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Comparing Buffalo Milk vs. Cow’s Milk to Make Paneer

Paneer is a style of fresh cheese, originally from South Asia, but now eaten more globally. Depending on where you live, you may find paneer being made from cow’s or buffalo milk. Both make a seemingly similar product, but they’re not identical.

Even though buffalo and cow’s milk are quite similar, more similar than let’s say buffalo milk and almond milk, there are some nuanced differences. There is a difference in fat and calcium content that results in a slightly different quality paneer.Minor differences, but they do show nicely how the quality of a cheese depends not just on its processes, but also on its raw materials!

Water buffalo milk vs. Cow’s milk

Of course, buffalo milk comes from a buffalo, whereas cow’s milk comes from a cow. Since these two animals have slightly different diets and body builds, the milk they produce is also different, very much how goat’s milk would be different from buffalo milk. Nevertheless, the two are relatively similar and so can be interchanged for several applications, including: paneer.

Both milks contain a similar amount of proteins, about 4%. The main type of protein being casein proteins. They also contain similar (but not the exact same) amounts of sugars (lactose). So far for the similarities, what about the differences?

Water buffalo aren’t very common where I live, in the Netherlands, nor in most other European countries. Instead, the majority of buffalo, up to 98% of all buffalo, live in Asia. In several South Asian countries more milk is provided by buffalo than by cows, indicating just how important a dairy source it is.

Buffalo milk contains more fat

The main difference between milk from buffalo and that of cows is the fat content. Whereas cow’s milk contains about 3-4% fat, buffalo milk contain about twice that amount. Fat is responsible for a creamy mouthfeel in your mouth, hence making products made from buffalo milk somewhat creamier.

Also, keep in mind that when making cheese you’re removing most of the water, and what is left is mostly protein and fat. As such, if the milk contains more fat, while protein content remains the same, the overall yield of paneer is higher. That is, you can make more paneer in weight from 1 liter of buffalo milk than you can from that same quantity of cow’s milk.

Relatively more calcium

The other major difference is the calcium content of the two types of milk. Buffalo milk contains relatively more calcium compared to its protein content. The interaction between proteins and calcium is crucial for making cheese, so a different ratio will impact the properties of a paneer.

When making cheese, whether it’s paneer, or any other non-whey based cheese, the casein proteins in the cheese need to curdle. It’s often one of the first steps in the cheese making process. Casein proteins are a very unique group of proteins that interact to make this happen. But, they couldn’t do this with the calcium which forms a crucial part of a cheese’s structure.

Interactions between calcium and casein proteins are also responsible for making a stringy cheese. Which is great when making fresh (buffalo) mozzarella, but not so great when trying to make a smooth cheese fondue.

diced fresh paneer
Freshly made buffalo milk paneer

Comparing buffalo vs cow paneer

In our personal experience, paneer made from buffalo milk is creamier than that made of cow’s milk. The texture was also a little firmer. However, since supply of buffalo milk here is limited, we can’t just use our own limited experience. Luckily, a lot of more in-depth research has been done by others in the field!

Buffalo paneer is softer

Because of that difference in calcium content, paneer made from buffalo milk does tend to have a harder texture than paneer made from cow’s milk. Some may prefer this, others not so much. Nowadays, some cow’s milk paneer may contain added CaCl2 to increase the calcium content and to make a firmer cheese.

Which is ‘best’?

It’s always hard, if not impossible, to say which type of paneer is the absolute ‘best’. It depends on your personale preferences, which style you’re used to eat, how you prefer your paneer, etc. Interestingly, scientific literature doesn’t agree on this topic either. Some articles say buffalo milk paneer is consistenly rated as being of higher quality whereas in other, the cow’s milk paneer ‘wins’ the sensory comparison! In other words, there is no one ‘best’ option, it depends.

You can make paneer the same way

Whether you use buffalo or cow’s milk, the process to make paneer is identical. You heat up milk, add an acid (e.g. lemon juice), let it curdle, drain the whey and (lightly) press the cheese (find a full paneer recipe here).

Zooming in more closely, you may find differences in just exactly how best to make paneer. As mentioned above, you could add some additional calcium source to cow’s milk to help improve the firmness of the paneer. Also, be prepared to get a little less paneer from the same amount of cow’s milk than you would from buffalo milk.

Researchers have also looked for the optimal temperature to heat the milk to as well as the optimal amount and type of acid to use. For both temperature and acid, a range of conditions works well for both types of milk. Some slight differences may exist for the two types of milk, but, these differences aren’t just caused by the type of milk, but also by the preferred style of paneer and manufacturing conditions available.

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TIP! Buffalo milk doesn’t just work great in cheese. It can also make a very creamy ice cream! Simply substitute the cow’s milk for buffalo milk in a 1:1 ratio.

homemade cheese press for paneer
A homemade cheese press for pressing paneer.

Sources

De Stoerderij, Dutch buffalo farm, link

FAO, Buffaloes, link

Dongare SA and Syed HM, Physicochemical and sensory properties of paneer prepared from buffalo milk, Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry 2018; 7(2): 3852-3854, link

Khan SU, Pal MA. Paneer production: A review. J Food Sci Technol. 2011 Dec;48(6):645-60. doi: 10.1007/s13197-011-0247-x. Epub 2011 Feb 5. PMID: 23572801; PMCID: PMC3551056.

S. Kumar, D.C. Rai and D.N. Verma, EFFECT OF DIFFERENT LEVELS OF LACTIC ACID ON THE PHYSICO-CHEMICAL AND SENSORY ATTRIBUTES OF BUFFALO MILK PANEER, Indian J. Anim. Res., 42 (3) : 205-208, 2008, link

T. Masud, I.H. Athar, M.A. Shah, Comparative study on paneer making from buffalo and cow milk, AJAS 1992, Vol. 5 (No. 3), p. 563-565, link

T. Masud, S. Shehla & M. Khurram (2007) Paneer (White Cheese)
from Buffalo Milk, Biotechnology & Biotechnological Equipment, 21:4, 451-452, DOI:
10.1080/13102818.2007.10817492, link

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One comment

  1. It’s great to see water buffalo milk gaining popularity around the world. Unfortunately raw water buffalo milk is hard to get in some countries, law and regulations differ greatly not just between countries, but between even the individual states or jurisdictions. If you’re in US , looking for water buffalo milk, and happen to be in Pennsylvania, you can find it at a Buffalo Valley Pastures farm – one of a very few places with a permit to sell raw water buffalo and cow milk to customers in the state. Water buffalo meat though is available to ship anywhere! Hope this helps someone looking for this nutritious, yet hard to find product.

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