What Is a Milk Derivative? What Does It Mean? (Full Answer Here)

Did you know that certain non-dairy products contain milk derivatives? People sometimes assume that non-dairy is equivalent to having zero dairy ingredients in a product, but that’s untrue, according to the Food and Drug Administration that released a statement explaining the differences between “non-dairy” and “dairy-free”. 

For instance, it’s not unusual to find someone purchasing a non-dairy product, and then complaining about the fact the product contains a milk-derivative. Yes, this happens and might beg the question – is a milk-derivative not a dairy product? What is a milk derivative? This is what we hope to answer in this article. 

We will also explain whether vegans, people with lactose intolerances, and milk allergies can consume products that contain milk-derivatives. Ready? Let’s get started.

“Milk Derivative” Definition

milk derivatives

The term “milk derivative” refers to any ingredient that stems from milk. In other words, a milk derivative is not milk, but an ingredient that is typically extracted from milk. 

Milk derivatives encompass several ingredients, which are usually properties within milk that serve various purposes in products other than affecting their flavor profile. 

For instance, when making bread, milk derivatives may be incorporated in the form of whey powder, milk fat, casein, and so on. These ingredients provide the bread with flavor, color (crumb and crust) and also make the dough smoother. 

Here is a short list of milk-derivatives:

  • Skimmed milk solids, dry milk solids
  • Curds, whey, whey powder
  • Milk powder, skimmed milk powder, whole milk powder
  • Casein, sodium caseinate, milk protein, hydrolyzed milk protein
  • Lactose, milk sugar
  • Concentrated butter, butter oil, butter (powder), milk fat, milk salt.

Sodium caseinate is a milk derivative that you can find in many commercial non-dairy creamers, but that’s only because non-dairy products aren’t always free from dairy. 

“Non” means “not”, so we generally assume that a non-dairy product doesn’t contain dairy, but as we’ve seen that isn’t the case. This is a labelling conundrum that is still ongoing despite the FDA’s knowledge. 

Here is what the FDA has to say about non-dairy and dairy-free products:

“We do not have a definition for the term non-dairy in our regulations for food labeling.  However, we do not consider the terms “nondairy” and “dairy free” to be equivalent.  We have interpreted the term “dairy free” as meaning the complete absence of all dairy ingredients including lactose, etc.  The term “nondairy” refers to products, such as nondairy whipped topping and nondairy creamers, that may contain a caseinate milk derivative.”

It’s worth mentioning that the FDA once stated that products labeled as non-dairy could contain up to 0.5% milk by weight in the form of casein/caseinates. Hence the reason some non-dairy products contain sodium caseinate. 

Certain ingredients like “lactic acid” and “lactate” also appear on many labels, and many people believe those are milk derivatives but they’re chemicals that have nothing to do with milk. The only exception is sterol lactate, which is produced using stearic acid. Lactic acid and lactate are produced by a fermentation process that uses cornstarch or beet sugar, which are both derived from plants. 

Can Lactose Intolerants Have “Milk Derivatives”?

Having a lactose intolerance is not the same thing as having a milk allergy, and for most people, having intolerance means a slight discomfort.

Some people might not be able to drink milk but may be able to eat cheese and yogurt, because these have less lactose than milk. In short, tolerances change based on the individual. 

As we age, our bodies produce fewer lactase enzymes, so humans gradually lose the ability to digest lactose.

In fact, lactose intolerance is not uncommon. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney estimates that between 30 million and 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant. In certain ethnicities, lactose intolerance is more common. It is estimated that 75% of all adult African Americans and Native Americans and 90% of Asian Americans are lactose intolerant.

To answer the question – milk derivatives are usually added in small quantities, so depending on how intolerant a person is, they may or not feel immediate repercussions. 

Can You Consume “Milk Derivatives” If You’re Allergic to Milk?

People with milk allergy should not consume milk-derivatives, not even sodium caseinate.

Milk proteins, no matter how altered they are, cause an allergic reaction, which is the reason why, as one of the major allergens, milk and its derivatives must always be labeled, even in non-dairy products. 

What is the Milk Derivative in Coffee Mate?

coffee mate

Coffee Mate is a coffee whitener lactose-free creamer manufactured by Nestlé, which is available in powdered, , liquid and concentrated liquid forms. This product, unfortunately, contains 

The Original Coffee Mate contains the following ingredients:

  • glucose syrup
  • hydrogenated vegetable oil (may contain coconut)
  • palm kernel and/or soybean oil
  • sodium caseinate (a milk derivative)
  • dipotassium phosphate
  • sodium aluminum silicate
  • monoglycerides
  • acetylated tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides
  • artificial flavour
  • color.

It turns out that the milk derivative present in Coffee Mate is sodium caseinate. 

Are “Milk Derivatives” Vegan-Friendly?

Milk derivatives are not vegan-friendly. 

Here is the definition of veganism, according to the Vegan Society:

“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

Vegans avoid milk derivatives (and many other ingredients sourced from animals) because in the production of milk (and milk-derivatives), there is animal exploitation, and in many cases, animal cruelty.  

Even with something like a non-dairy creamer which might contain 0.5% milk proteins, someone that is vegan wouldn’t eat it knowing there’s a milk-derivative, otherwise, that person would be a vegetarian. 

A vegetarian is generally someone that doesn’t eat meat or fish, but may be fine with eating animal-derivatives, namely milk, eggs, honey, and so on. 


A milk derivative is an ingredient that is usually extracted from milk and added to a product for a specific purpose, and we can find it across many industries including food, medicine, beauty and various others. 

Milk derivatives include sodium caseinate, dried whey, lactose, butter oil, dry milk solids, and a whole bunch of other ingredients with similar properties. 

If you have a lactose intolerance, you may be able to consume milk derivatives, but if you’re allergic to milk, milk derivatives will cause an allergic reaction. Also, milk derivatives are not vegan-friendly. 

Alexandre Valente

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for more than five years! I've set up this blog because I'm really passionate about veganism and living a more eco-conscious life. Hopefully, I can use this website as a channel to help you out on your own journey!

Is Coffee Beneficial To A Vegan Diet?
Previous Post Is Coffee Beneficial To A Vegan Diet?
Are Pretzels Vegan? Here’s All You Need To Know!
Next Post Are Pretzels Vegan? Here’s All You Need To Know!