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What you need to know about cow's milk and the various alternatives

If you're a milk lover, crack open a fresh bottle on World Milk Day!

01 Jun 2019
milk in coffee

Every year on the 1 June the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations celebrates World Milk Day to highlight the benefits that the dairy industry has brought to sustainability, economic development and nutrition. 

Many of us are familiar with the taste, sight and texture of milk that comes in a carton from the supermarket, even though there have been countless discussions about whether we should be drinking cow's milk at all. But whatever side of the fence you find yourself, we cannot gloss over the fact that humans have been drinking milk and cooking with it for centuries. 

Imagine if we had no custard? And where do you think the term 'milkshake' came from? 

Nowadays the variety of different kinds of milk on offer is endless. So if you're confused about what's out there, allow us to guide you - because in South Africa there are different laws regulating the labelling of dairy products. For milk, the following items have to be present on the bottle or carton: 

• Product name

• The term “Pasteurised”, “Sterilised” or “UHT”. If untreated, the term “Unpasteurised” or “Raw” should be used preceded by the name of the species of the animal if the milk is from an animal other than a cow.

• Before and after opening instructions 

• Unit of measurement 

• List of ingredients 

• Common allergens 

• Storage instructions 

• Name of packer and address 

• Country of origin 

• Nutritional information  

Find out what other stipulations there are for a milk label on the Dairy Standard website

milk and cake

What's the difference between milk labels? 

Pasteurised vs. unpasturised milk 

Pasteurised milk has gone through a process called pasteurisation, which involves heating milk to a specific temperature for a certain period of time in order to kill harmful bacteria that can be found in the liquid.  

Unpasteurised milk is also known as 'raw milk'  and this has not been through the pasteurisation process. 

Full cream milk - contains 3.3% to 4.5% fat per 100g

Low-fat milk -  contains 0.5% to 1.5% fat per 100g 

2% low-fat milk - contains 2% fat per 100g

Fat-free milk - contains 0% to 0.5% fat per 100g

Lactose-free milk - contains no lactose which is the naturally occurring sugar found in milk (milk that isn't lactose-free contains 12 grams of lactose per 250ml). 

With the rise of people following a plant-based lifestyle, comes the demand for dairy-free alternatives. And up until very recently, it was rather difficult to find these in mainstream supermarkets. Not anymore! 

Here is a list of non-dairy milk to try if you're curious to explore the plant-based side of things... 

Nut milk 

Think almond or cashew milk. Here's how to make your own almond milk which is much cheaper than buying it. 

Oat milk

Oat milk is made by blending oats into a fine powder, mixing it with water and then straining it through a fine muslin or cheesecloth. A similar way to making nut milk. 

Rice milk  

As the name suggests, rice milk is a grain milk. It is mostly made from brown rice and is usually unsweetened.

Soy milk 

Soy milk is made from soybeans that have been soaked and is the only dairy alternative that offers close to the amount of protein as cow's milk, however, there have been claims that soy milk contains serious hormone disruptors because its components include chemicals similar in structure to estrogen. 

Coconut milk

Coconut milk is a vegan favourite and you'll usually find it the Asian section of your local supermarket. It's the liquid that's extracted from the pulp of mature coconuts and has a distinct aroma and flavour. It's rich in texture and has a high fat content. 

Camel milk 

A staple in the Middle East and North Africa, camel milk is relatively rare in South Africa but you can get it from specialist delis and food purveyors. It's known for its high nutritional content and its slightly sweet and nutty flavour. 


Not into eggs or dairy? Here are 5 vegan baking swaps you need to know about

'Vegan shmegan' is what I probably would've said not so long ago, well that was until my sister became one and making a birthday cake for her became my most challenging bake yet - and boy did I have fun!


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