Milk powder, also known as dried milk, is a dairy product produced by dehydrating liquid milk through spray drying or roller drying. Milk powder has a long shelf life and is used for reconstituting milk and in recipes. With the rise in veganism and dairy-free diets, there has been growing interest in whether milk powders can be made without dairy.
What is milk powder?
Milk powder is made by removing water from liquid milk. There are two main types of milk powder:
- Whole milk powder – contains all the components of milk including fat.
- Skim milk powder – made from skimmed milk so contains less fat.
To make milk powder, first cream is separated from fresh milk. For whole milk powder, the appropriate amount of cream is added back. The milk is then condensed down to around 50% solids before being dried into powder.
Spray drying is the most common method, where the milk is sprayed into a chamber of hot air. The moisture evaporates leaving fine powder particles that are then collected. Roller drying is less common, using steam-heated rollers to dry a thin film of milk.
Milk powder has a water activity below 0.6, which prevents bacterial growth. With proper storage in a cool dry place, it can last over a year. When water is added, it can be reconstituted into liquid milk or used in recipes.
Why make dairy-free milk powder?
There are several motivations for developing milk powder that is dairy-free:
- Dairy allergies or intolerances – Some people are unable to consume conventional dairy due to allergies, lactose intolerance, or gut sensitivities.
- Veganism – Vegans do not consume animal products, including dairy. Dairy-free milk powder provides a plant-based alternative.
- Sustainability – Dairy farming has environmental impacts. Some view dairy-free milk powders as more eco-friendly.
- Nutrition – Some dairy-free formulations are enriched with vitamins, minerals, or protein.
- Lactose-free – Dairy-free milk powders are naturally lactose-free which some tolerate better.
Having powdered versions allows non-dairy milk to have a longer shelf life and be easily incorporated into recipes and products.
How is dairy-free milk powder made?
Dairy-free milk powders start with a plant-based milk rather than dairy milk. There are various bases used:
- Soy milk – Made by soaking, grinding, boiling and straining soybeans.
- Almond milk – Made by blending almonds with water then straining.
- Coconut milk – Made by grating coconut flesh and extracting the liquid.
- Oat milk – Made by blending oats with water then straining.
- Rice milk – Made from boiled rice, blended with water.
- Pea milk – Made from yellow split peas blended with water.
Other nuts like cashews or macadamia can be used too. The plant-based milk is then turned into powder using spray drying or roller drying, the same process used for dairy milk powder.
However the plant-based milk has a different composition to dairy milk. It contains no lactose or casein protein. The protein and sugar content is lower, so additional ingredients are often added to improve the protein quality, sensory characteristics and powder properties.
Ingredients in dairy-free milk powder
Dairy-free milk powders may include various added ingredients:
- Thickeners – Starches or gums to provide thickness and creaminess. Common examples are tapioca starch, corn starch, gellan gum, guar gum, xanthan gum and carrageenan.
- Emulsifiers – Lecithin helps with blending fats and water.
- Sweeteners – Sugar or syrups can be added to improve taste and help drying properties.
- Dietary minerals – Calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium are added to mimic the mineral content of dairy milk.
- Vitamins – Additions like vitamin B12 and vitamin D to increase nutrition.
- Flavorings – Natural or artificial flavors to improve the taste. Vanilla is commonly used.
- Protein isolates – Soy protein or rice protein boosts the protein content.
- Preservatives – Potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate prevent microbial growth.
- Colorings – Coloring agents to whiten the powder or provide a creamy appearance.
The specific ingredients and additives used depends on the desired nutritional profile, flavor, and cost considerations.
Popular dairy-free milk powder brands
Many brands now produce dairy-free milk powder products:
- NутrіМіlk – Pea protein milk powders sold online and in stores. Available in Original, Unsweetened, Barista, and High Protein varieties.
- Elmhurst – Broad line of nut, grain, and seed based milk powders. Offer oat, almond, cashew, peanut, and walnut among others.
- Cалmеаd – Australian brand offering both soy and almond milk powders. Also sell creamers and hot chocolate mixes.
- NоtМіlk – Milk powder made from peas and rice. Also offer flavored options like chai, vanilla, and matcha.
- Pаcіfіc Fооdѕ – Almond, coconut, soy, and multi-blend milk powder products. Available in natural and chocolate flavors.
Smaller niche brands also sell milk powders based on hemp, hazelnut, macadamia, flax, and pumpkin seed. Prices range from around $5 per pound up to $15 per pound for specialty nut-based powders.
Nutritional profile of dairy-free milk powders
The nutritional content of dairy-free milk powders varies substantially by base ingredients and what is added during manufacturing. But in general:
- Contain 0 mg cholesterol (dairy contains 20-60 mg/100 g).
- Lower in calories and fat compared to whole dairy milk powder.
- Very low in lactose unlike dairy powders which contain 30-50% lactose.
- Lower in protein; fortification is often needed to improve protein quality.
- May have added vitamins and minerals to better match the dairy nutrition profile.
- Little to no natural presence of vitamin B12 or vitamin D.
Here is a nutritional comparison between skim dairy milk powder and a pea-based dairy-free milk powder:
|Dairy Skim Milk Powder
|Pea Milk Powder (fortified)
|800 mg (80% DV)
|300 mg (30% DV)
|0.4 mcg (2% DV)
|2.5 mcg (12% DV)
|1.4 mcg (20% DV)
|2.5 mcg (40% DV)
As shown dairy milk powder naturally contains more calcium and protein. The dairy-free powder has vitamins added to increase its nutritional value.
Benefits of dairy-free milk powder
There are several advantages associated with dairy-free milk powders:
- Allow those with dairy restrictions to still enjoy milk nutrition and flavor
- Long shelf life of 1-2 years when stored properly
- Easy to transport, store, and use for recipes
- Often enriched with vitamins, minerals, and protein
- No lactose so easier digestion for some
- Lower in calories and fat than whole dairy powders
- Considered environmentally friendly compared to dairy
- Cruelty-free for those avoiding animal products
- Offers variety with many plant-based ingredient options
Dairy-free milk powder makes it convenient and practical for those following plant-based diets to still enjoy “milk” flavored foods and beverages.
Limitations of dairy-free milk powders
There are some disadvantages and limitations to be aware of with non-dairy milk powders:
- Often more expensive than dairy-based powders
- Usually lower in protein; protein quality not as high
- Lower in natural calcium and vitamin D
- Added ingredients like gums, emulsifiers, and sweeteners
- Flavor and color differences from dairy; some dislike aftertaste
- Not always compatible as a substitute in recipes
- Associated with some food allergies like nuts, soy, and rice
- Still being optimized so some inconsistencies between brands
While they mimic dairy milk powder in some ways, there are still some technological challenges in matching all the properties and nutrition of cow’s milk powder.
Uses for dairy-free milk powder
Dairy-free milk powders can be used in similar ways to traditional dairy powders:
- Reconstitute into milk by blending with water
- Use in place of fresh milk for drinking, over cereal, or smoothies
- Add to coffee drinks as a non-dairy creamer
- Make instant pudding, custard, sauces, soups
- Use in baking for cakes, cookies, breads, muffins
- Add to ice cream to boost nutrition
- Blend into shakes, yogurt, oatmeal
- Whip into non-dairy cream
- Prepare nutrition shakes and meal replacements
However, some trial and error may be needed to get the results you want. Because plant-based milks have different properties, they do not behave exactly the same in recipes. You may need to adjust quantities or ingredients.
Storing and preparing dairy-free milk powder
Dairy-free milk powders should be stored properly to maximize shelf life:
- Keep container sealed in a cool, dark, dry place.
- Avoid temperature extremes and humidity.
- Shelf life around 1-2 years when unopened.
- Once opened, reseal tightly and use within 3-4 months.
- Look for clumping, discoloration, or odor as signs it has expired.
- Use clean utensils to scoop out needed amounts.
To prepare, simply whisk or blend the powder with cold or warm water. Many brands recommend 1/4 cup powder to 1 cup water. But adjust to your desired consistency.
Let sit for a few minutes for fuller reconstitution. Give it a final stir or shake before drinking or using in recipes.
Are dairy-free milk powders really milk?
While marketed as “milk powders”, technically the dairy-free versions do not meet the legal definition of milk in most countries. By standard, milk refers to the lacteal secretion from the mammary glands of mammals, which for practical purposes means cows, goats, sheep, and other dairy animals.
Plant-based milk powders are more accurately described as “dairy milk substitutes” or “dairy milk alternatives”. However, many people still refer to them loosely as non-dairy milk powders or vegan milk powders based on their intended use as a replacement for dairy-based milk powder products.
The future of dairy-free milk powders
The dairy-free milk powder category is still relatively new but rapidly evolving. Here are some predictions for the future:
- Wider range of base ingredients like hemp, quinoa, sunflower, and flaxseeds.
- Advances in processing and formulations to better mimic taste and nutrition of dairy.
- Functional innovations like probiotic, high protein, low sugar, and extra calcium fortified versions.
- Growth in allergen-friendly options, especially avoidance of common allergens like soy, nuts, and gluten.
- Emergence of new manufacturers as the category gains popularity.
- Increased distribution and retail availability driven by consumer demand.
While dairy powders currently dominate the market, dairy-free alternatives are rapidly evolving. They offer a plant-based option with unique nutritional advantages that fits the needs of the growing number of dairy-free consumers.
Dairy-free milk powders provide a viable plant-based alternative to traditional dairy-based milk powders. With careful formulation and processing, ingredients like nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes can be turned into powdered “milk” products. While they don’t exactly replicate dairy milk, these innovative options meet the nutritional and functional needs of vegans and those with dairy sensitivities. The dairy-free milk powder category is still relatively new and developing fast in pace with the plant-based movement. As the technology and variety of options improve, dairy-free milk powders are poised to become more mainstream in the future.