What is lab milk? And who is it suitable for? We answer some of the big questions around this emerging form of animal-free dairy.
Dairy isn’t for everybody. Between 1 and 2 in every ten people have lactose intolerance in the UK.
It’s more common in countries and places where milk isn’t a big part of the average adult diet, including Africa, Asia and South America.1
Dairy intolerance and allergies are why we now have so many kinds of milk to choose from at the supermarket, as well as people ditching cow’s milk and going vegan.
There is plenty of nut and plant-based milk on the market.
Yes, they’re great alternatives to cows’ milk for vegans, people with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies, but let’s be honest, they’re not always direct substitutes for dairy for some people.
The tastes, textures, consistencies, and nutritional contents of dairy-free products can be very different. This is due to the absence of two proteins – casein and whey.
However, thanks to the wonder of science, there are now companies concocting these two missing dairy proteins synthetically in the lab.
This is leading to animal-free dairy products that are a much closer match to those made with cows’ milk.
Before we get into lab-grown milk, here are some of the most common dairy-free milks out there and what each type is good for:
|Type of dairy-free milk||What it's good for|
Super creamy oats, hot drinks and cereal, it’s one of the best-tasting plant milks out there.
With more protein than cow’s milk per 100ml, soya milk is a great and nutritionally similar choice for replacing dairy milk. The ‘barista’ soy varieties are usually the best dairy free milks for coffee.
Almond milk is naturally sweet and low in calories. It’s great for cereals and smoothies, providing the taste with fewer calories.
Pea milk may sound a bit weird. It may sound a bit more acceptable when we tell you that it’s not your regular garden peas that are used to make pea milk. It’s full of protein and other plant nutrients.
Cashew milk is delicious, and a great choice for protein shakes, smoothies and even hot chocolates.
If you love hazelnuts, you’ll probably love hazelnut milk too! Transform your morning latte, no syrup necessary.
You can get plant milks (usually soya) with added plant protein, which is great for drinking after exercising.
Real coconut milk is usually used in cooking curries, sauces, etc. We wouldn’t recommend drinking it straight out of the can though!
But there are usually coconut flavored milks in the dairy-free section if you just love the taste.
Some of it is made in a lab, some of it is made in a kitchen.
However, when we refer to lab-grown milk, it’s usually about lab-made dairy milk – all of the dairy without the lactose or making a cow produce it.
Lab milk closely resembles cows’ milk in nutritional composition and taste, but it’s made with zero involvement from any animal.2
Instead, the dairy proteins that are so important to taste and texture, are synthetically made in a laboratory far from any fields of grazing herd.
You’re probably curious about what's in lab milk. And the production process involved. This is down to a combination of science and fermentation.
Let’s think about the cows’ milk we pour over our cereal.
To create the taste and creamy texture, we rely on animals to eat plants and turn them into proteins. This gives dairy products their unique flavour and nutritional characteristics.
To replicate this process in a laboratory, a modified yeast is used to convert plant sugar into whey and casein. These are the same proteins that are in cows’ milk.3
It’s important to note that lab milk is not yet in mass production.
As a result, there’s still a lot to learn and specific nutrient information isn’t widely available. For example, some of the plant-based fats and sugars could turn out to be problematic for some.
However, the ambition is for lab milk to be nutritionally identical to animal-derived dairy.
This creates a milk alternative that supplies more nutrients than existing nut and plant-based versions.
Lactose is a type of sugar in milk and dairy products.
People who are lactose intolerant find it difficult to digest the lactose in dairy products, leading to various uncomfortable symptoms.
The good news for those avoiding dairy products is that lab milk uses plant sugars instead of lactose. So, lab milk could be suitable for people with this type of dairy intolerance.
However, a note of caution if you have a dairy allergy.
Since the man-made proteins in lab milk share many characteristics of cows’ milk proteins, you could still experience an allergic reaction.
There is no input from animals in the production of lab milk, making it suitable for vegans.
The lab-based manufacturing process also offers a number of environmental and ethical benefits compared to animal-derived dairy.
So, as well as satisfying any concerns for animal welfare, the production processes are also more sustainable.
For example, the carbon footprint of manufacturing and the amount of pollution created is far smaller.
Lab milk sounds perfect, but it’s not quite
Lactose-free lab milk may not be suitable for those with a dairy allergy but should be ok for dairy intolerant people.
The real impact of lab milk is unknown for now. There’s a lot still to learn and understand about this new alternative to animal-derived dairy.
But as a vegan, lactose-free product, with a similar taste and nutritional composition to cows’ milk, it definitely brings an interesting new alternative to the ever-expanding milk market.
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Last updated: 24 August 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry
Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.
After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.