How Do They Take Lactose Out of Milk?

There is an age-old assumption that lactose-intolerant people can’t drink milk.

People think that any dairy product, including milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt, are off-limits unless you want to spend your afternoon cramping or in the bathroom.

What if we told your assumption is wrong?

There is a world where you can enjoy real milk and dairy products.

Okay, where?

Before you pack your bags to move to another planet, I’m going to tell you a secret.

That world is our world.

Lactose-free milk and dairy products exist on our lovely planet earth.

How do they take the lactose out of milk?

Well, we’re here to answer that for you today.

There are unique processes that dairy companies use to make your milk products safe for consumption. It is even possible to do this at home.

If you’re curious and want to know how this “magic” happens, we’re here to demystify this for you. Stay tuned to learn all about lactose-free dairy products and dairy companies make them.

What is lactose?

Let’s start by defining what lactose is in the first place.

Lactose is a pesky sugar found in milk products that can be difficult for some people to digest.

People who can drink milk with no issues have enough lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose in your intestine.

If you are lactose-intolerant, your body doesn’t produce enough of this enzyme, and the lactose goes straight to your colon.

In the colon, it mixes and mingles with bacteria and ferments. This process causes the discomfort that many lactose-intolerant people face.

As a result, many people face bloating, diarrhea, and cramping.

Lactose-free dairy products

So, what counts as a lactose-free dairy product?

You would think that this definition would be as simple as any product that does not contain lactose.

However, this isn’t always the case.

There are many methods for making lactose-laden dairy safe for consumers to drink.

Some methods remove the lactose altogether, while others add something to diminish its harmful effects.

Methods for producing lactose-free dairy

Lactase

One way that milk producers “remove” the lactose is by adding lactase to milk.

The lactase will convert lactose sugars into glucose and galactose to make it easier to digest.

After this process, lactase is still active in the milk.

To deactivate it, manufacturers ultra-pasteurize it to extend its shelf-life. 

Removing lactose completely

In the early 2000s, a Finnish company found a way to remove the lactose in milk without compromising its flavor.

Their complicated method physically removes the lactose in milk using a process called “chromatographic separation.”  

Since it requires more steps than simply adding lactase to milk, it can be more costly than regular milk and lactose-free alternatives.

Aged dairy products 

Other dairy products that have milk in them are naturally lactose-free or have insignificant amounts of lactose.

Manufacturers typically separate curds from whey during production. Most of the lactose in milk is in the whey.

Small amounts of lactose remain in the curds, but during the aging process, they break down.

What is left is delicious aged cheese that has little to no lactose. 

Cultured or fermented products

Products like yogurt and cheese that are fermented or cultured have very little lactose.

The process of culturing these products pre-digests most of the lactose so that it won’t end up in your gut.

By doing this, it allows you to eat these dairy products without regretting your life choices.

Homemade lactose-free milk

Some of the methods used to produce lactose-free milk can be costly.

Consumers can make dairy safe to drink at home.

Some common methods for doing this include:

  • Add lactase or probiotics to milk break down lactose
  • Taking lactase tablets before consuming dairy
  • Taking a probiotic supplement when eating dairy

Is lactose-free milk the same as regular milk?

So, once they take the lactose out of milk, does it taste the same?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Taste can depend on the lactose removal process and ingredients added to the milk.

If you are curious what lactose-free milk products taste like, here is an overview of some popular ones:

What are some lactose-free milk products available?

Lactaid

Lactaid is one of the most famous lactose-free brands on the market. What does this milk taste like?

Most people say that Lactaid has a slightly sweet flavor. This sweet flavor comes from lactose being pre-broken down into digestible sugars.  Some people enjoy the sweeter taste, but others do not. 

Fairlife

Fairlife milk prides itself on being “ultrafiltered.” Compared to regular milk, it’s higher in protein and has lower sugar levels. Many of their milk products are lactose-free.

Consumers say Fairlife not only tastes like real milk, but it’s higher quality milk.  For some, it’s the only lactose-free milk they enjoy.

Horizon

For those looking for organic lactose-free milk, Horizon is a popular choice.

This milk is ultra-pasteurized and has 38% less fat than regular milk.

Reviewers say that this milk tastes exactly like the real deal without the uncomfortable and painful side effects of drinking regular milk!

Skim Plus

Skim Plus milk products have no fat, artificial growth hormones, or antibiotics. Their lactose-free version is ultra-pasteurized with vitamins A & D and is more nutritious than regular milk.

People who drank Skim Plus love that this milk is rich and creamy without regular cow’s milk’s high-fat content.

Dairy-free alternatives

While many lactose-free dairy products are on the market, many people want to avoid dairy for numerous reasons.

It is important to note that lactose-free doesn’t mean dairy-free and that those with dairy allergies still need to avoid dairy.

Some people prefer non-dairy alternatives because of taste, health, or ethical reasons.

A few popular non-dairy milk alternatives include:

  • Oatmilk
  • Almond milk
  • Soy milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Cashew Milk
  • Rice Milk
  • Hem Milk

These non-dairy alternatives to milk vary in price, taste, texture, and nutritional value.

It is up to you to decide what is best for your nutritional and taste needs.

“Whey” ing your options

There are many great lactose-free options on the market.

Manufacturers use a variety of techniques to produce these products.

This process can impact the milk’s taste, nutritional properties, and price.

However, there are numerous lactose-free brands out there to meet your needs and preferences.

If you prefer to go the non-dairy route, there are plenty of alternatives for you to try!

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