Words Matter! Dairy-Free vs. Animal-Free Dairy
By Kathleen Nay
Animal-free. Dairy-free. Vegan. Plant-based. This is just a sampling; there are so many labels to describe food products nowadays. There’s a lot of confusion around what we mean when we call our products animal-free. Are all these terms just different ways of saying the same thing?
In short: no! They each mean something different.
While there is plenty of other reading on the differences between vegan and plant-based, this article will clarify the differences between animal-free and dairy-free. Products cobranded with Perfect Day are animal-free, but they are very much not dairy-free. This is an important distinction because people who have allergic reactions to conventional dairy may also react to animal-free dairy.
We know that animal-free dairy sounds like a contradiction, but take a look at our technology to learn how we make it possible. Keep reading below to learn more about what’s behind these sometimes confusing terms.
Let's start by defining our terms:
Perfect Day’s core mission is to develop foods that bring kinder, greener choices to the world. Currently, we provide our partners with familiar ingredients made with an innovative, animal-free twist to deliver the same creamy, melty, silky enjoyment of dairy while meeting the growing consumer demand for more sustainable and animal-friendly products.
The Power of Protein
We talk a lot about protein — especially the dairy proteins whey and casein. Sometimes we even call protein milk's “magic” ingredient.
But there isn't anything magic about milk or its proteins. The field of food science demonstrates that specific proteins are useful for specific purposes. Food makers like to use dairy proteins in product formulations because these proteins do things that plant-based proteins can’t, like emulsifying fats, promoting gelation, or boosting heat stability.
In plainer terms: the protein in milk is responsible for making ice cream creamy. It's responsible for the way cheese melts and stretches when heated, and why whipping air into cream causes it to “peak.” For all the things people love about dairy foods, we have dairy proteins to thank. This helps explain why plant-based products just aren't the same as their conventional dairy counterparts! It’s why Perfect Day has focused on making highly functional dairy protein ingredients — without the use of cows or their milk.
Dairy: Not Just from Cows Anymore
The word dairy has historically been associated with cows and animal agriculture. Now that science has removed cows from the dairy equation, we've been met with some understandable confusion: are our products dairy-free or not?
On this we need to be clear: Perfect Day products are not dairy-free. What they are is animal-free. For the first time in history, we've uncoupled dairy production from animal agriculture. We've found a way to change the process, not the food. (Take a peek at our technology.)
Okay, you might be thinking, but if it's a different process, why call it dairy at all? Why not just call it something else?
So glad you asked. We call it dairy because on a molecular level, it is identical to dairy, and your body will react to it as dairy. To help people make informed choices about their food, we have to call it what it is.
Animal-Free Dairy: A Solution for All Kinds of Eaters
There are lots of reasons someone might choose to eat an animal-free and/or a dairy-free diet, and a few of those include:
Some of these motivations overlap, but each is a little different from the other. Let's break it down.
If you adhere to a vegan lifestyle or want to minimize your environmental footprint, animal-free tells you quickly and clearly that no cow or any other animal was used to make a product. While dairy-free might be a decent proxy for this information, animal-free dairy indicates that a product is the same in some key ways to a conventional dairy product.
Perfect Day’s cobranded animal-free products contain the what — the protein — but change the how of dairy. Remember, we’ve made it possible to uncouple dairy and cows. Animal-free tells you that the making of the product avoided all the downsides of animal agriculture, even if it has dairy protein in it, without giving up those luxe qualities we love about our favorite dairy foods.
If you avoid dairy because of a health concern, the difference between labels like dairy-free and animal-free is especially crucial. Some details on what we mean by health concerns:
Lactose intolerance is a digestive disorder caused by the inability to digest lactose. Lactose, a milk sugar (carbohydrate), is a naturally occurring component of cow’s milk that requires an enzyme called lactase for proper digestion. Some 75% of people do not naturally make enough lactase in their bodies to properly digest lactose.1 That’s about seven out of every ten people! While lactose intolerance isn't life threatening, it can cause major discomfort. These folks often have to forego dairy products entirely — or else live with the abdominal consequences.
Importantly, the protein in milk offers far more nutrition, functionality, and versatility when used in food products than lactose does, so there isn’t much benefit in adding lactose to products. Perfect Day’s process for making dairy protein avoids creating byproducts like lactose in the first place. Our animal-free dairy protein will always be lactose-free and can be used by food brands to empower lactose-intolerance sufferers to enjoy true dairy foods for the first time.
Dairy allergy is much less common than lactose intolerance but potentially much more severe. Food allergies are harmful immune responses to specific substances, typically proteins. Approximately 6% of children and 1–2% of adults suffer from an allergy to dairy protein, with reactions ranging from mild to life threatening.2 This is the most important reason we emphasize that products made with Perfect Day ingredients include dairy proteins.
Federal law requires food makers to disclose the presence of a milk allergen on food packaging.3 Usually the presence of a milk allergen appears beneath the ingredients panel, in bold text, reading: CONTAINS: MILK. Perfect Day's cobranded products don't contain milk, but they do contain the same protein, so we require our partners to include CONTAINS: MILK PROTEIN or CONTAINS: MILK ALLERGEN on packaging. Ingredient panels will also list non-animal whey protein among the ingredients.
Safety, transparency, and consumer choice are our highest priorities. If you see the phrase animal-free dairy on a cobranded Perfect Day product, you can trust that no animal was involved in the making of it, despite containing whey or casein. You'll also know that its functional proteins will provide a rich, creamy, quintessentially dairy experience — and that because of those proteins, the product should be avoided by anyone with a dairy allergy.
Our innovation at Perfect Day is that we've reinvented the how of dairy — but kept the what. This means that if you live a vegan lifestyle, strive to minimize your environmental footprint, or even if you're lactose intolerant, animal-free dairy products are crafted with you in mind. However, if you are among those with a dairy allergy, you should think of animal-free dairy the same way you think of any conventional dairy product: as dairy.
Animal-free dairy isn’t impossible. It’s not magic, either. It simply describes a new method for making our favorite dairy foods — a method that is better for people, animals, and the planet. And that's exactly what we love about it.
1. West, Helen. (2017, June 24). Lactose intolerance 101 – Causes, symptoms and treatment.
2. Castle, Jill. (2020, July 16). A guide to the most common food allergies. Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/the-most-common-food-allergies-1324134#milk-allergy.