Milk - Why so many types?

It wasn’t so long ago that milk came in a one pint (568 ml) glass bottle. It was pasteurised full cream milk and it wasn’t usually homogenised, so it had a creamy plug at the top. Then we saw the introduction of cartons, sachets, and plastic bottles as packaging trends evolved and then an explosion in different types of milk.

Nowadays the supermarket dairy cabinet has an amazing array of liquid milk products, and selecting the right one is quite daunting. There are milks with different fat contents; milk fortified with vitamin A, vitamin D, or minerals; milk with added phytosterols; and flavoured milks. Your choice is influenced by your personal preference, mouth feel, and your dietary needs. So here is a brief overview of milk types.

Whole milk (full cream milk) – by law in Australia, full cream milk must contain 3.2% milkfat. Most whole milk in Australia is homogenised because the majority of consumers prefer the milkfat to be distributed throughout the milk. Homogenisation is a process where the fat globules are physically reduced in size, so they remain suspended throughout the milk.

Skim milk – is milk where the milkfat has been physically removed. By law, skim milk must contain less than 0.15g milkfat per 100mL (0.15%). Under the Food Standards Code, such milk can be labelled skim milk and also described as fat-free.

Reduced fat and skinny milks – consumer demand has seen significant growth in this sector, with a range of milks containing around 1–2% milkfat. They are marketed on the basis that they retain the taste and goodness of full cream milk, yet allow consumers to reduce their fat intake.

Flavoured milk – is one of the most popular dairy categories in Australia and growing. There has also been considerable growth in consumption of coffee flavoured milks. The next growth area will be the formulation of flavoured milks with functional ingredients such as proteins and bioactive peptides.

Lactose-free milk – The dairy industry has responded to requirements of consumers who have a lactose intolerance. Lactose-free milk has been treated with the enzyme lactase which splits lactose into its constituent components: two sugars called glucose and galactose.

Milk containing phytosterols – Under the Food Standards Code, phytosterols, phytostanols and their esters may be added to milk to between 3–4 g/L of milk. The addition of plant sterols to milk is to help manage cholesterol levels.

There are other products including organic milk and A2 milk. Organic milk is derived from cows raised according to organic farming methods. Dairy milk contains various proteins, including a mixture of A1 and A2 beta-casein proteins. A2 milk contains only one variant of the beta-casein protein. There is no scientific evidence suggesting A2 milk is better for you than regular milk containing both A1 and A2 beta-casein. So the challenge for consumers is how to navigate the choices.