What is Lab Milk? (Should You Drink It?)

Written by: Cait Charles

You absolutely love the taste of fresh, creamy cow’s milk…but you’ve sworn off dairy for environmental reasons.

Or perhaps because you think cows are cute and shouldn’t be subjected to the horrors of factory farming

Soy milk just ain’t cutting it, and cashew milk doesn’t quench the craving. You’ve got a hankering for the real thing, and you’re udderly convinced nothing else will taste quite the same.

What are you to do?

Enter lab milk.

Yep, that’s right; we can now grow milk in a laboratory, with zero cows involved.

Intrigued, we at Milk Pick conducted a thorough investigation of lab milk.

We learned about where the starting materials come from, how it's made, its potential benefits, and drawbacks.

Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that we don’t recommend it–but you can judge for yourself. Below we’ll share the results of our exploration. 

Lab Milk: Origins and Production

Ryan Pandya co-founded dairy-free milk protein company Perfect Day.

Before doing so, he figured out a way to make whey protein (one of the key proteins involved in dairy milk’s creamy deliciousness) without ever even thinking of a cow.

The process he used is pretty fascinating.

It involves the use of microflora, which are tiny but powerful microorganisms that can do big things, like aid in human digestion and nourish trees.

microflora definition

Source: Perfect Day

Here’s how it works:

  1. Microflora are given a precise DNA sequence that acts as a blueprint and shows them how to make the same whey protein found in cow’s milk. No animals are required in creating the DNA blueprint.
  2. The microflora are mixed with a broth of water, nutrients, and sugar and left to ferment. As they ferment, they produce whey protein.
  3. The protein is separated from the microflora, filtered, purified, and dried. And voila, it can be used to make milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, or any other dairy-flavored delicacy!

Here's a video with more info about Perfect Day.

Perfect Day is not the only company doing this–there are a handful of others out there.

Turtle Tree Labs, for example, uses a similar process involving microbes to make lactoferrin, another key protein found in milk. 

In the long run, Turtle Tree Labs also aspires to bring cell-based milk to the world.

This is produced by growing cells from mammals in a lab and using them to produce milk inside bioreactors.

The cells cling on to tiny straws, through which fluid is drawn up–and authentic, true-to-taste milk comes out the other end! So far, this has been done with cells from cows, goats, sheep, and camels. 

Lab milk can also be made by extracting whey and casein from actual cow’s milk, and then combining these proteins with a particular type of yeast which is able to replicate cells.

Proponents of this method maintain that because the involvement needed from an actual cow is minimal and only required at the start of the process, it is an ethical way to produce milk.

This industry is only in its infancy; aside from the methods explained above, there may be other ways to produce lab milk as well.

Potential Benefits of Lab Milk

Although we would recommend opting for an earth-friendly almond or oat milk instead, there are somereasons why some people might decide that laboratory-made milk is the best choice for them.


Producing milk in a lab requires far less land, food, medicine, and water resources than it takes to grow a calf into a cow–by many orders of magnitude.

Although lab milk is not yet mass-produced, it has the potential to get there.

Better for the Animals

Some methods of producing lab milk (such as using microflora or microbes) require zero animals whatsoever.

Other methods do require cells from a real animal or some real animal milk to kickstart the process.

Compared with what animals normally go through in the process of producing milk for human consumption, these new methods are very benign. 

Keeping Ancient Culinary Traditions Alive 

A multitude of cultural and ethnic groups have unique food traditions involving dairy, and most are not about to throw those away.

If you tell an Italian to stop eating their Pecorino Romano, a Russian not to make Tvarog, or an American to abandon their favorite Wisconson or Vermont cheddar, they’re not going to be too thrilled. 

At the same time, it’s also true that people all around the world are more and more aware of the major environmental and animal rights-related disadvanages of traditional cow’s milk.

The cognitive dissonance is real.

If folks can source their dairy from lab milk, however, they’ll be able to stay true to their traditional delicacies without harming actual cows, or the planet. 


Most lab milk brands use plant sugars in place of lactose to develop the product’s carb content.

Therefore, lab milk is generally safe for people who are lactose intolerant.

Antibiotic and Hormone Free 

According to several studies, regular cow’s milk contains worrying quantities of hormones and antibiotics, because these are given to the cows. This is not an issue with lab milk.

hormones in dairy milk study

Drawbacks of Lab Milk

Despite the benefits listed above, lab milk comes with a range of risks and drawbacks. For us, these are enough to recommend against consuming it.

Unknown Health Effects 

Milk made in a lab is not produced the same way as it is inside a cow or another animal.

Therefore, its health effects may vary–for better or for worse.

It’s possible that there could be negative ramifications associated with the plant-based fats and sugars used in lab milk production.

We just don’t know yet. 

We don’t know how these products may effect people over the long term or how they may effect people with various medical conditions.

We don’t even have conclusive data yet on their short-term effects. 

Some Animal Involvement 

Many vegans feel that humans should not interfere in the lives of our nonhuman animal friends, period.

Lab milks made by using real animal cells or real animal milk at the start of the process do not fit this paradigm, which means that they are not suitable for those who consider themselves vegan and adhere to strict standards about what that means. 

Genetic Modification 

Perfect Day’s process (detailed above) involves genetically modifying microflora.

If you’ve been keeping up with the debate over the safety of genetically modified foods, this may worry you.

Not Suitable for People who are Allergic to Cow’s Milk 

Because lab-made milk contains the same proteins as actual dairy milk, people who are allergic to dairy will likely experience an allergic reaction to lab milk, too.

Price and Availability 

At this point, lab milk is

  1. Expensive 
  2. Not widely available

Getting ahold of it requires going out of your way and forking over more than you would pay for an alternative plant-based milk.

Should You Drink Lab-Grown Milk?

For us, the bottom line is that although lab milk may be a good option for some, we don’t recommend it at this time.

It’s still new enough that it has not been extensively tested, so we cannot vouch for its safety and benefits for health.

We also question the ethics of obtaining starting materials from living animals.

Luckily, there are a multitude of delicious alternative milks on the market.

Why not try an equally rich, ethically and sustainably-produced flax, oat, or almond milk instead?

About the Author

Cait Charles is a digital nomad content writer. She has written about relationships and marriage, psychology, wellness, nutrition, and family law, while living in 11 countries on 4 continents.