Today’s supermarket shelves are stocked with conventional, organic, hormone-free, enriched, and sometimes even raw (that is, unpasteurized) milk. Each type is available with varying levels of fat―whole, 2 percent (reduced-fat), 1 percent (low-fat), nonfat (skim), along with half-and-half and cream, both heavy and light. Here you’ll learn how to make the most of those many choices.
More than 99 percent of U.S. milk comes from cows, mostly familiar black and white Holsteins. Twenty-three percent of the nearly 22 billion gallons produced in a year is sold as milk and cream, 40 percent goes to cheese, 18 percent to butter, and 8 percent to ice cream. Ten states―California, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, Idaho, Minnesota, New Mexico, Michigan, Texas, and Washington―produce 72 percent of our milk.
Processing: About 95 percent of milk is pasteurized―quickly heated to 162 degrees and then cooled to destroy bacteria and microorganisms. (The remaining 5 percent is unpasteurized and known as “raw” milk.) UHT (Ultra-High Temperature) milk is flash-sterilized at temperatures up to 300 degrees, then packed in shelf stable aseptic cartons. Most milk is also homogenized to prevent fat molecules from separating, keeping it smooth and creamy.
Hormones: All cows generate natural bST, a hormone that helps them produce milk. Some dairy farmers supplement with synthetic rbST (recombinant bovine somatotropin), boosting production by as much as one gallon a day per cow. According to the FDA, World Health Organization, and others, milk from these cows is safe, but the use of rbST is illegal in many countries and critics question its safety.
WHICH TYPE IS RIGHT FOR YOUR FAMILY?
Varied fat content: In its unadulterated state, milk is about 87 percent water, 5 percent sugar or carbohydrate, 3.5 percent protein, and less than 4 percent fat. In times gone by, to make reduced fat milk, dairy farmers would simply skim off the high-fat cream layer that naturally rose to the top. Today, dairies use centrifuges to spin off the fat, resulting in milk of varying fat levels.
Most major health authorities, including the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommend you choose low- or nonfat milk and other dairy foods to meet the recommended three daily servings. Cooking Light agrees; low-fat or fat-free milk is ideal for drinking or pouring over cereal. However, all forms of dairy find a place in our recipes, depending on the need (see below).
Organic: About 3 percent of America’s milk is organic, and the market is growing. New USDA rules require that organic cows be kept on pasture at least half the year so they can obtain plenty of fresh grass. Organic cows may not be treated with synthetic hormones to boost milk production.
Nutritional differences are currently under study. Two studies compared organic to conventional milk and found organic contains slightly more antioxidants and vitamins, and higher levels of two healthful fatty acids: omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid.