Human beings have been consuming milk and dairy products for well over 10,000 years. Dating back to the Neolithic revolution when humans began the domestication of livestock, archaeological evidence clearly shows that humans raised and consumed the milk from goats, sheep, and cows (among other animals). Of course, today we also enjoy plant-based milk and dairy products crafted from almonds, oats, soy, and countless others. Here we will focus on the three most popular animal-milks and what makes them different from one another.
Do you recall the old milk ads that stated drinking milk would help you grow up to be bigger and stronger? I am sure the commercials brought to mind images of cows and cow’s milk. In the United States, cow’s milk is the most popular form of milk sold and consumed today. In part, due to those TV commercials stating over and over how much milk “did a body good!” Cows are also much more docile and easier to manage than most of the other animals whose milk humans regularly consume.
The popularity and availability also means that cow’s milk is typically less expensive than other varieties. However, availability and popularity doesn’t automatically mean it is the best choice. Many people cannot consume cow’s milk products due to lactose intolerance or other milk allergies. Sheep and goat’s milk is actually fundamentally different from cow’s milk and are better choices for people who experience issues with cow’s milk. So, what makes these milks so different from one another?
As we just touched on in the above paragraph, many people cannot consume cow’s milk. Aside from lactose intolerance (which we will talk about below under digestion), a large number of people are allergic to milk and dairy products. A lot of people believe that all milk is created equal and if they cannot consume cow’s milk then it stands to reason that they cannot consume other varieties of animal milk…but that may not the case. The main issue most people run into with cow’s milk is with the alpha S1 casein protein found in the milk. Both sheep and goat’s milk have considerably less S1 proteins. Always consult a medical professional before consuming any animal milk if you have a known milk allergy.
Like cow’s milk, both sheep and goat’s milk are dairy products however the structure of their milks differ greatly. Cow’s milk contains high levels of lactose which is difficult for many people to digest properly. Of the three, goat milk proteins are the closest to human milk protein structures. What does that mean? It means that goat’s milk is easier for the human body to properly digest. Goat’s milk features a naturally homogenized fat structure and forms much softer curds in the stomach. It also contains fewer milk sugars, or lactose, and has a higher level of alkaline than cow’s milk does. For example, cow’s milk takes an average of 3 hours to digest while goat’s milk only takes about a half an hour. Sheep’s milk is rich in an A2 type protein which is easily digestible by humans and may even assist with the digestion of lactose.
The consistency of these three animal milk varieties is also very different from one another. Cow’s milk is the thinnest, followed by goat’s milk, then sheep’s. Sheep’s milk is the creamiest and thickest of the three.
The flavor of any animal’s milk varies dramatically depending on where they are raised and what the animal eats. The flavor profiles are further altered depending on how the milk is processed, packaged, and pasteurized. If all factors are the exact same, it would be difficult to pick whose milk you were drinking based on the flavor alone as most fresh animal milk tastes very similar. That being said, goat and sheep milk both tend to have a slight hint of grassy or earthy flavors and both tend to be sweeter and creamier than cow’s milk.
The above may be a bit confusing to those who have eaten goat’s or sheep’s cheese but have not yet had the opportunity to try their milks. The milks themselves are mild and light in flavor with a hint of sweetness. Once transformed into other dairy products, such as cheese, the flavor profile changes dramatically.
When thinking about the nutritional content of milk we tend to think about calcium above all other nutrients. Both sheep and goat’s milk contain higher levels of calcium than cow’s milk. Goat’s milk also contains high levels of vitamin A, magnesium, iron, selenium, phosphorous, and zinc. All of which are more bio-available than they are in cow’s milk meaning that the human body absorbs them more efficiently and uses a higher percentage of the nutrients absorbed. Sheep’s milk, however, is the most nutrient-rich of the three. It contains double the amount of calcium in either cow’s or goat’s milk, it is a complete protein source, contains high levels of B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B6, B7, and B12).
|Cow’s Milk||Low in saturated fats and rich in protein, calcium, vitamins (very high in vitamin D and B12), magnesium, folate, and more||Bone health, balanced diet, prevents obesity|
|Goat’s Milk||High proportion of medium chain fatty acids and rich in calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, selenium, phosphorous, zinc, and more||High in digestible protein, may not provoke milk allergies, also may help reduce cholesterol in the arteries and gallbladder|
|Sheep’s Milk||Rich in a variety of B vitamins, calcium, protein, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and more||Bone health, may boost immunity, and may help regulate blood pressure|
So as you can see, goat and sheep milk are both easier for humans to digest and are more nutrient-rich than cow’s milk. Taste and texture is where most people lean more heavily towards the thinner and lighter cow’s milk over other varieties. Though even those are rather similar.
No matter what animal’s milk you prefer make sure that you are getting your dairy from a conscientious company that does not use antibiotics or growth hormones on their animals.
What are your thoughts on milk? What variety do you prefer? Let us know in the comments!