Nutrition Meets Food Science

Plant-based Alternatives for Milk

Milk is considered a complete food as it contains proteins of high biological values, lipids, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals required for good health. Milk has been part of our diet for years. Your mom would probably not let you leave home without having a glass of milk. Indians have a diet of which milk and milk products are important parts. If milk is so good then why do we need alternatives? Let’s find out!

Why do we need milk alternatives?

Yes, milk is good in every aspect; it is full of nutrition. Yet, a decrease has been seen in the consumption of dairy products in recent years. Consumers are interested in reducing their milk intake due to health, sustainability, and ethical issues. They want to explore more plant-based options. A shift can be seen from animal-based products to plant-based products. Here are some of the reasons for this paradigm shift-

  • Lactose Intolerance- it is the inability to digest and absorb lactose from the diet due to lack or deficiency of lactase enzyme or β-D-Galactosidase in the body. This can cause bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain upon consumption of lactose. So, exclusion of milk from the diet is one of the treatments. According to the experts, around 68% of the world’s population has lactose intolerance.

  • Cow’s milk allergy- It is an allergic reaction to the proteins present in cow’s milk. Having a milk-free diet can help in avoiding such allergic reactions.
  • Veganism- It is a way of living that excludes as far as possible all forms of exploitation and cruelty to animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. Thus their diet excludes milk and dairy products.

So to deal with the problems mentioned above, a dairy-free diet is the best option. This is the point where plant-based milks come into play.

Plant-based alternatives for milk-

Plant-based milk is nothing but the water extracts of legumes, oilseeds, and cereals, which resemble the animal milk in appearance. They can be used as milk alternatives by adjusting their nutrients similar chemical composition.

Preparation of any plant-based milk may include the following steps- soaking of raw materials, size reduction of raw material, extraction in water, and homogenization. Plant-based milk differs from animal milk in sensory attributes, nutritional properties, and emulsion stability, etc. To achieve a shelf-stable product heat treatment needs to be included. According to the recent trends, certain non-thermal processes like Ultra High-Pressure Homogenization or pulsed electric field can also be used.

The plant-based milks can be roughly classified into five groups as cereal-based, legume-based, nut-based, seed-based, and pseudo-cereal-based. Also, these milk alternatives can provide certain health benefits. Here are some of the plant-based milks along with their health benefits

Sr no. Plant-based milk Health Benefits
1. Oat milk · Reduce blood glucose level

· Reduce total and LDL cholesterol

2. Soy milk · Protective effect against cancer, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis
3 Rice milk · Lowers cholesterol, hypertension

· Anti-diabetic

· Anti-inflammatory

4 Almond milk · Rich in antioxidant that protects against free-radical reactions
5 Coconut milk · Boosts immune system

· Promotes brain development

6 Peanut milk · Protects against oxidative damage, coronary heart disease, stroke, and various cancers
7 Sesame milk · Antioxidative, hypocholesterolemic, anticancer, antitumor, antiviral
8 Quinoa milk · It is gluten-free and high in fibre

· Reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease


While plant-derived milks have many advantages, they do have limitations as well. When preparing these milks certain problems may occur like upon storage sedimentation may occur resulting in undesirable product quality. Also, the microbial stability is low. To address these issues treatments like homogenization, sterilization and pasteurization can be used. Milks from cereals can undergo gelatinization above 55-650C, this can be solved by liquefying the gel with enzymes.

Along with these processing limitations, they are also low in vitamins, minerals, and protein, some proteins present can act as an allergen. So, to achieve a good nutritional profile, fortification with proteins, minerals, and vitamins needs to be done. But these nutrients can get lost upon thermal treatment so non-thermal treatments like Ultra High-Pressure Homogenization, pulsed electric field, ultrasound, microwave, UV sterilization, and High-pressure processing can be used for achieving better quality. Some of the plant-based milk sources contain anti-nutritional factors like trypsin inhibitors or phytic acid, which blocks nutrient absorption. These anti-nutritional factors can be inhibited by bleaching or roasting raw material before processing.

So, yes the plant-based milks can be used as a substitute for animal-based milk, but they need to be fortified in order to achieve a closer nutritional profile, and also some additives must be added to the product for achieving proper consistency and stability. With the help of fortification and technological advances, a product of high palatability and consumer acceptance can be developed.

Plant-based milk available in the market

Plant-based milk substitutes are gaining popularity these days. Not only the people with health or ethical issues are switching to plant-based milk but also the people who are health cautious are going for the plant-based alternatives. So, there is a huge scope for plant-based milk alternatives. Plant-based beverages sales worldwide more than doubled between 2009 and 2015, reaching US$ 21 billion. This sales growth will continue providing a potential opportunity for milk substitutes.

Plant-based milks such as soy, oat, and almond milk have shown promising growth in the Indian market. According to a report by the Good Food Institute (GFI), it is predicted that the plant-based milk substitutes market will reach $63.9 million by 2024.

Plant-based milks come in different flavours and varieties. The nutritional profile and benefits of these plant-based milks vary depending upon the source, processing, and fortification. So it is wise to check the label for your requirements before buying any product.

Here are some of the plant-based milks present in the market. Some have not yet appeared in Indian market-

  • Soy Milk- Steata, Sofit, So Good, Soy Milky
  • Almond Milk- Rawpressary, 137 Degree Almond Milk
  • Coconut Milk- Dabur Hommade, Cocomama, Urban Platter
  • Oat Milk- Urban Platter, Goodmylk
  • Rice Milk- Dream Rice Milk, Urban Platter
  • Sesame Milk- Hope & Sesame
  • Quinoa Milk- Suzi’s, Eco Mil
  • Peanut Milk – Elmhurst


Ms. Prerana Patil

Food Technologist, PFNDAI

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