From time to time milk substitutes are developed and marketed in direct competition to natural milk from Cow or Buffalo. Unlike natural milk there is no ready source for plant milk which will have to be made from plant substances by deploying suitable process technologies that may be simple or complex depending on the degree of blandness desired in the final product. Way back in nineteen fifties CFTRI in India tried its luck with a milk extracted from peanuts but it never clicked among the consumers leading to its premature exit from the market. It was soybean milk which had better success and even to day population in most East Asian countries consume this milk giving soybean its nickname as "Cow of the Orient". Recently CFTRI claimed development of a milk based on a concoction of queer raw materials like drumstick leaves, mushroom etc. As this product is still confined within the four walls of this research agency, it is not yet time to assess its marketability in India. Now comes a report from Spain about the development of a plant milk based on nuts and grains which is claimed to be good for consumption by vulnerable population affected by lactose intolerance, allergies to casein, pregnant women and strict vegetarians shunning animal milk. Here is s gist of the development.
"The vegetable milk market could be about to get more varied with the findings of a new study carried out in Spain. Using probiotic bacteria obtained from grains and nuts, researchers at the Universitat Politècnica de València have come up with a range of fermented products. They hope their findings will increase the choice and the quality of plant milks for people with allergies, lactose intolerance, pregnant women and, of course, vegans. The raw materials the researchers worked with include almonds, oats and hazelnuts, and they also intend to experiment with walnuts and chestnuts. The tests carried out in vitro revealed that these milks can help fight intestinal inflammation. The researchers also found ways to improve the stability of plant milks already available in the market. "Overall, the project results contribute to increase knowledge about the nutritional and health properties of vegetable milks, in view of future industrial applications to develop innovative quality products suitable both for the general public and for specific groups," researcher Chelo González said in a press statement. The health claims associated with plant milks are quite impressive. Besides offering an alternative to those people who cannot consume animal milk for health or ethical reasons, they help increase the absorption of iron, which the caseins and other allergens found in cow's milk inhibit. They are also a good source of vitamins B and E, antioxidants and fiber. Diabetic people can also benefit from them due to the low sugar content of their fatty acids and carbohydrates. Nut-based milks can supply pregnant women with a high amount of folic acid, and help keep a balanced ratio of calcium and phosphorous".
Probably this plant milk may have a small advantage in that nuts are rich sources of folic acid making it suitable for pregnant women. Like other plant milks this is also low in carbohydrates and naturally diabetics can have an alternate option to animal milk. The claim that this product can facilitate absorption of iron across the intestine better than animal milk needs to be confirmed. Whether this will be universally acceptable is a big question as many children are allergic to tree nuts and how far the process of preparing the milk removes these allergens is not known. There is a general perception that no "artificial" milk can imitate natural milk 100%, whether in appearance, flavor, functionality or nutrition. All these players peddling plant milk products will have to deal with this in-built hesitation among the consumers in accepting imitation products, no matter how good they may be!