What is actually considered normal milk?

When I ordered a cappuccino at the coffee shop around the corner the other day, I was asked: “Normal milk or cow’s milk?” Oops, I always thought that “normal” milk came from a cow. Far from it, nowadays – at least in the trendy coffee shops in the big cities – it’s oat milk.

Picture of Barbara Beiertz

Barbara Beiertz

photo: mike jones von pexels

The milk substitute is booming.

Milk (meaning milk from cows) is under fire for many reasons: Cows emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is harmful to the climate, and land and water consumption for feed is significantly higher than for plant-based alternatives. Keeping cows is often associated with animal suffering* and the health effects of cow’s milk are also viewed more critically than in the days of “Got milk?”. (However, according to the German Nutrition Society, moderate milk consumption is neither above-average healthy nor harmful, but neutral (translated from German).**

The result: Cow’s milk consumption in Germany is falling. To a record low of 46.1 kg (101,6331 lbs) per capita in 2022.*** But we should not forget this: The German dairy industry is the largest in the EU. And in terms of turnover, it is even one of the largest food industries in our country.** So it’s no wonder that in 2023 the “Milk Initiative” was given a budget of 4 million euros to bring cow’s milk back into the minds and bellies of Germans. So a “culture war” has broken out over milk.****

So, what is the best milk?

Define “best”. The healthiest? Or the most environmentally friendly? Or the tastiest?

Let’s start with the health factors: In principle, cow’s milk has a higher amount of nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fat), vitamins and minerals, usually in larger quantities. This is why plant-based milk producers enrich their products with additives. However, they also add stabilizers, emulsifiers, and acidity regulators in order to achieve the same consistency and foaming properties as cow’s milk.***** Cow’s milk again contains lactose (milk sugar), which some people are allergic to.

Apart from that, experts are having a hard time deciding which is healthier, cow’s milk or plant milk. Soy and pea milk are comparable to cow’s milk in terms of protein content. The other plant-based drinks tend to provide less protein but more carbohydrates. To really make a decision here, you have to take a close look at the individual ingredients.

Which milk is the most climate friendly?

All of them. And none. In terms of taste, plant-based drinks are not cow’s milk. This is due to the ratio of water and tiny fat droplets. The fewer of such droplets, the more watery and less milky the drink. This is why producers of plant milks try to imitate the mouthfeel of cow’s milk by adding emulsifiers.

What remains is the plant’s own taste. Personally, I am an absolute fan of pea milk. Because it is relatively neutral and doesn’t alter the coffee with its own characteristics like oat or almond milk. But as we all know, taste is a matter of opinion.

How about you? Which plant milk do you prefer in your cappuccino? Do you stick to cow’s milk? Or do you simply drink your coffee black? Let us know in the comments.

That leaves the taste: Which milk is the tastiest?

Alle. Und keine. Geschmacklich sind die Pflanzendrinks nun mal keine Kuhmilch. Was am Verhältnis von Wasser und kleinsten Fett-Tröpfchen liegt. Je weniger solche Tröpfchen, desto wässriger und weniger milchig der Drink. Darum versucht man bei der Pflanzenmilch, mit zugesetzten Emulgatoren das Mundgefühl von Kuhmilch nachzuahmen.

Bleibt der Eigengeschmack der Pflanze. Ich persönlich bin ein absoluter Fan von Erbsenmilch. Weil sie relativ neutral ist und nicht wie Hafer- oder Mandel-Milch mit ihren Eigenheiten den Kaffee verändert. Aber über Geschmack lässt sich ja bekanntlich gut streiten.

Wie geht es euch? Welche Pflanzenmilch mögt ihr am liebsten in eurem Cappu? Bleibt ihr der Kuhmilch treu? Oder trinkt ihr ganz einfach „schwarz“? Schreibt uns doch mal in den Kommentaren.

And then there's this: Milk from the bioreactor.

No kidding, the method is called precision fermentation: The gene sequences that are responsible for the production of milk proteins in cows are specifically cut out and inserted into certain yeasts. The animals are then no longer fed, but the microorganisms are supplied with nitrogen and carbon. In the future, it would even be conceivable to use methanol as a carbon source. This in turn could be obtained from climate-damaging CO2. The milk from the bioreactor would then even have a doubly positive effect on the climate. On the one hand, animal emissions would be largely avoided. On the other hand, CO2 could even be absorbed from the air. (translated from German) ******

Sounds a bit spooky. But when you know that the dairy industry is responsible for 3.4% of global climate emissions****** – more than the CO2 emissions of the aviation and shipping industries – then it doesn’t seem so crazy anymore.


  • 4.2oz yellow shelling peas
  • 34 fl oz tap water + water for soaking and cooking
  • Optional sweetener to taste, for example 2-3 dates1 pinch of salt
  • Optional 1 tsp lecithin powder (natural emulsifier, from an organic grocery store)

Cover the peas with cold water and soak for approx. 12 hours. Drain through a sieve and boil with fresh water for 30 minutes. Drain through the sieve again. Leave to cool. Pour in 34 fl oz of water, add optional ingredients and puree. If you like, you can filter the pea milk through a cheesecloth – but then it will be quite watery.

We have also posted the recipe for homemade oat milk on our blog before. You can find it here: „Time to say goodbye“.



* According to the Federal Information Center, around 13 percent of cows live in tethered husbandry, tied to a chain in the barn. A form of husbandry that is currently being discussed for banning. 87 percent of cows are kept in loose housing. Just under 31 percent have access to pasture – ten years ago the figure was 42 percent. (translated from German) (Source Zeit online.)

** www.zeit.de/zeit-magazin/2023-02/kuhmilch-gesundheit-milchprodukte-klima-debatte/komplettansicht

*** www.bmel-statistik.de/ernaehrung/versorgungsbilanzen/milch-und-milcherzeugnisse

**** www.cicero.de/kultur/kulturkampf-in-der-kaffeetasse-hafer-gut-milch-bose

***** Oat drinks, which according to an EU regulation from 2013, like all other substitute products of non-animal origin, may not be called milk, are based on hulled and softened oat grains, which are then mixed with water and ground. This is followed by fermentation, homogenization and filtration, as well as the addition of seasonings, flavourings, vegetable oil, dipotassium phosphate, calcium carbonate, vitamins, etc. in the “Barista Edition”.

****** www.trendsderzukunft.de/kuehe-ueberfluessig-forscher-produzieren-naturidentische-milch-im-bioreaktor/#google_vignette