What are the Different Milk Options?

A pitcher and a glass of milk on a wooden table.

There are LOTS of different types of milk, 22 in fact. As many different types of milk, there are, there are far more reasons to take special care in which one you want to drink – or not to drink. You may have a preference for one flavor or texture of milk. You may have a health issue that makes one of the many types of milk better for you than all of the others, or you may happen on a certain milk type that suits your budgetary preferences even though you have no other special milk need or desire.

At this point, it might be helpful, or at least interesting to point out that not all of the milk types on our list are technically milk. In order to be milk, by the most reasonable standard, it has to come from the mammary glands of a mother animal. Some, if not many, of the kinds of milk on our list are made from plant products such as nuts. But not to worry, for there are plenty of kinds of milk that originate from our good old girthy friends, the common dairy cow for you to consider.

The plant-based milk varieties on our list are only called “milk” because they are meant to be used in the same way we use milk – that is, with cereal, coffee, for dunking cookies, and the like.

If you do choose a new type of milk, especially for health reasons, consider taking an allergy test first to ensure that you can tolerate the particular ingredients of the new milk.

We’ll see you again after Milk #22. Until then, bottom’s up!

Milk Nutritional Facts Chart

An illustrative chart for the nutritional content of milk.

The 22 Different Kinds of Animal & Plant-Based Milk

1. Whole Milk

A glass bottle of whole organic milk.

Whole milk contains 3.5% fat. It is thick and more pure than most milks of its kind. As fat has been recognized as a vital nutrient for brain and organ health, it has been growing in popularity. An 8 ounce glass of whole milk contains about 8 grams of fat and 150 calories. However, it is the least acceptable for vegans and those who prefer products that come from free range farms.

2. 2% Milk

A half-pint carton of 2% milk.

One of the oldest low fat kinds of milk, the 2% means to indicate how much fat is in it. Also known as “reduced fat” milk, 2% milk goes through a specialized process to remove the 1.5% of fat that makes it different from whole milk. This type of milk is popular among tea drinkers since it is smooth, and does not interfere with the normal texture of teas.

3. Low Fat Milk

A glass of low-fat milk.

Frequently confused with 2% milk, low fat milk has just one percent fat while 2% contains, well, 2%. While one percent does not sound like a big reduction from two percent, it is actually a 50% reduction from 2% milk. If fat is something that you are afraid of, then this should reduce your fears or concerns by 50%. This type of milk is frequently mixed with skim milk powder for greater thickness.

4. Organic Milk

Glass bottles of organic milk.

Among the most expensive of the milk varieties derived from cows, organic milk is produced through the tending of cows without the use of hormones. The production of this type of milk is supplemented only by the use of pesticides to prevent the spoilage of the milk from insect vermin. It means the milk has nothing added to its process of development but is protected from spoilage through chemical means. This is an important distinction to understand for anyone who is concerned about pesticides in food.

5. Skim Milk

Skim milk being poured into a glass.

Arguably the type of cow’s milk that contains the lowest amount of fat, skim milk is also known as “fat free milk.” The process necessary to remove all of the fat, effectively, is quite involved. This type of milk is known for its watery texture which is frequently treated with thickeners and flavor additives.

6. Raw Milk

A dairy farmer pouring raw milk.

Many people will be surprised to learn that most cow’s milk on the market is cooked, that is to say, “Pasteurized.” This is a process of heating to a temperature deemed necessary to remove germs, insect eggs, and other unwanted life forms. Needless to say, it also damages much of the vitamins and nutrients in the milk. Pasteurization is required by major regularity bodies.

7. Lactose-Free Milk

Glasses of different lactose-free milk alternatives.

Many people throughout the world come from populations that never evolved the ability to digest the lactose that is common to all animal kinds of milk. This leads to indigestion, allergies, and other chronic problems. Lactose free milk answers this issue by having the lactose removed.

8. Flavored Milk

Bottles of flavored milk with striped straws.

Popular with children for obvious reasons, flavored milk is usually sweetened and has coloring and flavoring added to it. Because it is marketed to children, it is often enhanced with vitamins and minerals to make it more acceptable to parents. Flavored milk also lasts longer than other kinds of milk since there are usually more stabilizers and preservatives in it and because it is pasteurized using ultra high temperatures.

9. Full Cream Milk

A jar and a glass of full cream milk.

This type of milk has the most fat content of any milk except whole milk which as the same amount of fat. Full cream milk is one of the most whole, unadulterated, and nutritious forms of milk. Also, because of its thick, creamy texture, it is favored for use in coffee since it gives coffee a smooth texture which coffee drinkers love.

10. Soy Milk

A glass of soy milk.

This type of “milk” is made by soaking soy beans in water. So, in reality, it’s actually soy tea. But it’s made and used as an alternative to regular milk so that’s what we call it. Interestingly, the soy we get in the west is made differently to the way it’s made in China and Japan. There, it is heavily fermented to eliminate lectins and to cultivate friendly gut bacteria.

11. Almond Milk

A glass of almond milk.

This type of “plant based” milk is made by grinding down many (many) almonds and siphoning off a portion of the meat of the almonds to be processed into yet another kind of “tea” by soaking it in hot water. Almonds are quite healthy, full of nutritious fats, and are generally free of anything that might cause inflammation. However, it is important to seek out a manufacturer of almond milk that does not use additives to thicken it, since that makes the almond content almost negligible.

12. Rice Milk

A jar of rice milk.

Anyone who has a lot of trouble with allergies or indigestion might do well to consider this type of milk. Rice milk is among the most hypoallergenic of all the milk replacements. It is dairy free, lactose free, and lacks much of the hormones and antibiotics that are common in the animal based kinds of milk. For those who are concerned about cholesterol, it is also free of that substance. Rice milk also has a mildly sweet flavor that comes naturally to it, making it one of the more popular milk replacement drinks.

13. Buttermilk

A glass mug of Turkish buttermilk drink.

Contrary to the confusion over its name, buttermilk is actually surprisingly low in fat. The original form of this fermented milk product is produced from the liquid that remains after churning butter. More recent versions of buttermilk are made from cultured milk rather than from butter derivatives. This form of it is thicker and as such is great for use in baking or making pancakes or waffles.

14. Ultra-Filtered Milk

A bottle of ultra-filtered milk in chocolate flavor.

Also known as “dis-filtered milk,” this type of milk is made by filtering milk through a dense but porous membrane that separates the fine contents of the milk. This fine filtration process makes it possible for the manufacturer to add more calcium in a way that makes it more bio-available than they would otherwise be able to. That being the case, dis-filtered milk is a favored choice for anyone with a calcium deficiency, the elderly, and nursing, and pregnant mothers.

15. Evaporated Milk

A glass bowl of evaporated milk.

Most commonly labeled as “condensed unsweetened milk,” evaporated milk can be stored in cans with approximately 60% of the original water content removed. This makes it good for long term storage. This is done by heating it over a low flame to reduce the liquid in the same way other things are heat reduced to make soups and stews.

16. Sweetened Condensed Milk

A small bowl of thick and sweetened condensed milk being spooned.

Very similar to condensed milk, this type of milk is the same in nearly every way except that it is sweetened to boot. The process of reduction makes it very thick and creamy compared to other animal derived kinds of milk. This makes it good for a number of culinary processes.

17. Oat Milk

A large jar filled with oat milk.

A very fine blend of steel cut oats and water, oat milk is similar to almond milk in every way except that instead of straining it through fine, powdered almonds, it is done with oats. Rich in immune boosting beta-glucans and vitamin D, it is an excellent choice for supporting the immune system.

18. Goat Milk

The various dairy products that come from goat milk.

Those who find it difficult to digest cows milk, but do not wish to resort to one of the many plant based alternatives, may choose goats milk. The milk of a mother goat is said to be thinner and more bitter than ordinary cow’s milk. However, many people who have become accustomed to it enjoy it very much, and with fewer allergic consequences.

19. Hemp Milk

A jar of fresh hemp milk.

You may have heard of the many, many industrial uses for hemp – including making rope, fabric, and a number of nutritious food products and medicines. Well, as it turns out, it can also be filtered into a milk alternative. Don’t worry, it contains no THC and comes with a wide range of proven and potential health benefits.

20. Coconut Milk

A couple of bottle of coconut milk with fresh coconuts.

One of the simplest milk alternatives out there, coconut milk is simply the juice of the fruit of the coconut tree. As such it is quite sweet, nutritious, and delicious. It is high in complex carbohydrates, which is okay, but might be too much for those with an insulin imbalance.

21. Cow Milk

A glass and a pitcher of cow's milk.

The product of the mammary glands of the cow, this common, staple beverage of kitchens all over the world. It is high in vitamin B12 and a host of essential amino acids. Naturally, its major downfall is the problems it creates for those with lactose intolerance. However, if you’ll scroll back up, you’re sure to find something to solve that problem and still have your Cheerios.

22. Buffalo Milk

A woman milking a buffalo.

The final item on our of all things milky might come as a bit of a shock to some. But buffalo milk has been heralded as highly nutritious, with healthy fats, and many essential nutrients like iron, phosphorus, calcium, protein, and more.

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