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I know that I've done an article on casein free milk and butter in the past, mostly as a way to clear up any confusion when I refer to soy milk as 'milk' and vegan margarine as 'butter'. However, it seems that casein free milk and butter questions are still lingering in the general population.
Is there casein in butter? What about in milk? Is there any way to remove it or buy milk and butter without casein in it? Does fat free milk have casein in it? What about ghee?
In an attempt to clear the air a bit more, here is a basic run down of casein and how to avoid it in your daily diet.
Casein is a pH sensitive protein, meaning that it will react differently in environments with different acidity levels, that makes up about 80% of the proteins found in cow milk and related products. Casein is known to be a slower digesting protein than other proteins found in milk and when ingested it coagulates into a mass in the stomach and will begin to break down into amino acids as digestion progresses.
Many people who are diagnosed as Celiac will find that they have problems digesting milks, cheeses, and yogurts that are made with animal milk. This is because the casein molecule is strikingly similar to the structure of the gluten molecule and a Celiac's body will attack it the same way that it attacks gluten. This results in similar symptoms to the ingestion of gluten and may cause itchy rashes and bumps, headaches, stomach bloat, painful cramps in the abdomen, loose stools, brain fog, and a myriad of other glamorous symptoms. Some Celiac's can tell a difference in the symptoms experienced with gluten and casein and are able to tell which they have eaten to cause problems, while others experience similar problems with little difference.
Many people seem to think that ghee is safe to use in place of butter for those with sensitivities to casein, but this can be a very dangerous assumption. Ghee is known as clarified butter in the Western World and is made by simmering pure butter until it divides into layers. The top layer that forms is composed of the whey and will be a foamy scum that gets removed with a spoon as the butter simmers. The middle will be butter fat, a golden yellow liquid, which will eventually be the ghee. The bottom layer is the milk solids and where the casein resides. Once no more whey is rising to the top, the middle layer is separated from the bottom layer by either carefully pouring it off, spooning it off the top, or using a superfine mesh strainer or cloth to separate the mixture.
Because the ghee is resting on top of the milk solids, there is interaction between the two and cross contamination can occur. However, casein is not very water soluble and this helps prevent it from transferring as much as a molecule that is water soluble, like gluten. The amount of milk solids, and therefore proteins, that end up in the ghee depend on the method used for separating the ghee from the solids. Spooning the mixture off the top and then straining the removed liquid through a superfine strainer will help eliminate most of the proteins that still remain. However, if the entire mixture, solids and fat, is dumped into a strainer there will be much more cross contamination of proteins in with the butter fat because the fat will have to run through the proteins to drop into the container.
All mammal milk contains levels of casein, including human breast milk. Different species have different ratios of proteins to fats, and even individual members of this species can have variants within their exact composition. For a casein sensitive individual the only safe milk is plant milk. Soy, hemp, rice, almond, hazelnut, and coconut are some plant-based milks that are readily available in most grocery stores, none of which naturally contain casein proteins.
Reduced fat milks have only had the fat content reduced, not the proteins removed, so they are still unsafe for individuals with casein sensitivities. While reactions may be less severe to goat, sheep, and yak milk and butter, there are still proteins – and therefore casein molecules – in these milks.
Butter is made by agitating cream until the fat begins to stick together in a solid mass. If you recall the ghee production mentioned above, you'll remember that butter can be separated into butter fat, whey, and protein solids. This means that there is casein in butter made from animal milk. Butter-like spreads can be made from vegetable oil solids and are generally known as margarine. These are safe for those sensitive to casein in theory, but many times there has been casein or whey added to the margarine to add flavor or stability to the product. Reading labels and knowing what ingredients to stay away from are key to selecting a casein free margarine.
Here are a few things to look out for when keeping an eye out for ingredients that contain casein:
Lactic Acid – can be derived from sugar beets or from mammal milk, so check the source with the company if it does not state it on the label
Whey – a milk protein that can cause reactions for some people who have casein problems and most to all people with milk allergies or lactose intolerances
Sodium Caseinate – also known as casein
Milk Solids or Milk Proteins – this could be whey or it could be casein or it could be another protein, should be avoided
The products that I use on a daily basis are Silk brand organic, unsweetened soymilk and Earth Balance vegan buttery sticks. I like the unsweetened soymilk for the neutral taste it has when added to recipes and I enjoy the buttery taste that the Earth Balance has. I also choose the organic soymilk over the conventional soymilk for the GMO free soybeans used to make the milk. The conventional Silk uses Monsanto brand GMO soybeans – a company and practice I choose not to support with my dollars.
Turtle Mountain produces an excellent coconut milk that is readily available in most cities, but is a bit pricier than soymilk (which itself is pricier than cow milk). Rice and almond milks are also available in most supermarket chains and make great alternatives for everyday cooking needs for those who need to avoid soy. Hemp milk makes a great addition to smoothies and shakes and tastes great in brown gravies.
Never fear experimenting with various products until you find one that suites your specific needs. I have gone through several brand changes while drinking soymilk over the past 4 ½ years and trying to find an alternative for butter over the last 2 ½ years. I've finally settled and know what my preferences are. Many people who have been diagnosed with Celiac's withing the past 24 months experience changes in their eating habits and flavor preferences as a side effect of the healing process. This should be expected and adjusted to in order to provide the body with what it needs and wants.
Finding casein and gluten free products that taste good has gotten easier in recent years, but can still prove to be a headache for many. Not living near a larger city or having a small grocery chain in town may pose a problem for some. Online ordering from companies and retailers is a good way to save money for those not located near a store that carries such products on a regular basis.