From the moment we are born, it is with us and is an indispensable part of many people’s daily diets: Milk. You can enjoy it in many forms, from a beverage to a snack such as yogurt, cream, pudding, ice cream, or as an ingredient for your meals.
Grab a glass of warm milk, and let’s take a closer look at this essential food in our lives.
Generally, an examination of milk starts with listing two categories.
1- Dairy milk: The generic name given to the milk produced by female mammals. According to the FAO estimates in 2011, 85% of the milk obtained from animals in the world is derived from cows. The majority of the remaining, about 11%, is produced from buffalos, followed by goat, sheep, camel, donkey, horse, reindeer, and ox (yak).
2- Non-dairy milk: These kinds of milk have the same appearance and consistency as dairy, and are usually obtained from almonds, coconut, rice, or soy. People typically choose this type of milk for lifestyle or dietary reasons such as veganism or lactose intolerance. They are also low in fat and calories while providing vitamins that can be obtained from dairy milk.
So how does milk get to our table? Learning about milk terms.
Pasteurization: The primary purpose of pasteurization is to purify harmful pathogenic bacteria. The milk is brought to 72°C and kept there for 15 seconds. During which all harmful pathogenic bacteria die. However, there is some collateral damage to its nutrients as it causes Vitamins B12 and C, calcium and phosphorus losses through the process.
Homogenization: When milk is cooled under normal conditions, a dense fat layer rises to the top. It is skimmed from milk and sold as another product – cream. This means that fat molecules in the milk are separated through pressure over a long duration. Milk does not need to be pasteurized for homogenization. In terms of taste, homogenized milk tends to have a creamier taste and texture compared to unhomogenized.
UHT: Ultra Heat Treatment, which kills all the bacteria in the milk and extends the shelf time, constitutes the majority of the milk sold in the market. First, milk is heated at a very high temperature (138°C) for 1 to 3 seconds, then reduced to 2-3 degrees and then transferred to sterilized packages. The milk must first undergo homogenization for this process. After this, shelf life is extended up to 6 months and doesn’t need to be stored in the refrigerator until it’s opened.
The many shapes of milk: Milk-based products.
Milk is a childhood favorite. The taste of cold milk with our morning cereal or a warm glass before going to bed are tiny details that can take us back to those sweet days.
In many countries, especially in Great Britain, milk is mixed with tea, while the rest of the world tends to pair it with coffee. It is globally enjoyed in a wide range of drinks from hot chocolates to smoothies, milkshakes, and more.
Many people who can’t drink milk due to lactose intolerance choose less lactose-containing cheese and yogurt to get the nutrients they need from milk while being able to enjoy milk-based products. In addition to their many flavors and taste options, these foods are also chosen by many people who have lactose intolerance or don’t have lactose intolerance. Additionally, yogurt and milk-based a lot of ice creams are made.
Since there’s plant-based milk, of course, there’s plant-based yogurt and cheese. However, with a few naming exceptions, the European Union has banned these words in its brand and label when marketing foods such as yogurt or cheese that were not obtained from animal milk. Some of these exceptions: coconut milk, almond milk, peanut butter, and ice cream.
The world’s top three producers of cow’s milk are the United States, India, and China. However, considering the populations of these countries and production for export purposes, it is easy to see why they don’t lead the list in household consumption. The top three countries leading that lane are Ireland, Finland, and the United Kingdom. Keep in mind that with the UK habit of drinking tea with milk, you’d expect it to rank higher on this list.
There’s plenty of milk to go around, but how much of it goes to waste?
The answer is quite frightening. For the UK, this number is less than the rest of the world, but still, a bad habit, 330,000 tons of milk goes to waste. This means 7% of the milk produced goes to trash. 90% of this waste happens at home, which goes to prove that change at home through small and effective steps can have a significant impact on preventing this waste. Globally, every year 128 million tons of milk goes to waste, which is equal to ⅙’ of the amount produced.
How do we prevent milk-waste at home?
Nowadays, supermarkets sell milk in all sizes. After gaining a specific habit, it is learned how many days milk takes to be consumed. So, you only get as much as you need while shopping and prevent waste from the get-go. The packages of milk and similar products are specially designed for their content as well. You may accelerate the deterioration process of the milk by transferring it out of the package that’s designed to keep it fresh. The recommended consumption date tells you about the quality of the milk and the best taste you can get from that date. There is no reason not to consume after this date. However, this situation is different for products with expiration dates. Consuming the product with a passed expiration date can cause dangerous and unwanted situations. You can use or store milk and milk-based products under the recommended conditions without any problems until the expiration date. Additionally, if your fridge is set to below 4 degrees, it will accelerate the deterioration of milk, which would make it especially harmful after the expiration date.
We rely on the resources of this world for everything we make, and our choices leave footprints on the environment. This footprint grows even more through waste. We need to realize that the world’s resources aren’t infinite, change our consumption habits, and learn to act responsibly according to needs rather than our wants. We also need to learn about our food and the individual labels it comes with to know how it can best be stored and consumed.
The small steps and the small measures we will take will turn into a bright and sustainable future. There is a long way to go, but we know where to start, and it starts at home.