Okay, that is a cruel teaser as many of you may not be able to purchase normal milk for less than $3.00 per gallon. Around here it varies from just under $1.90 on sale up to $2.50. Lately it has been about $2.00. The cost to convert the gallon to lactose-free milk is only $0.67 per gallon. If you want to know how to do this right now and don’t care for a lot of details click here and scroll down to the section, “How to make your own lactose-free milk.”
Over the last decade my husband Joshua has realized that he is lactose intolerant. At first we didn’t know why he was having digestive issues (he denied even having a problem!) but over a period of time we began to realize his cramping and other symptoms were typically after consuming milk. After some experimentation we determined that when Joshua would forgo the consumption of milk products containing lactose the symptoms went away.
Joshua tried some of the lactase pills, both the daily and meal-time solutions, with unfavorable results. Due to the cost of lactose-free milk, Joshua decided to avoid consuming milk in general and when indulging ice cream to buy the Breyer’s brand lactose-free ice cream. This worked for a while, but over the years we began including more milk products into our diet and we began buying lactose-free milk -- especially as Joshua started enjoying a homemade mocha frappuccino most mornings!
Our food budget cried.
While it was nice for Joshua to re-introduce milk into his diet, lactose-free milk is about $8-$9 per gallon in our area. This is compared to $2 per gallon for normal milk! The 4-fold mark up is ridiculous!
Leave it to my husband: he started researching a way to make his own lactose-free milk!
The following is some background information on lactose, lactose intolerance, and the lactase enzyme.
Note: Statistics for the following were obtained from the Wikipedia’s article on lactose intolerance. Please consult that article or a trusted resource for a fuller overview of lactose intolerance.
What is Lactose?
Sugars are the basic building blocks to starches and carbohydrates. Familiar sugars include sucrose (common table sugar), fructose, and glucose as well as sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol. Lactose is another common sugar and is often called “milk sugar” because it is most often found in milk products. Cow and goat milk are about 5% lactose whereas human milk is about 9% lactose. Fermented products like yogurt, kefir, and some aged cheeses have significantly less lactose than milk has.
What is Lactose Intolerance?
Before discussing lactose intolerance it is helpful to understand how the body usually processes lactose sugars. When a person ingests dairy products the dairy enters the stomach and small intestine. It is here where the body releases the lactase enzyme that breaks the lactose sugars down and they are absorbed into the blood stream for utilization.
Lactose intolerance is the inability to properly digest lactose. This intolerance is due to the lack of sufficient amounts of the lactase enzyme in the digestive track to break down the lactose sugars in the small intestine. The undigested lactose sugars pass into the colon where the natural bacteria digest these sugars which causes the symptoms associated with lactose intolerance.
Lactose intolerance is an interesting condition because it becomes more common as people age. Scientist believe it is a “weaning” mechanism where the body gradually stops producing lactase as a person’s diet changes from milk to solids. In some countries lactose intolerance is very rare (5%) among adults while in others it affects over 90% of adults.
It is worth noting that lactose intolerance is not equivalent to a milk allergy where the body’s immune system reacts to the milk proteins.
How does Lactase help?
Someone who is lactose intolerance is unable to produce enough, if any, lactase by themselves. The introduction of the lactase enzyme into foods prior to consumption or at the time of consumption aids in this process, avoiding the side effects of lactose intolerance.
Nutritionally, dairy products that are lactose-free are identical to the non-processed forms. Lactose-free products are slightly sweeter because the lactase enzyme breaks down (“pre-digests”) the lactose sugars into the more digestible forms (like glucose). While there is no additional sugar in the product it tastes sweeter because glucose is nearly five times sweeter than lactose.
How to make your own lactose free milk:
Let’s do some simple math:
1 gallon of milk is about $2.00
1 gallon of lactose-free milk in the store is $7.98 ($8.98 for the national brand)
We can buy 4 gallons of “normal” milk for every gallon of lactose free milk. Ouch.
The good news? You can cut that cost in half — if not more — by making your own lactose-free milk. Here is how:
1 gallon of milk
Lactase drops, extra strength
1. Open fresh milk carton / container.
2. Add lactase drops. (This brand requires 56 drops.) Replace lid and shake the carton of milk.
3. Place milk carton back into the refrigerator.
4. Allow to process. (This brand requires 24 hours.)
Savings: How to cut your lactose free milk budget in half, or more!
We were able to purchase the lactase drops for $16 on Amazon.com. It is recommended to use 56 drops to make 1 gallon of lactose free milk after 24 hours of time. Following these instructions we are able to produce at least 12 gallons of lactose free milk. To a $2.00 gallon of milk we add $1.33 worth of enzymes ($16.00 of enzymes makes 12 gallons), resulting in a total cost of $3.33 per gallon of lactose-free milk.
$3.33 a gallon for homemade lactose-free milk is significantly cheaper than paying $7.98 - $8.98 at the store. In fact, our homemade lactose free milk is cheaper than a single half gallon of the store bought stuff!
To put it into perspective, using the lactase drops, we pay $39.96 for 12 gallons of homemade lactose-free milk. We were paying $95.76 for the store brand lactose-free milk. That is a savings of $55.80. Joshua was going through about 12 gallons every 3 months, so the annual savings are over $200.00!
And it gets better. We emphasized “at least” above because, depending on the time the enzyme is allowed to work and your tolerance level, you may be able to make significantly more lactose free milk per bottle of lactase. This is because enzymes are not “used up” in the process converting lactose to other sugars. This is why there is a processing time, as this is not a direct chemical reaction/conversion of lactase to other sugars. Instead, the lactase enzyme slowly converts the sugars. The speed by which this occurs is dependent upon temperature, acidity (pH), concentration, and other factors.
You can stretch your lactase enzymes by adding fewer drops to your milk and allowing more time for the enzymes to work. It is as simple as that.
Furthermore, many people aren’t outright lactose-intolerant but don’t produce enough lactase to digest all the lactose they consume. You may be able to add less lactase to meet your specific needs. Many people report slowly lowering the amount of enzymes added over time and when symptoms appear go back to the level they were comfortable with. (Only do this if you are able to tolerate the side effects; this is not recommended to those with severe symptoms.) We are in the process of reducing the amount of enzymes we use but due to the difficulty in directly testing lactose it is difficult to relate whether the amount of time is sufficient to remove all lactose or the amounts left is tolerable by Joshua. This means you will have to do your own testing to see how much enzyme your milk will require.
That said, so far by allowing the enzyme and milk to work additional days Joshua has cut the lactase enzymes in half (28 drops per gallon). Our current cost for making homemade lactose-free milk? $2.67 per gallon.
I cannot believe we used to pay $8 per gallon... and had no idea that this "homemade" option even existed!
Making our own is also convenient, as Joshua can now use non-fat milk, 2%, or whole milk., in whatever amounts we wish (a cup, a gallon, or anything in between!). He usually uses non-fat but on the rare occasion he eats dry cereal at home he likes whole milk. But what if none is made ahead? Not a problem, as you add enough drops for “immediate consumption.” Ditto ice cream. And he loves ice cream. He only needs to take a handful of drops and he is set to consume normal ice cream. He had a hard time with the lactase tablets but the drops have been a much more enjoyable experience.
Some final notes on using lactose-free milk:
Beyond being sweeter, we have found that lactose-free milk is foamier when mixed and blended. Some report this makes for great espresso products where foamed milk is used. We have had a couple blender recipes not turn out because of this. Blueberries and lactose-free milk (in a smoothie) seem to be a bad combo for us.
It is also worth noting that various lactase enzyme products contain different concentrations of lactase enzyme. The one we purchase is listed as “extra strength” and has almost 2000 IUs per serving size. This will be important to note when switching products.
Finally, some desperate folks use the lactose-free milk to convert their normal milk. As the milk still contains the enzymes used to make it lactose-free, the lactose-free milk is used instead of drops, as the source of lactase enzymes. If lactase enzymes are unavailable to you, this may be a way to save a little money. If you can tolerate some lactose, try mixing equal proportions and allow it to sit for a few days and give it a try.
Note from Tammy: Many thanks to Joshua for his research and help with this article! A year ago, we didn't know this option existed. If you or someone in your family requires lactose-free milk, making your own will save you substantial amounts of money at the grocery store! :)
Visit Jessica's blog for more frugal tips!