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Milk – the most complete food

The mention of milk takes me back to my childhood when my mother used to cajole me and my siblings to drink up a glass of milk at least thrice a day. When we were very small she would tell us that not only would milk make us fair of face and strengthen our teeth but also sharpen our brains and help us do well in our studies. As we grew older, we were told about the other good qualities of milk. 

Milk is nectar for human organism and one of the basic of all foods. For infants, mother’s milk constitutes a complete diet and for adults it is a wholesome meal by itself or can be taken along with cereals, added with shakes etc. 

Where do we get milk from

Mankind from time immemorial has used the milk of animals. The milk of cow, buffalo and goat is generally used. In some countries milk of sheep, mare and camel is also used.

What is milk

Milk is regarded as complete food. It contains protein, fat, carbohydrates, all known vitamins, various minerals and all the food ingredients considered essential for sustaining life and maintaining health. The protein of milk is of the highest biological value and it contains all the amino acids essential for body building and repair of body cells. No wonder then that milk is considered to be a complete food in itself.

Types of milk

Fresh whole milk – Whole milk is buffalo milk that contains a minimum of 3.25% milk fat and 8.25% nonfat milk solids. For those who consider milk as a complete food, should understand that milk also contains 87% water. Most of the fresh whole milk is Grade A, vitamin D fortified, pasteurized and homogenized.

Skimmed milk – Milk fat is removed in varying amounts to give skim milk. The richest of these has a fat content of 2% and a content of 10% non-fat milk solids. Lowfat milk is the name given to milk containing milkfat between 0.5% - 2.0%. This type of milk is the favourite of consumers who wish to reduce fat intake without completely avoiding the flavours contributed by the milk fat. Because pasteurization also kills the fat-soluble vitamins A and D, milk is often sold ‘fortified’ with more of the nutrient contents in it.

Flavoured milk – Chocolate milk is whole milk flavoured with chocolate. Whole milk with strawberry, coffee, maple or other flavouring can also make a sweet flavoured milk. When skim or low fat milk is used in preparing these beverages, the product is identified as flavoured drink.

Canned milk – Two types of canned milk are common: 

a) Evaporated milk (both whole and skimmed) - This milk has its water content reduced, so it contains double the solids of ordinary milk. Homogenization and fortification with Vitamin D are done, the can is sealed and heat sterilized to kill bacteria, thus making it possible to store unopened cans without refrigeration. This milk contains a minimum of 7.9% milkfat and 25.9% milk solids.

b) Sweet condensed milk – This milk is even more concentrated as one half of the water content is evaporated from the milk, but the product is different because of the high sugar content added to make sweetened condensed milk. Due to the high percentage of sugar in the milk, which acts as a deterrent to bacterial growth, this type of canned milk doesn’t need any heat treatment. Sweetened condensed milk is used to make a variety of desserts.

Dry milk – The most common dry milk product is non-fat dry milk, which is sold as 

powder or in granules and has its water completely evaporated by spraying it into a 

drying chamber. These solids are collected and then instanized by moistening the 

dried milk with steam so that it clumps into granules. Non-fat dry milk consists of 

Vitamin A and D. Low cost and good shelf life without refrigeration is the key factor 

of this type of dry milk. The major use of this type of milk is in instant use and 

commercial chocolate and candy manufacturing.

Milk processing

Most of the milk is pasteurized either by the hold method or the high temperature (short time method).

(a) In the holding method, heating it to 145ºF/62ºC for 30 minutes and then rapidly cooling to 45ºC pasteurizes milk.

(b) In the high temperature method, milk is pasteurized by heating it to 160ºF/72ºC for 15 seconds and then quickly cooled to 50ºF or lower.

After pasteurization, milk is centrifuged to separate any fine sediment from the milk and then it is bottled and sealed in hygienically clean bottles.

How should you store milk

Fresh milk should be purchased daily, used strictly in rotation and ideally new and old milk should not be mixed.

Should be stored in a container which is covered and kept in a refrigerator.

Dried milk should be kept in a sealed, airtight container in a cool, dry place.

UHT milk and condensed milk should be kept in cool, dry storeroom until opened and then kept in a refrigerator and used within two days.

Cooking of milk

Milk is the basis of many soups and sauces like béchamel sauce, cheese sauce, etc. It can be served as a refreshing drink either chilled or hot.

It is served along with tea, coffee, cocoa, cereals etc. Milk when added to soup enriches it and gives it a smooth creamy texture.

Also used as a main ingredient for milk based sweets e.g Phirni, Ice-creams, Puddings, etc.

Medicinal properties

The total protein component of milk is composed of numerous specific proteins. The primary groups of milk proteins are the caseins. The major minerals found in milk are calcium and phosphorous. Milk contains all the major vitamins A, D, E, and K. It also contains calcium, phosphorous, iron and of course carbohydrates. 

As milk contains plenty of calcium, proteins and vitamins, it is considered to be food, medicine and a healer at the same time.

Milk is a food that is readily converted into semen and easily produces new blood, which quickens the healing process of the body. A body built on milk has a natural shine, a glow and such a body is free from all diseases.

Milk increases strength, improves memory, removes exhaustion, maintains strength and promotes long life. Milk is recommended as wholesome food for invalids. Milk diet is very much beneficial to put on weight. The body gradually fills out. Such body weight gain is permanent. Milk diet also helps to improve the blood circulation in the body as the amount of fluid assimilated by the stomach and intestine increases.

Milk is a very effective medicine for hyperacidity and other acidic conditions of stomach.

Milk is also a very effective medicine on sleeplessness. If a glass of milk sweetened with honey is given every night before going to bed, it acts as a tonic and tranquilizer.

Milk is used as medicine for respiratory disorders such as common cold, tonsillitis, bronchitis and asthma.Cream of milk mixed with a little vinegar and pinch of turmeric powder is an effective dressing for wounds and other simple traumatic injuries.

Intake of fluid milk reduces the risk of osteoporosis, hypertension and colon cancer. Drinking milk may help to reduce the risk of kidney stone. Milk intake may also help to reduce the risk of tooth decay by acting substitute for saliva. Milk buffers oral acids, reduces the solubility of tooth enamel and helps to re-mineralize tooth enamel. 

Some important tips

Curdling of milk occurs when the airborne bacteria converts the lactose (milk sugars) into lactic acid as when some lime juice or acidic food item is added to the milk or vice versa, the milk starts curdling. Higher the temperature, more rapidly the curdling occurs. 

Scum forms as the milk proteins coagulate. Longer heating and higher temperature causes a gradual increase in the quantity and the toughness of the scum. Scum can be removed by moving a spoon across the milk or can be avoided by heating the milk for short periods at temperatures below boiling.

Once, it was known as the ultimate health drink. Packed with vitamins and minerals such as calcium and phosphorous, as well as all the essential food groups, milk was considered the perfect way to boost well-being in a glass. Over recent years, however, scientific evidence has linked different types of milk to a variety of health scares.