Fad or Future

Could ‘healthy’ horse milk catch on?

An oddball alternative to traditional dairy, mare’s milk is reported to have cancer-reducing properties, but consumers may take more convincing before it’s a mainstream foodstuff in the UK

20 March 2020
dairydrinknutrition
image credit: Getty Images

Over the years, we’ve discussed the nutritional aspects and fluctuating consumer perceptions of both dairy-based milk and its plant-based siblings at length.

But we must admit, horse milk is a new one for us.

Still a staple drink in the steppes of central Asia (particularly in its fermented form, kumis), mare’s milk has been consumed for generations, with health benefits preached without any real scientific basis.

Until now, perhaps, with researchers at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan (where horse’s milk is a commonly consumed foodstuff) suggesting it could help tackle inflammatory diseases, tuberculosis, high blood pressure and even certain types of cancer.

In a recent study, they found that horse’s milk has much higher levels of albumin - a protein that helps regulate blood pressure and has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects - than in cow’s milk.

The researchers also claim that regular consumption could reduce the risk of cancerous cells developing, with the casein found in mare’s milk said to be toxic to breast cancer cells.

It has been said that horse’s milk is similar in base composition to human milk, making it a potential in the baby food category, with the ongoing boom in healthy eating and general wellbeing (coupled with rising consumer curiosity both in retail and foodservice) an ideal environment for the niche and lesser known.

But is horse’s milk a step too far in terms of traditional alternatives in the UK? And what is the science behind the health claims?

Hold your horses?

image credit: Getty Images

A recent survey by Streetbees found that having enough protein in their diets was very important to 84% of UK consumers, with fat content being the third biggest consumer concern with traditional diary consumption.

And, as explained by registered nutritionist Laura Wyness, horse’s milk seems to beat cow’s milk on both counts.

“Mare’s milk has a lower energy value compared to cow’s milk, due to a lower fat content,” says Wyness, “while the proteins in mare’s milk may actually make it more favourable than cow’s milk for human consumption.

“This is due to the composition and structure of the proteins making it more digestible than cow’s milk for some.”

A strong start out of the blocks for horse’s milks, it seems. But what is albumin and would having an increased amount of it be an attractive proposition to consumers?

“Albumin is made in the liver from the protein and amino acids in our diet,” explains Wyness. “It has a number of functions including helping maintain fluid and electrolyte balance within the body and transporting hormones and vitamins around the body, although it should be said that there are no EFSA approved health claims for albumin.

 “If someone didn’t eat enough protein foods, such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, beans and legumes, their levels of albumin would eventually decrease. But the vast majority of people in the UK obtain adequate protein in their diet.”

Perhaps the most critical point with horse’s milk is its viability as an accepted mainstream foodstuff in the UK, with Wyness one to rein in any suggestion that consumers would embrace it.

“I really can’t see this catching on with consumers in the UK as horses are considered more of a domestic rather than farmed animal,” she says.

Perhaps the safe money’s on insects being the first ‘exotic’ foodstuff to the mainstream finishing line?

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