Although cow’s milk is still the most popular milk for human consumption, its popularity is decreasing. Sales are expected to drop by 27% by 2023 from 2013. Comparatively, non-dairy milk has been growing rapidly in demand, but what other animal milk is there? Which is the best animal milk for human consumption?

Aside from cows, you can get milk from goats, buffaloes, and camels. They all offer various health benefits. Milk that is close enough to a human's breastmilk would be animals with similar digestive systems, like horses, donkeys, and zebras.

If you don’t like cow milk, allergic to it, or are even just curious about what other choices you have available, this article is for you!

The Best Animal Milk Today

Winner: Cow Milk

Cows in the field

One cup of whole cow’s milk (8 ounces) contains 148 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 8 grams of protein. It’s a great source for the following:

  • Calcium (over 25% daily needs),
  • Vitamin D (30% of your daily needs!),
  • Potassium, and
  • B vitamins.

It’s also a source of hydration, containing almost 90% water, meaning that it can help provide your daily fluids.

There are many different variations of milk on the market. You can find things like skim, 1%, 2%, whole, buttermilk, half & half (a mixture of milk and cream), and lactose-free (milk that is suitable for those with lactose intolerance).

Runner Up: Goat Milk

A picture of a goat

Goat’s milk and goat’s cheese are much more common now than several years ago. This milk is an acceptable substitute for cow’s milk. Goat's milk is described as tasting “goaty.” It has a grassy, earthy taste because the fatty acids are different from the milk. Goats may also consume a different diet than cows and have a different metabolism, meaning that their milk will taste different.

One cup of goat’s milk contains:

  • 168 calories,
  • 10 grams of fat, and
  • 9 grams of protein.

It’s a better source of Potassium, Vitamins A & C, and Copper than cow’s milk but has the same amount of Vitamin D.

Benefits of Goat Milk

‍The globules of fat in goat’s milk are smaller than those in cow’s milk, promoting digestibility. Additionally, some people who cannot tolerate cow’s milk due to lactose intolerance may better digest goat’s milk.

It may also reduce symptoms of casein intolerance, including cramping and bloating. Casein is a protein found in milk that may be difficult for some to digest and is also the allergenic protein that causes reactions.

This milk is also much lower in Vitamin B12 and folate. Cow’s milk contains ten times more folate and five times more Vitamin B12. This is important when considering goat’s milk for children. Children may develop deficiencies stemming from inadequate folate and B12, including anemia.

Because the curds are smaller, it tends to be naturally homogenized, which refers to incorporating milkfat solids back into the liquids. So it requires less processing than cow’s milk which can be a good thing.

Why Cow Milk and Goat Milk Come Out On Top

Bottle of cow's milk

Cow and goat milk are popular not because of any similarity to human milk but because it’s easier to source cows and goats.

Although sheep are also common farm animals in these regions, they’re difficult to milk and produce very little. Sheep milk is also considerably higher in fat than cow and human milk, so it’s more suited to cheesemaking than drinking.

Pigs are also difficult to milk and produce small amounts. The fat content is still much higher than humans, with dairy milk having a more similar nutritional profile to human milk than pigs.

Drinking milk is not as popular beyond the US and Europe. These regions are home to cows, goats, buffalo, and not zebras and camels. Most Asian and African people drink little to no milk. Lactose intolerance is higher in countries where dairy is consumed on a less frequent basis. In some Asian countries, the prevalence of lactose intolerance reaches 100%!

What Are The Other Serious Contenders To Cow Milk?

Buffalo Milk

Buffaloes in the wild

American buffalo are somewhat related to cows, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that buffalo milk is another option. Buffalo milk and buffalo creams are a popular addition to sauces and desserts in Indian cooking. These are creamier, thicker milk that tastes mild and sweet. It could be a great alternative to cow’s milk or goat’s milk, and thanks to its fat content, it makes fantastic cheese, butter, and ice cream.

One cup of buffalo milk contains:

  • 237 calories
  • 17 grams of fat, which is much higher than cow’s milk or goat’s milk
  • 46 mg of cholesterol (higher in cholesterol than goat's milk with 27mg)

It provides 12% of your daily potassium needs and fulfills 8.7% of vitamin A, 9.4% of vitamin C, 32% of calcium, and 1.6% of iron.

Buffalo milk is the highest in protein with 9.2 grams of protein per cup, and it beats cow’s milk in terms of calcium content. It’s also a source of iron, magnesium, and zinc.

Camel Milk

A picture of a camel

Camel milk is a rarer alternative to animal milk. However, many cultures have been consuming this milk for thousands of years, so it is not “new” by any means.

One cup of camel milk has:

  • 107 calories
  • less than 5 grams of fat
  • 5.4g protein per cup, the lowest in protein
  • 58% of the thiamine RDA in one cup
  • ‍16% of the RDA for vitamin B2 (riboflavin), 10% of Vitamin C, 12% of potassium, and 12% phosphorus
  • 32% of the daily recommended amount for calcium

Camel milk is believed to boost the immune system and fight organisms that cause disease. This is because it contains lactoferrin and immunoglobulins. It is sometimes the only source of water in dry climates of the Middle East.

Some research claims that camel milk may help reduce insulin dependence and promote glycemic control in Type 1 diabetics. It provides an average of 52 microunits of insulin per cup.

It has also been studied as a supplement for children with autism. More research is likely needed, but this is very promising.

Camel milk is an acquired taste as it’s watery and salty. If you track down some camel milk in the US, it will probably be more expensive than cow and goat's milk. That being said, there are a number of small farms across the country that provide ordering options.

Which Animal Milk Is Closet To BreastMilk?

All kinds of milk are different because animals need to feed their young something specific to their species, habitats, and requirements.

Two zebras in a field

For example, seal milk is 61% fat since it helps provide their pups with a healthy layer of fat to keep them warm. The opposite is seen in black rhinos in the African savannah, where their milk contains just 0.2% fat.

On average, human milk is only 4% fat and 1.3% protein. The remainder is made up of 90% water and 7.2% lactose. Surprisingly zebra milk is the closest to human milk, as it’s 2.2% fat, 1.6% protein, 89% water, and 7% lactose. However, zebra milk is not something you can find in a grocery store!

When looking at lactose levels, goat’s milk is closer to human milk with 9 grams of lactose per cup than 12 grams of lactose per cup of cow’s milk. Goat’s milk formula for babies is considered closer to human milk than cow, even though dairy-based formulas are still more popular. And goat’s milk formula will be fortified with Folic Acid and Vitamin B12 to help prevent deficiencies in infants.

Horse milk is consumed as a fermented drink in Russia and Asia called kumis. Kumis is described as sour, bitter, and sweet. Asians and Russians began drinking it 2,500 years ago as it was believed to help with digestive issues and tuberculosis. It has piqued the interest of US and Europe as it may be more suitable for lactose-intolerant people. What holds horse milk back from being more commercially available is that the mare doesn’t produce milk unless her calf is present, so it’s difficult to produce.

As a rule of thumb, it is believed that animals with similar digestive systems to people have milk more suitable for humans. But cows, goats, buffalo, and camels have three to four stomachs! On the other hand, zebras, horses, and donkeys all have one stomach and a somewhat similar digestive system.

Which Animal Milk Is The Most Expensive?

Among all the kinds of milk out there, donkey milk trumps them in being expensive. Donkey milk is most popular in areas in Europe and South Asia.  

It is not easy to find this milk in the US because of its high cost and infrequent donkey farms.  A liter of donkey milk can go for about $40, while its more rare cheese can go for $560 per pound in Serbia. There aren't many donkey farms because donkeys only produce an estimate of 4 cups or a liter of milk per day.

3 ounces of donkey's milk contains

  • 49 calories
  • 2 grams of fat
  • 2 grams of protein

Which Animal Has The Sweetest Milk?

Sweetness in milk is associated with its lactose levels. To find the sweetest milk, take a look at the different lactose levels of animals.

Sheep has one of the highest lactose content among animal milk. It's relatively higher than cows, goats, and buffaloes, but their milk is often used for cheese and yogurt.

Which Animal Milk is The Healthiest?

An infographic of nutritional content of animal milk

“Healthy” is a relative term when deciding which milk is the most appropriate for you. It all depends on what you are looking for. For instance, goat’s milk might be more attractive if one is sensitive to cow’s milk. Buffalo milk might be a better option if a higher fat content is desired. Some people might even opt for buffalo milk for the protein content, fat, and calories if they’re looking to gain weight.

For children, goat’s milk formulas are suitable for babies because its easier to digest. However, cow’s milk formulas are still higher in folate and B12, but formulas, in general, are fortified with these vitamins. Goat's milk formula can also be more tolerated by babies who are sensitive to dairy. It doesn’t contain the casein protein, alpha-S1, which is a problem for some with cow’s milk and is gentler on the gut.

What Best Animal Milk For Lactose Intolerant?

If you’re lactose intolerant, the best milk for you is either a lactose-free version of cow’s milk. Or a non-dairy alternative to milk like soy, oat, or almond.

Lactose intolerance is defined as the inability to process lactose (milk sugar) because of the lack of lactase, an enzyme produced by the body. It’s common and develops in one of every three people, or about 65% of the world’s population.  It is usually characterized by gastrointestinal symptoms during milk metabolism stemming from the inability to break down the lactose.

Now, there is a big difference between being lactose intolerant and being allergic to milk.  In contrast to lactose intolerance, an allergy might produce a histamine response to the proteins in the milk.  So while goat’s milk has less lactose than dairy milk, people with milk allergies can still react to goat’s milk because cow and goat proteins are similar.

Closing Thoughts

Many new kinds of milk on the market do not come from animals, which may be suitable for those with allergies (although not for those with soy or nut allergies). They are also an acceptable substitute for those that might follow a vegan or plant-based lifestyle.

In the end, the type of milk you choose depends on what you are looking for. Taste, texture, nutritional profile, availability, and cost can all influence which milk you choose. Either way, animal milk can be a delicious, nutritious, important part of a healthy diet.