There's no shortage of milk-substitute options available in supermarkets these days. From nut milk, to oat milk, to goat's milk, cow's milk isn't the only dairy option around. One cow milk substitute you may not have considered, though: Mare's milk. What is mare's milk? This cow milk alternative — which is also called horse milk, because a mare is a female horse — is quite popular in Europe and Asia, and is even thought to have some "healing properties" as well. According to NPR, people reportedly turn to mare's milk for aid in digestion, for skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis, and as a breast-milk substitute for infants.
The claims of health benefits are mostly self-reported, and have not yet been definitely proven by studies — this is important to keep in mind — anecdotal evidence is promising. According to NPR, mare's milk has been used throughout history, even in ancient Greece — and a 2016 study published in the Journal of Dairy Science found that mice who received horse milk had an increase in T cells as well as an increase of healthy gut bacteria.
One mare's milk devotee is such a believer in its healing properties, she has purchased the milk for her husband for more than 20 years. "If he stops drinking it, he gets terrible eczema once again," Siegfried Dörge, owner of the Lindenhof Stud farm in Germany that sells the milk to the woman, told NPR. Due to regulations imposed by the European Food Safety Authority, Dörge is unable to promote the potential benefits of his mare's milk when selling it.
One of the reasons mare's milk might have some nutritional value is because it's actually packed with nutrients. "The nutritional components of horse milk include very high levels of vitamin A, B-family vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin E. In fact, these nutrients are found in higher concentrations than in cow’s milk," Organic Facts noted on its website. "Mare’s milk also provides notable levels of potassium, iron, calcium, and magnesium.
While drinking mare's milk might seem odd, it's only because people in the U.S. aren't used to it. If you think about it, it's kind of strange to drink any other animal's milk. From this perspective, drinking milk from a horse is no stranger than drinking milk from a cow. Mare's milk is also produced differently than cow's milk: Mare's are not separated from their foals, and if your mare doesn't like you, you're not going to get much milk.
"They are not genetically programmed to produce milk like a cow. You need a relationship with them for them to share their milk with you," Julie Decayeux, founder of French equine dairy Chevalait, which exports powdered mare's milk around the world, told NPR. Aside from nutritional benefits, mare's milk is fermented into an alcoholic drink called koumiss in Asia.
Despite it's many reported benefits, mare's milk actually contains higher levels of lactose than cow's milk. This means it's not a viable option for lactose-intolerant people. What's more, because it lacks caseins, it can't be made into cheese — but it can make for a sweet ice-cream treat, according to the Dairy Reporter.
If you want to try mare's milk for yourself, I did spot some supplements on Amazon. Alternatively, you can order everything from powdered mare's milk to mare's milk makeup from the Chevalait website.