What Is Animal-Free Milk?

The new dairy alternative is coming to a store near you.

April 13, 2023
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Last week, Sprouts Farmers Market, the supermarket chain known for its wide selection of natural and organic foods, announced that it will begin selling animal-free milk at its nearly 400 locations across the country. Animal-free milk—as the name suggests—doesn’t come from cows. It’s not made from almonds, oats, or soy, either. Instead, it comes from a database.

Animal-free milk, also known as cell-cultured milk, is a vegan milk alternative made through a process known as precision fermentation. The process begins by 3D printing milk’s DNA sequence onto yeast or fungi. The printed DNA is then fed plant-based nutrients until it produces a milk-like whey protein. That protein is separated, dried into powder, and used to make—what we call—animal-free milk.

While that process may sound dystopian, large-scale traditional milk is by no means better. As you likely know, dairy farming isn’t exactly environmentally friendly—the 13 biggest dairy companies produce the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as the entire United Kingdom. It’s not the poster child of ethical farming, either. According to The New York Times, the typical American dairy cow spends its entire life in a concrete-floored enclosure.

Animal-free milk intends to solve both the environmental and ethical shortcomings of traditional dairy. It’s been reported that animal-free milk could generate 97 percent fewer emissions than its traditional counterpart. Moreover, cows are never needed during animal-free milk production.

Unlike other alternatives, animal-free milk is designed to be exactly like traditional milk. Because it has the same genetic makeup as what comes from a cow’s udder, animal-free milk truly does replicate the flavor and texture of milk. Bored Cow, the brand entering Sprouts Farmers Market, promotes this sentiment on its website, describing its product as “cow-free dairy that looks, feels, tastes, and acts just like the real thing.”

For those with a dairy allergy, animal-free milk is not a silver bullet. Since it has the same genetic makeup of traditional milk, animal-free will cause the same adverse reaction one would expect when drinking the real stuff. However, if you’re simply lactose intolerant, you’ll be happy to learn that it does not contain any lactose.

On its website, Bored Cow sells four 32-ounce cartons of its fermented product for $26. I can buy the same volume (one gallon) of regular milk at my Whole Foods for $6.99. Are the environmental and ethical improvements worth the additional $20? At this point, it’s hard to say for sure—we haven't tasted it yet.

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Paul Hagopian

Written by: Paul Hagopian

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