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Are Eggs Dairy? The Answer Is Simple… and Yet, Still Confusing

Get clarity on this hot debate, and learn why "dairy-free" doesn't necessarily mean vegan.
eggs in carton on wood table

The next time you're trying to deflect a heated political conversation or diffuse any awkward tension in the room, here's a fun trick: Cause a diversion by polling the room, "Hey, ah, are eggs dairy?"

Chances are, everyone will stop, look around, and be like "Yes? I think so? Maybe not? I'm not really sure…"

Thankfully, you'll know the answer, thanks to the helpful explanation here.

So, are eggs dairy?

By definition, dairy products encompass anything that comes from the milk of mammals, like cows, goats, sheep, and even reindeer. That means milk itself is dairy, as are all the delicious foods—like ice cream, cheese, yogurt, and butter—that include milk.

Eggs, on the other hand, come from chickens. Chickens are birds, not mammals, and eggs aren't related to anything in the milk realm. While we've managed to make milk out of oats and almonds, chicken milk is still not a thing. All this leads to the conclusion: No, eggs are not dairy.

Why there's been so much confusion

The USDA, while clear on the topic in writing, may be in part to blame. In their now-defunct food pyramid, they had a cute cartoon milk carton on the same row as rotund eggs (although in different sections), even though the animals from which they originate can be found on completely opposite sides of a farm.

Another source of head-scratching? Both dairy products and eggs contain protein, making it tempting to lump them all together. "Protein foods" is even the official designation to which they belong, along with beans, peanut butter, poultry, meat, and fish.

Learn the nuances with dietary labels

Here's another way to remember it: Kosher foods are either meat, dairy, or pareve (neither or neutral), and eggs fall in that last category. While eggs aren't dairy, there are still nuances in their consumption among people who follow certain dietary outlines. A lacto-ovo vegetarian, for example, is typically someone who eats eggs and dairy products, but doesn't eat meat. Lacto vegetarians eschew eggs but can eat dairy, and ovo vegetarians, vice versa.

This also explains why you might see something labeled as "dairy-free," but it may not necessarily be vegan, as it isn't vegan if it contains eggs.

No matter which came first, the chicken or the egg, one thing's for sure: nether of them are dairy.

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Abby Reisner
Abby is a food writer, editor, cook, and digital strategist living in Brooklyn. Read more
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