Most expat families in Singapore consume a lot of dairy, from real-deal dairy to plant-based options like almond, oats and soy. The milk selection these days is vast. Just making a choice from the range of cow’s milk in the supermarket is challenging! We thought it was time we understood the different variations, and learned about their origins and how they’re produced.
Does anyone understand pasteurisation, or know what the difference is between UHT skim, non-homogenised low-fat and organic full cream milks? Read on for some good info!
From pasture to pasteurisation
What exactly is pasteurisation? It’s a process that heats milk to destroy potentially harmful bacteria. This is a must when it comes to all cow’s milk (or any mammal’s milk, for that matter) sold in Singapore. And in most parts of the world, in fact. The sale of raw milk (straight from the cow, or unpasteurised) for human consumption is prohibited due to safety concerns outlined by government agencies. These include the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), America’s Federal Drug Administration (FDA), and Food Safety Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), among others. While raw milk activists claim otherwise, these agencies assert that pasteurisation does not reduce milk’s overall nutritional value, and they feel that the benefits of pasteurisation outweigh the potential disease-causing risks.
For effective pasteurisation, milk must be heated to at least 62.8 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes (low-temp pasteurisation, also known as VAT). However, most milks on the market are heated to at least 72 degrees Celsius for 15 seconds. Known as high-temperature short-time (HTST) pasteurisation, this method keeps milk fresh for two to three weeks. Also common is ultra-heat treatment (UHT) pasteurisation. Here, milk is heated to at least 135 degrees Celsius for a minimum of two seconds. It’s then immediately aseptically packed in sterile containers, killing all harmful bacteria. This gives the product a shelf life of up to nine months. And that’s why some milk doesn’t need to be refrigerated until opened.
The effect of heat
So, why isn’t all milk ultra heat-treated? Because the process affects the flavour; higher heat can create a sweeter taste, which some people simply don’t like. Also, many dairies, particularly smaller ones, favour lower temperature pasteurisation to keep milk as close to its natural state as possible. One of these is Fleurieu Milk Company, an award-winning South Australian dairy whose products are available in Singapore.
There’s also extended shelf-life (ESL) milk. This is filtered before the pasteurisation process, then heated to 125 degrees Celsius for 10 to 15 seconds. A cross between fresh milk and UHT, this micro-filtered milk can be kept in the fridge for up to three weeks. That’s why it’s a good option for those who don’t go grocery shopping often. Larger dairies like Western Australia’s Brownes Dairy, for instance, produce ESL milk so they can reach a more widespread market.
Additionally, some milks are pasteurised twice if they are repacked at a location that’s far removed from the dairy; this is the case for most of the milks that are packed locally after arriving in Singapore.
To homogenise or not to homogenise?
Separate from pasteurisation, homogenisation isn’t carried out for safety reasons but rather for texture and taste. The process breaks down fat molecules so they resist separation, creating a more consistent-tasting product with an even amount of milk fat in each sip. When milk isn’t homogenised, the fat particles rise to the top, forming a thick layer of cream. Many milk drinkers love the “old fashioned” look and taste of the creamy layer, while others don’t – it depends on personal taste.
Additionally, some argue that smaller fat molecules mean more efficient digestion. Others, however, feel that non-homogenised is better because the milk has undergone one less process, keeping things as “unchanged” as possible. While larger-scale dairies normally homogenise milk for a longer shelf, many smaller dairies – Fleurieu among them – offer non-homogenised milk options, just “as nature intended”.
Full cream, fat-free and everything in between
Choosing how much fat is in the milk you buy is once again a matter of personal taste and needs. Whole milk has around 8 grams of fat per cup. Reduced-fat milk has approximately 3.8 to 5 grams of fat per cup. (It’s also known as “two percent” because the milkfat, or butterfat, is two percent of the total weight of the milk.) Then there are low-fat (about 2.5 grams of fat per cup) and skim (fat-free) varieties.
All these types of milk may have the same amount of vitamin D, protein and other nutrients, but the fat content is the primary element that changes the taste, flavour and feel of the milk. (You just can’t deny the richer and creamier texture of full cream milk…) Since the 1980s, many have considered low-fat and fat-free milk the “healthier” options. Yet full-fat dairy has made a comeback in recent years. Studies have suggested links between full-fat dairy consumption and lower rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. High-fat dairy products can also keep people more satiated.
Similarly, it’s been shown that fat helps with nutrient absorption. Children who drink whole milk may better absorb vitamin D than those drinking low-fat milk, for instance.
On the farm
Did you know that the breed of the cow, as well as the cow’s diet, affects the composition of milk? Jersey cow milk, for instance, is believed to be more suitable for people with a tendency to be lactose intolerant. It’s also been linked to lower rates of coronary heart disease and diabetes. This is according to Fleurieu Milk Company, which produces Jersey Premium milk products made from Jersey cows. It also has a range called Farm Fresh, made from Holstein Fresian cows milked within 500 metres of the factory. Since the milk is packed at the source, it doesn’t have to be repacked and re-pasteurised after transit to Singapore.
Farming practices also determine the nutritional makeup and taste of milk. Organic and biodynamic dairy farms, for instance, must comply with stricter standards than those of conventional dairy farms. This includes what goes into the cows’ bodies and their quality of life. (According to one theory, cows who lead a stress-free life produce better-tasting milk!) Certified milk must come from cows that haven’t been given antibiotics or growth hormones, and whose feed is grown without chemical fertilisers, pesticides or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Among the biodynamic milk available in Singapore is that from another award-winning South Australian dairy, Paris Creek Farms. Its range includes everything from non-homogenised “cream on top” milk to homogenised reduced-fat milk and other dairy products.
So, what milk is best?
There’s no real answer here. You should try them all to determine the type that suits your taste, dietary needs and even sustainability standards. Open Taste is an online platform that gives consumers in Singapore the opportunity to shop fresh dairy products, along with vegetables, fruit, meat and a variety of pantry goods from around the world, at wholesale prices (often 30 to 50 percent cheaper than in supermarkets and specialty online grocers). It offers a wide range of milks – including homogenised and non-homogenised – from the aforementioned Aussie dairies, Paris Creek Farms and Fleurieu Milk Company. The products are pasteurised once only, and, to maximise freshness, are air flown direct from Australia rather than repacked locally. They’re then delivered to your door within 36 hours of placing an order.
Find out more at opentaste.
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