Food

Why buy a cow when you can get yak milk instead?

A photograph of the author, Molly Mitchell.

By Molly Mitchell

April 30, 2019

Why buy a cow when you can get yak milk instead?

In This Article

  • Cow's milk isn't the only kind of animal milk people drink.
  • We compared how different types of milk taste and what they're used for.
  • Milk consumption has a weird and wonderful history. Our handy-dandy infographic will get you started.

There's no reason to limit yourself to only chocolate or white, skim or whole. Take a cue from Prince, who soaked his breakfast cereal in yak milk. Or give a nod to the earliest ranchers, who milked sheep long before they milked cows. 

Cow milk

  • Yellowish white
  • Tastes mild and sweet
  • Used to make butter, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, dulce de leche

Water buffalo milk
Water buffalo dislike being milked and can be quite stubborn, factors that likely contribute to the high prices of buffalo milk and cheese

  • White
  • Tastes creamy and mild
  • Used to make mozzarella, paneer and khoa, kheer, ghee, yogurt
  • Has more calories, butterfat, protein and calcium than milk
  • Has less cholesterol and lactose than milk

Goat milk

People with dairy sensitivities can often digest goat milk becaue it has a lower lactose content than cow milk.
  • White
  • Tastes similar to cow milk, but can be tangy and "goaty" depending on the proximity of bucks to milking does.
  • Used to make cheese, yogurt, ice cream, cajeta, soaps and lotions

Sheep milk

Sheep's milk is naturally homogenized, meaning the fat won't separate out.
  • Buttery yellow
  • Sweeter than cow and goat milk
  • Used mostly in yogurt and cheese like feta, ricotta, Roquefort, manchego, pecorino Romano or casu marzu
  • Has more fat, protein, vitamin C and calcium than cow milk

Yak milk

Yaks produce milk tinted with blood right after they calve. This protein-charged pink milk is called "beastings." As the calves get older, yak milk turns to a creamy white.
  • Pink or white
  • Tastes sweet and rich, with a strong fragrance
  • Has more fat, protein, calcium and iron than cow milk
  • Used to make butter tea, milk wine and chhurpi
  • Yak butter is used as lamp fuel, to polish fur coats, and as a medium for traditional Tibetan sculpture.

Camel milk

Stop into the Ritz-Carlton in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, for a camel milk-based smoothie or shake.
  • White
  • Tastes salty and sweet
  • Used to make butter and cheese, but neither are easily done. More often consumed as plain milk or fermented into a fizzy, sour chai or shubat. Sometimes it is blended into high-end chocolate.
  • Has more vitamin C than cow milk
  • Has less fat, protein and lactose than cow milk

Bonus milk:

  • Reindeer are the only source of milk in northern Scandinavia because no other dairy animals can survive there
  • Kumis, or fermented horse milk, has been popular for centuries among the people of the Central Asian steppes. Herodotus wrote about the production of kumis in the fifth centruy B.C.E.

Top photo: Yak milk butter tea via Yosomono [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]