Plant-based milks have been called 'milk' for centuries


Credit header image:  Kjokkenutstyr Net

In the United States, dairy farmers are lobbying hard to ban nut milks from being labeled as "milk" and want them to be called "juice" or "beverage" instead.

The thing is, milk has what is called a "federal standard of identity." This states that milk is defined as a "lacteal secretion". And, well, we can all agree that technically almonds don't "lactate".

Similarly, the US Cattlemen's Association is trying to impede plant-based and lab-grown meat from being called "meat". 

At first sight, these might look like legal quarrels between the disruptive forces of progress and some conservative lobbies that want to take us back in time.

However, if we do go back in time, we might get some interesting surprises.

For example, did you know that almond milk was already a staple ingredient in the Middle Ages? And that the word "milk" has been used to refer to "the white juice of certain plants" for centuries? Furthermore, did you know that the etymology of lettuce comes from the Latin word "lact" that means "milk" because of the milky juice of the plant?

In other words, it seems that cultures across the globe have always had a pretty fluid conception of the term "milk" and didn't have any problem in using the word to refer to plant-based alternatives.

Preserving food identities is certainly a worthwhile endeavor but, beware, because they might turn out to be more complex than expected.

If you want to know more about the amazing history of nut milks have a look at this story by online magazine Atlas Obscura — a real journalistic wunderkammer of curiosities — or at this article by the Smithsonian Mag


More Stories