How I’m Saving ~$280/year by Making My Own Lactose-Free Milk

Let’s face it. Life with lactose intolerance is more than a little annoying when it comes to mealtimes, ever since I developed it at the age of 17.

Since then, my lactose intolerance has taken a dive to a point that I’ve become extremely sensitive towards dairy—a single drop of milk or a single flake of pastry is enough to set off a chain reaction of side effects.

And when I accidentally drank an entire glass of fruit shake that contained milk? I had side effects so bad I had to miss a flight to Boracay, the Philippines.

Keeping Milk in My Diet

I drink milk for breakfast and during tea time to get my protein and calcium fix, and I wasn’t going to let my lactose intolerance stop me.

Breakfast cereal with milk

Image from Jonathan Lin / CC BY-SA

Luckily for me, back then my parents discovered Ensure milk powder at a supermarket in Malaysia, which was lactose-free. (And do you know that in Asia, many of the milk products that you’d find on grocery stores’ shelves are in powdered form?) It’s a little more expensive than your regular-milk-with-lactose variety, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers, right?

Since moving to New York, drinking the Lactaid branded milk (which is lactose-free) has been quite satisfying for me—liquid milk certainly tastes better than powdered milk, in my opinion, and I use it in my breakfast smoothie and scrambled eggs as well.

Unfortunately for me, Lactaid is also the only choice available for me at most supermarkets, so it’s relatively price inelastic—no matter how high the price is, I’d still pay for it.

The High Cost of Lactaid

Lactaid isn’t cheap.

At my local Associated Supermarket and many other grocery stores, it retails at $7.79 for 96 fl oz (2.8L). Hong Kong Supermarket in Chinatown, Manhattan sells it for $5.99, a sizable $1.50 difference, but it’s inconvenient for me to get there often from where I live.

96 fl oz Lactaid fat-free milk

Image from Sam’s Club

I polish off the entire bottle within a week or less easily. And the last time I saw it on sale at an online grocery store, I bought 9 bottles of them right away.

(Going tangent slightly, the problem then was fridge space. I learnt that UHT milk can be left unrefrigerated for months on the shelf. It just isn’t standard practice here in the US as Americans are not comfortable with the idea of drinking unrefrigerated milk, even though it’s perfectly fine.)

Still, this isn’t an ideal situation as $7.79 for 0.75 gallons of milk is simply too expensive. This became even more pronounced after I found that regular milk costs roughly… $4 per gallon in NYC.

If You Can’t Beat ’em, Innovate

Edit: More astute readers than I noted in the comments that lactose enzyme pills from Costco or Lactaid pills are even more cost-effective! This section has been rewritten slightly to reflect that.

How does Lactaid make lactose-free milk? They simply add lactase enzyme to regular cow’s milk to convert lactose into galactose and glucose, making it sweeter.

If only we plebeians have easy access to this enzyme…

Wait a minute, we do! As I found out just recently, there are a few options in the US:

  1. Lactaid pills by Lactaid
  2. Lactase Drops by Seeking Health
  3. Lacteeze Drops by Gelda Scientific
Dropper dripping Lactase Drops into glass of milk

Image from Seeking Health

You can use either the lactase enzyme drops or pills, but you may find the pills to be more cost-effective. Mark noted in the comments, “Using the (Lactaid) pills could be even more economical because they contain 9000FCC per tablet which is far more cost effective than the drops.”

Both products have the same lactase enzyme and glycerin ingredients, while Lactase Drops have an extra ingredient of purified water. It’s also a bit cheaper, maybe as a result of being slightly diluted.

But just by adding these drops of lactase enzyme into milk swimming in poisonous lactose, I get milk that’s Clem-friendly again! I can do the same with beverages like yogurt smoothie or even café au lait.

The trick to maximize the value of the Lactase Drops is to add fewer drops into the milk and leave them alone for more than the recommended 24 hours. For instance, even though I’m hyper-sensitive towards lactose, I found myself without lactose side effects at all by using just 20 Lactase Drops in 1 gallon of milk and leaving them alone for over 72 hours.

(The official recommended amount is 5 Lactose Drops per pint of milk, but you don’t necessarily have to follow that.)

The Math

Let’s compare the two options I have now in NYC.

Using Lactaid pills:

  1. 96 fl oz of Lactaid milk = $7.79 (retail price from my nearest Associated Supermarket), or $10.39 per gallon
  2. 1 gallon of regular milk + 1 Lactaid pill = $3.99 (from my nearest supermarket) + ($11.97 / 120 = $0.10) = $4.09

Total savings per bottle: $6.30

Total savings per year: $327.60 ($6.30 x 52 weeks)

Using Lactase enzyme drops:

  1. 96 fl oz of Lactaid milk = $7.79 (retail price from my nearest Associated Supermarket), or $10.39 per gallon
  2. 1 gallon of regular milk + 20 drops of Lactase Drops = $3.99 (from my nearest Associated Supermarket) + ($0.05* x 20 = $1) = $4.99

* Calculation: $19.95 (cost of 1 bottle of Lactase drops) / (75 servings x 5 drops)

Total savings per bottle: $5.40

Total savings per year: $280.80 ($5.40 x 52 weeks)

Conclusion

If you can get cheap Lactaid milk without needing to pay extra costs to get to it (be it gas or public transportation), then the difference in price may not be that substantial to you.

Conversely, if you don’t live in NYC and you can get 1 gallon of milk for less than $4, your savings per year would be quite significant.

As for me, with the ability to make regular milk, yogurt, and other milky drinks lactose-free, this is something I’ll continue to do.

Main image from frankieleon / CC BY

13 Comments How I’m Saving ~$280/year by Making My Own Lactose-Free Milk

  1. shigeko fujita

    Thank you!! This has been the best DIY as per Lactose free milk. I dont have to be in angst anymore running out of milk!!

    Reply
    1. Clement Z. Chan

      Thanks a lot Tatyana, I keep the milk with the lactase in the fridge! I wouldn’t keep the milk with added lactase in room temperature (especially after I’ve opened the milk packet) for fear of spoilage.

      Reply
  2. Michelle

    Thank you my 1 year old grandson goes through lactaid milk a half gallon a day or two! Thank you and Bless you for sharing this with lactose intolerant people!

    Reply
    1. Clement Z. Chan

      I’m so glad you found this helpful Michelle! I completely agree, Lactaid milk—while the most wonderful creation for lactose intolerant people like me and your grandson—is just too expensive compared to regular milk.

      Reply
  3. Makr

    Great article Clement, I wonder why more people aren’t doing this? This week I experimented using the Lact-Aid pills in goat’s milk and it seemed to work, the result was much sweeter and easier on the gut. Using the pills could be even more economical because they contain 9000FCC per tablet which is far more cost effective than the drops.

    Reply
    1. Clement Z. Chan

      That’s an interesting point Mark! I haven’t had great success personally with Lactaid pills, but I was also ingesting them directly instead of having them go directly into the milk. I just might have to give that a try again. :)

      Reply
  4. paul sailer

    Lactose pills at costco Kirkland brand will be a lot less expensive and work fine to convert milk.

    I use 5 pills per gallon and wait 72 hours,
    I don’t know if a shorter time would work.

    When you empty the bottle there will be some of the starch filler from the pills in the last bit of milk, but I don’t mind that

    Reply
    1. Clement Z. Chan

      Thanks for the tips Paul! I just got a Costco membership so I’ll have to give that a shot.

      I definitely wouldn’t mind the starch filler remains, as long as I can digest the milk fine. :)

      Reply

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