The majority of country’s population depends on milk for nourishment. It has long been touted as a rich source of calcium, protein and other vital nutrients. But today there is a different scenario as people are becoming more aware of the food they consume. There are numerous challenges associated with dairy based milk that have come into light recently. Antibiotics and hormones are pumped into animals to increase and induce milk production
. Milk is also prolifically being adulterated with caustic soda, detergent, white paint and other harmful substances. In the recent past, plant based milk has been gaining popularity as Dairy products
are slowly and steadily being replaced by a multitude of plant based products originating from almonds, cashew, walnut, hazelnut, rice, oats, etc.
Several reasons can be cited for the growing popularity of plant-based milk, including ethical and environmental concerns and health reasons. As well as plant based products rank higher on sustainability, thanks to lower consumption of energy, land and water. Studies have shown that at least 60% of Indians are lactose intolerant, so switching to plant-based alternatives is a natural choice for them. Moreover, nowadays there is common practice of injecting cows with antibiotics and hormones to increase their milk yield. This has added a milk posed danger to health. In a recent study it has come out that Vegan milks are free of any kind of hormones and therefore they are less cancer inducing as compared to dairy milk.
Plant based milk is ideal for those who follow a vegan diet. It is also ideal for people who are having slow digestive system and hence provides them relief from gastric disturbances. Plant based milk is here to stay as it is much more than just a change in diet and lifestyle. Veganism has become a viable choice among the consumers globally due to profusion of information available online. “People across the world have begun realising the importance of going environment friendly after learning that plant based products have a much lower carbon footprint”, says Kunal Mutha, founder of Only Earth, a plant-based beverage brand. Many skin experts have linked acne to consumption of dairy products. Plant based milk has many other health benefits that appeal to users.
The plant based milks are also being widely used as a functional replacement for use in bakery products and specialty beverages. For example, almond milk has a slightly sweet flavour and creamy texture, so it works very well with desserts. On the other hand, Soy milk remains stable at high temperatures, so it’s great for savoury dishes.
But right now there are some technological interventions in improving the quality and acceptability of plant based milk alternatives.
Fortification of Plant-based Milk
A substitute food is a food designed to resemble a common food in appearance, texture, flavour and odour, and is intended to be used as a complete or partial replacement for the food it resembles. Plant based milks in general are inexpensive substitutes to cow’s milk to those who cannot afford cow’s milk because of high cost and limited availability and to those who are allergic to cow’s milk but, nutritionally they are not comparable or equivalent to cow’s milk. People who consume cereal milk in place of bovine milk are more prone to nutritional inadequacy. So, in order to use plant based milk as substitute of cow’s milk, fortification with protein, essential vitamins and minerals is generally performed.
"Plant based milk that contain less protein than cow’s milk are required by law to have advice on the label that the product is not suitable as a complete milk replacement for children under 5 years old," says Pooja Banga, a Nutritionist & Wellness Coach.
Improvement in Shelf Life
Plant based milk being rich source of nutrients serves an ideal medium for growth of micro-organisms, and therefore, its quality is adversely affected by the rapid growth of micro-organisms. Thermal treatment has long been used as a processing method to extend the shelf life of food products by eliminating or reducing spoilage and pathogenic micro-organisms. But presence of high starch concentration in oat milk, rice milk etc. limits its application, and therefore, these types of plant based milk require application of non-thermal processing technologies to extend the shelf life.
Heat treatment has been utilized to increase the shelf life of plant based milk along with the objectives of increasing total solids yield and improvement of flavour whereas, excessive heating found to cause detrimental effects on nutrients. So, in order to eliminate or reduce the destructive effects on plant based milk, various combinations of time and temperature have been employed to have best quality product.
Requirements of Labelling and Marketing
Since national legislation on food labelling varies from country to country, principle terminology in categorizing these plant based milk alternatives has been under debate at international level. The legislation and labelling requirements allows names in accordance with the composition and the law and custom of the country so that the product is sold and in a manner, not to mislead the consumer. Soy milk is labelled all over the world as “soy milk”, expect in European countries where legislation prohibits the use of the word “milk” for drinks that are not made from mammary secretions. Council Regulation 1234/2007 clearly specifies that “the term milk shall mean exclusively the normal mammary secretions obtained from one or more milking without either addition there to or extraction there from”.
Improving Product Stability
Stability of plant based milk depends on the size of dispersed phase particles. Plant based milk are colloidal systems formed by large sized dispersed particles such as fat globules, solid particles from raw materials, proteins and starch granules which make it difficult to obtain a stable product to be stored, not for very long time due to sedimentation or settling of solid particles. The instability of plant based milk due to presence of large sized particles results in a sandy, gritty or chalky mouth feel and lack of creaminess due to their low fat content.
Scope in Future
Plant based milk alternatives represents an enormous expansion prospective for health food market, and needs to be widely investigated through the development of advanced processing, technological interventions, fortification techniques for developing a nutritionally complete beverage with high overall acceptability.