Dairy products are one of the four essential food groups that are important to the human diet. Among these dairy products, cow milk has been an essential part of human nutrition. In legal terms according to FSSAI, “Milk is the normal mammary secretion derived from complete milking of healthy milch animal that is free from colostrum.” Cow milk comprises of several major nutrients like fat, proteins and carbohydrates. Besides these macronutrients, milk also contains numerous nutrients (micro & macro), such as calcium, selenium, riboflavin, vitamin B12 and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), which significantly contribute towards the overall growth and maintenance of the body system.

Cow milk has been consumed by humans for several years and considered as an essential part of Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). However, since the past decade i.e. since 2012, it has been observed that a majority of the population, particularly the elder population have faced difficulties associated with digestion of cow milk. The major concerns include lactose intolerance and cow milk protein allergy, being a medical condition that is being faced by a majority of old age population in the developed world that has led to restrictions in the use of milk and milk products. As a result, consumers have been requesting for alternatives or substitutes to cow’s milk and are increasingly demanding non-dairy milk in the market, which has risen to 61% since 2012. In addition, new lifestyles, including vegetarian and vegan diets, as well as environmental issues and ethical considerations against cow milk consumption, have been contributing to the growing demand for plant-based milk alternatives.

1. What is Plant-Based Dairy Alternatives?

Plant-based non-dairy milk is produced mainly from the plant sources, which include nuts and cereals such as soy, almond, rice, oat and coconut milk etc. Plant-based milk alternatives (or plant extracts) are water-soluble concentrate of oilseeds, legumes, pseudo-cereals, cereals, vegetables and nuts resulting in a blend that mimic cow’s milk. Overall, these plant-based emulsion products referred to as drinks, beverages, dairy alternatives or any other name rather than “milk.”

Although, some plant-based milk products contain low protein and calcium, they can be used to replace cow’s milk in the diet because of low allergy and intolerance issues, lactose-free, cholesterol-free and low-calorie. This may lead to increased consumer awareness and subsequently a rise in purchase levels.

2. Major Plant-based Milk Analogues

The different sources that are being used for the development of plant-based milk are derived from plant sources, water, emulsifiers and additives. Each component must be selected sensibly to produce a final product that has the desired functional characteristics. In addition, the quality of water plays a very important role, as it is the main ingredient in plant-based milk alternatives. Commercial sources of water commonly have diverse categories and levels of minerals and pH values and they might contain organic matter that can interact or form bonds with emulsifiers or other ingredients used to formulate emulsions. Therefore, the treatment of the water source has to be done before it is consumed for the production of plant-based milk alternatives, which are of different types such as thermal processing, filtering or reverse osmosis.

It has been suggested to blend two or more plant sources together for plant-based milk alternative. This is done in order to enhance the nutritional or sensorial properties of the plant-based milk alternative.

Types of Plant based analogues source based on their origin

3. Processing Technology for Producing Plant-based Milk Alternatives

There are several methods for producing cereal, legumes, nut, oilseeds, etc. based milk substitutes. As they have many common steps, one flowchart can be prepared in general to give a gist about the process included for producing milk substitutes.

Process flowchart of plant based milk substitutes

Health Effects of Plant-based Milk Alternatives

Nuts, grains, and oilseeds provide several health advantages, owing to higher concentration of bioactive substances, macronutrients, micronutrients and phytochemicals. Unsaturated fatty acids, including essential fatty acids, fibres, a well-balanced mineral ratio, high selenium content, polyphenols, tocopherols and phytosterols are some of the characteristics that link a healthy body to nut, grain and oilseed eating. Because of their well-balanced fat content, nuts, cereals and oilseeds are known as key elements in a daily diet for leading a healthy life, with a high amount of mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids and a low amount of saturated fatty acid, which includes essential fatty acids that the human body cannot synthesize.

Phytosterols have beneficial effects on the human body, including cholesterol reduction, cancer prevention, immune system modulation and skin anti-ageing. They reduce the risk for heart disease, stroke and heart attack due to their cholesterol-like behaviour. Furthermore, because of their high antioxidant content, they can help prevent ovarian, breast, stomach, prostate and lung cancer. It has been demonstrated that beta-sitosterol inhibits the development of HT-29 human colon cancer cells, where HT-29 is a human colorectal adenocarcinoma cell line with an epithelial appearance. Phytosterols stimulate the activity of cells that are intended to recognize, respond to and recall antigens. In this way, they contribute to immune system regulation. Furthermore, phytosterols stimulate the production of collagen, which is lost in the skin as a result of sun exposure. The combination of bioactive elements in nuts, cereals and oil-seed allows them to support the inflammatory system, suppress oxidative stress and reduce the risk of a variety of serious morbidities, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, type-2 diabetes and hypertension.

Despite the excellent health advantages of plant-based milk replacements, they are not a replacement for animal-based milk products, since the beneficial chemicals from cow’s milk are not given and the danger of disease incidence can arise. Protein content is the primary distinction between cow’s milk and plant-based milk alternatives. The protein level in cow’s milk is 3.28%, but soy milk has the greatest protein content among the plant-based milk replacements, 8.71% and rice milk substitute has the lowest protein content, 0.07%. In terms of protein content, soy milk is the best milk product, while rice milk substitute is the least useful. Despite having the highest protein content of any plant-based milk substitute, almond milk is preferred over soy milk due to its balanced nutrient content and pleasant flavour, when compared to other plant-based milk substitutes. Soy milk is less popular due to its bitter taste and the inclusion of anti-nutrients such trypsin inhibitor, phytic acid and saponin. It does however serve an important function in compensating for the lack of protein and amino acid content in the diet, when compared to other meals and drinks.

Plant-based alternatives Production Methodology Health benefits & limitations


1. Aydar, E. F., Tutuncu, S., & Ozcelik, B. (2020). Plant-based milk substitutes: Bioactive compounds, conventional and novel processes, bioavailability studies, and health effects. Journal of Functional Foods, 70, 103975.

2. Paul, Anna & Kumar, Satish & Kumar, Vikas& Sharma, Rakesh. (2019). Milk Analog: Plant based alternatives to conventional milk, production, potential and health concerns. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 60. 1-19. 10.1080/10408398.2019.1674243.

3. Reyes Jurado, Fatima & Soto-Reyes, Nohemi&Dávila-Rodríguez, M & Lorenzo Leal, Ana & Jiménez, Teresa & Mani-López, E &López-Malo, Aurelio. (2021). Plant-Based Milk Alternatives: Types, Processes, Benefits, and Characteristics. Food Reviews International. 39. 10.1080/87559129.2021.1952421.

About the Author:
Aroma Joshi
Department of Life Sciences, (Food Technology),
Graphic Era (Deemed to be University),
Dehradun – 248002, India.
Email ID: arojoshi26@gmail.com


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An editor by day & dreamer at night; passionately involved with both print and digital media; Pet lover; Solo traveller.

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