Although cow’s milk is still the most popular milk for human consumption, it’s declining in popularity, with sales expected to drop by 27% by 2023 from 2013. Non-dairy milk has been growing rapidly in popularity but what other animal milks are there? Which is the best animal milk for human consumption?

Benefits of cows milk

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

  • 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 to provide your daily fluids.

There are lots of different variations of milk on the market such as skim, 1%, 2%, whole, buttermilk, half & half (a mixture of milk and cream commonly added to coffee), and lactose-free (milk that is suitable for those with lactose intolerance).

All have slightly different nutritional profiles and use cases. Oh brother!

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

What other animal milks are out there?

Goats milk

Goat’s milk and  goat’s cheese are much more common now than even several years ago, and can be an acceptable substitute for cow’s milk.

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.

The globules of fat in goats milk are smaller than the globules in cow’s milk, which may promote digestibility. Additionally, some people that cannot tolerate cow’s milk due to lactose intolerance may be able to digest goat’s milk better. Lactose intolerance is 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 in about 65% of the world’s population.  

Goat milk 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. 

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

Goats milk is described as tasting “goaty”; it has a grassy earthy taste because the fatty acids are different from milk, and goats may consume a different diet than cows. They also have a different metabolism, meaning that their milk will taste different.

One last benefit of goat’s milk is that because the curds are smaller, it tends to be naturally homogenized; the term for combining milkfat solids back into the liquids so it requires less processing than cow’s milk which can be a good thing.

Buffalo Milk

American buffalo are somewhat related to cows so it doesn’t come as a surprise that buffalo milk is an option.

One cup of buffalo milk contains:

  • 237 calories
  • 17 grams of fat, which is much higher than cow’s milk or goat’s milk.
  • It’s also higher in cholesterol than goats milk which has 27mg of cholesterol while buffalo milk has 46mg.
  • It provides 12% of your daily potassium needs, and fulfill 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 cows milk in terms of calcium content too. It’s also a source of iron, magnesium, and zinc. Buffalo milk and buffalo cream is a popular addition sauces and deserts in Indian cooking and is a 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 it’s fat content, makes fantastic cheese, butter, and ice cream.

Camel Milk

Camel milk is a rarer alternative 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
  • It’s the lowest in protein with 5.4g per cup.
  • It’s rich in thiamine with 58% of the RDA in one cup.
  • ‍ 16% of the RDA for vitamin B2 (riboflavin), 10% of Vitamin C, 12% of potassium, and 12% phosphorus.
  • It’s also a decent source of calcium with 32% of the daily recommended amount.

Camel milk is believed to be able to boost the immune system and fight organisms that cause disease 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 to reduce insulin dependence and promote glycemic control in Type 1 diabetics as 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 do track down some camel milk in the US, it will probably be more expensive than cow and goat milk. That being said, there are a number of small farms across the US that are providing ordering options.

Which animal milk is the closest to human milk

All milks are different because animals need to feed their young something specific to their species, habitats, and requirements. For example, seal milk is 61% fat; it helps to provide their pups with a healthy layer of fat to keep them warm, whereas 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, goats milk is closer to human milk with 9 grams of lactose per cup, compared to 12 grams of lactose per cup of cows milk. Goats milk formula for babies is considered to be 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 Russian’s began drinking it 2,500 years ago as it was believed to help with digestive issues and tuberculosis. It has piqued the interest of the US and Europe as it may be more suitable for those who are lactose intolerant. What holds horse milk back from being more commercially available, is the fact 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 us 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.

So,why do we drink cow milk?

The reason cow and goat milk are popular is 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 cheese making 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, and 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 fact, in some Asian countries the prevalence of lactose intolerance reaches 100%!

Which animal milk is the healthiest

“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,Goats milk formulas are said to good for babies because its easier to digest. However, cows milk formulas are still higher in folate and B12, but formulas in general are fortified with these vitamins. Goats 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 cows milk, and is gentler on the gut.

There is a big difference between being lactose intolerant and being allergic to milk, so while goats milk has less lactose than dairy milk, people with milk allergies can still react to goats milk because cow and goat proteins are similar. Intolerance is usually characterized by gastrointestinal symptoms during milk metabolism stemming from the inability to break down the lactose, whereas an allergy is a histamine response to the proteins in the milk. 

If you’re lactose intolerant the best milk for you is either a lactose-free version of cows milk, or even a non-dairy alternative to milk like soy, oat, or almond. There are a lot of new milks on the market that 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, which type of milk you choose really depends on what you are looking for. Taste, texture, nutritional profile, availability, and cost can all influence which milk you choose. Either way you go, milk is a delicious, nutritious, important part of a healthy diet.