt extracts mixed with sugar

  3. Boza, a fermented drink made of wheat, millet, rye, and maize, famous in the Balkan countries (Bulgaria, Albania, Romania, etc.)

  4. Bushera, a millet malt drink from Uganda

  5. Lastly the most famous one - traditional soy milk from China

However, several of these products have sensual individualities unpleasant to the conventional Western taste. Technically, plant milk alternates are suspensions of liquefied and fragmented plant material in water, bearing a resemblance to cow’s milk in appearance. They are mass produced by taking out the plant material in water, extracting the liquid and creating the end product.

Homogenization and thermal treatments are essential to progress the suspension and microbial permanence of marketable products that can be used by large groups of customers as such or be further treated into fermented dairy based products. The nutritive properties rely on the plant sources of the milk, and how well the processing and fortification is conducted. As some plant based products have quite low protein and calcium ingredients, consumer mindfulness is significant when plant milk alternates are used to substitute cow's milk in the food regime for instance in the case of dairy product intolerances. When formulated into edible end products adequate in delivering the nutrients a consumer wishes to have, plant based alternatives can offer to be a fantastic substitute for dairy products.

The most extensively consumed plant based milk substitute is soy milk - a product that begun its journey from North East Asia to the superstore shelves in European countries and the United States of America less than one hundred years ago. The initial commercially effective product was launched in the Hong Kong market in 1940 and the market matured speedily during the ’70s and early ’80s in Asia after the expansion of technologies for mass scale production of mildly flavored soy milk products.

The request for soy milk in Western countries was introduced by customers intolerant to cow’s milk, but the scope for these products expanded even further in the’90s and 2000s as people started following health trends. After soy milk products received the FDA approved health claim in 1999 and was appreciated for its ability to lower the risks of coronary heart disease, almost 3000 new soy products were brought in to the market.

Plant based milk products have for a long time been in and around the conversation of healthy beverages. However, it is with the current increase in research papers being made available on the topic, these products are getting a lot of consideration, and rightfully so.

Here are some of the most commonly recognized and consumed types of plant based milk products -

Cereal Based

  • Oat milk

  • Rice milk

Legume Based

  • Soy milk

  • Pea milk

Vegetable Based

  • Potato milk

Seed Based

  • Flax milk

  • Hemp milk

Nut Based

  • Almond milk

  • Cashew milk

  • Coconut milk

    Let’s take a closer look at some of the most commonly used plant based milks

Soy Milk

The use of soy milk was first recorded almost 2000 years ago in China. Soy milk is widely considered to be the first and most acceptable plant based milk around the world, particularly due to its ability to serve the need of offering a lot of nutrients to a population where the milk supply was either deemed to be inadequate or to a population that did not prefer milk products at all. It was at first and still is hugely popular amongst the populations who are lactose intolerant.

Soy Milk

Soy milk is the perfect source of vital monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids which are deemed good for cardiovascular health. It has been the perfect alternative beverage- low-cost, energizing and nutritional drink suited for all consumers who are willing to try it.

Peanut Milk

Oilseeds are usually considered to have an extremely high potential as an alternate source of non-dairy drinks. Amongst all the oilseeds, peanut has proven to be a capable raw material for formulation of plant based milk products. It is in a lot of ways, similar to soy milk. For instance, both have a beany flavor that limits its applications. Milk fermented from peanut extracts has been broadly used in emerging nations. Flavoring agents are commonly used in the production of peanut milk products in order to improve their taste. The addition of nutrients in the form of essences is also a way in which commercial peanut milk production chains obtain the desired nutritive balance in their products. Commercially, peanut milk has been made available to major populations around the world under various brand names.

Dairy free milk Alternative

Overall, peanut milk has achieved great recognition around the world, especially in countries that have low-income group populations as it is a perfect drink for undernourished children. A considerable portion of vegans and people who are lactose intolerant also prefer peanut milk over other energy drinks. According to a research conducted,

Peanuts contain:

  • 21.5 % Carbohydrates

  • 49.6 % Fats

  • 23.68 % Proteins

  • 8 % Crude Fiber

The functional characteristics of peanuts are mostly related to the presence of phenolic compounds which are recognized for their antioxidant function and a shielding role against oxidative harmful diseases such as coronary heart disease, various cancers, and stroke.

Almond Milk

Almond Milk

The consumption of dried fruits is constantly on the rise! Once considered to be an accessory to fruits, nuts have now become a vital part of healthy living and a crucial part of everyone’s diets. Owing to their marvelous potential nutritional qualities, it is no surprise to see that dried fruits are being considered so highly when it comes to extracting milk. Almonds contain roughly 25% of protein, most of which is present in the structure of AMP or amandin.

Almond is an extremely nutrient dense product and is an outstanding source of vitamin E. Likened to other plant based milk products, almond milk is unsurprisingly one of the best sources of vitamins, particularly vitamin E which can’t be synthesized by the human body. This means that there is an inherent need in the human body for it to be supplied through diet, which has made Almond Milk one of the most recommended plant based milk products in the market. In addition to that, almond milk is a rich source of calcium. More importantly, it has a very low calorie count, which makes it suitable for most people who do not prefer drinking milk. Nutritionally speaking, it offers you more than what most plant based milks provide.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk plays a significant role in South East Asian cooking traditions. It is not only consumed as a drink but used as an active ingredient in a lot of sweet dishes and salty recipes. Coconut milk has a high fat substance and is usually used in curries as a thickening agent to give body and shape to the end product. M.A. Belewu’s 2007 study on the product entitled ‘Comparative physicochemical evaluation of tiger nut, soybean, and coconut milk sources’, reported these findings of Coconut Milk -

  • Coconut milk is a nutrient dense plant based product and is an amazing source of fiber.

  • Coconut milk is rich in vitamins and minerals like - iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium and zinc.

  • Coconut milk contains extraordinary amounts of vitamin C and E.

  • Coconut milk consists of saturated fat called lauric acid – an acid that is commonly present in mother’s milk and is a common factor in boosting brain development in young children.

  • Coconut milk is also great for immune systems and preserving the resistance of the blood vessels. For people with certain cardiovascular diseases, coconut milk is recommended by physicians.

  • Coconut milk is extremely rich in antioxidants, primarily vitamin E which is the best way to slow down the pace of aging amongst adults.

plant based milks Coconut

Most importantly, in most of the existing literature, coconut milk consumption has been found to be rarely associated with any type of allergenic reaction. Other pros of coconut milk are –

  • It is naturally a product that helps the digestive system

  • The abundance of vitamin E makes it an ideal catalyst for nourishing skin. What makes it ideal for skin care is the fact that it has cooling properties.

In spite of all health advantages, the fact that Coconut Milk products contain a certain amount of saturated fats has made it a product that needs to be consumed on a limited basis.

Sesame Milk

Milk plant Sesame

Sesame is one of the most significant oilseed harvests in the world. It is used in a lot of preparations – for instance, sweetmeats, tahini, etc. It is an excellent source of top quality protein with exclusive stability of amino acids. Sesame seed based milk products hold significant amounts of lignans which are recognized for their functional properties.

Other Plant Based Milk Products

Lupin, a home-grown legume from Latin America, has quite a few advantages. Similarly, Tigernut is known to be extremely healthy and is used to prevent the risk of heart attacks, thrombosis and certain cancers (primarily colon cancer). It can be consumed raw or can be used in certain baked goods, confectionaries, etc. as a substitute to almond milk. Tiger nuts are an incredibly rich source of –

  • Potassium

  • Vitamin E

  • Phosphorus

  • Vitamin C

  • Starch fat

  • Sugar

  • Protein

In addition to that, tiger nuts are known to be a rich source of protein with extremely high levels of overall biological value.

Other plant based milk product, such as hemp, quinoa, hazelnut, cowpea, sunflower, melon seed milk, etc. are also used in various preparations around the world. They are also commercially available in several western countries; however, scientific literature and research on these plant based milk products are yet to be available.

Role of Plant Based Milk Products in Combating Diseases

Apart from being inherently healthy a lot of plant based milk products are specially prescribed by doctors and nutritionists around the world when it comes to preventing or curing certain diseases. In those terms, here are the roles which each type of plant based milk product plays:

Soy Milk

  • Protective food item used to prevent several forms of cancer. It is also used to prevent certain cardiovascular diseases and osteoporosis.

  • It has extremely helpful cholesterol-lowering properties which makes it inherently good for the circulatory system.

Peanut Milk

  • Serves a protective function against oxidative damages.

  • It is used to help people suffering from diseases or ailments such as coronary heart disease, strokes, and several types of cancers

Coconut milk

  • Encourages brain development for children. Boosts the immune system and preserves the elasticity of the blood vessels.

  • It is a rich source of Vitamin E so it fights aging and is brilliant for nourishing the skin.

Rice milk

  • Lowers cholesterol. Great for the digestive system.

  • It is prescribed as an anti-diabetic agent to people suffering from diabetes.

  • It is inherently a cooling and an anti-inflammatory agent so it has marvelous anti-oxidative effects.

Oat milk

  • Delays gastric emptying time, increasing gastrointestinal transit time - so for people with digestive issues, oat milk is often considered by doctors as a naturally healthy food item.

  • Helps people with reduced blood glucose levels. It has a hypocholesterolemic effect by reducing the overall cholesterol in a body.

Sesame milk

  • Nutraceutical characteristics of Sesame milk such as being extremely antioxidative make it great for people suffering from digestive problems.

Why More People Need to Switch to Plant Based Milk Products

Although the demand for plant based milk product alternates is growing, the reluctance of the typical consumer to try new foods that are alleged to be unattractive may be a restrictive factor. Countless modern-day soy milk and similar products might have an enhanced sensory quality, but then the products seem to carry a certain stigma.

Nutritional Benefits

Even though most of the non-dairy substitutes do not offer precise nutritional equivalency to cow’s milk, they can be stimulated with some nutrients – particularly nutrients such as these can be added easily -

  • Calcium

  • Vitamin D

  • Vitamin B12

Plant based milk products are already very rich in nutrients and by adding these they can be made more comparable. As a matter of fact, several fortified plant based milk products are advertised as having equivalent or superior amounts of calcium, vitamin D and E than cow’s milk.

Plant milk alternatives are frequently perceived as healthy, probably due to adverse observations about the dietary properties of cow’s milk and the fitness claims related to soy. In fact, the nutritional properties of the two usually vary momentously, as they rely sturdily on the raw materials used, processing measures carried out, fortification and the incidence of other components such as sweeteners.

Impact on Climate

At present climate change is considered to be one of the most significant and grave phenomena instigated by human actions. According to a study posted in the Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition journal, greenhouse gas emissions brought about by the food production industry are remarkable. In the European Union alone, 29% of overall contributions to global warming are projected to come from this industry. Numbers are expected to be higher in regions where the population depends extensively on livestock

According to the same report, livestock was deemed responsible for 18% of the overall global greenhouse gas emissions. Dairy production and processing contribute around 5% of greenhouse gas emissions around the world. Main funders of global warming from the livestock industry are –

  • Methane emission from enteric fermenting

  • Nitrous Oxide emissions from manures and fertilizers

  • Carbon Dioxide from land use

  • Use of agricultural energy

In such a situation, plant based milk products are seemingly becoming the most nature-friendly option in the market.

Land Use

In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, one more key environmental effect of food production is land usage and alterations in soil such as eutrophication and acidification. Productive land is a rare resource, and food items needful of great production zones are less supportable even though the direct emissions may be low. On a per-kilo basis, the manufacture of plant foods usually emits much less greenhouse gas and needs less land than the manufacture of meat or dairy products. The majority of the reports published suggest that compared to cow’s milk, manufacturing plant based milk products is the eco-friendlier approach.

An increasing number of consumers are selecting plant based milk substitutes over dairy products. This shift has been seen mainly for medical reasons with more and more people being drawn towards the various health benefits these products offer. It has also been adopted by a lot of consumers as an eco-friendly lifestyle choice, and as a consequence, the present generation of plant based milk products keeps on increasing.

Consumer awareness is very important before consuming anything. What consumers need to know is that, the nutritional outline of every type of plant based milk product depends not only on the source of the raw materials, but also the manufacturing procedure and the grade of fortification. Consumers should choose their preferred plant based milk products not only by judging it on taste, texture or other sensory qualities, but also the nutritive qualities of these drinks.