I always justified spending twice as much for organic milk because of what’s not in it - no hormones, no antibiotics.
But then I learned something disturbing. There’s something we want in it,that’s not there- bacteria. Most organic milk has had the majority of the beneficial bacteria eliminated with the collateral damage being nutritional degradation.
It’s called ultra high temperature pasteurization (“UP”). Milk is heated at such high temperatures-over 300 degrees, 2x the temperature of basic pasteurization- that 100% of bacteria (including the good kind) is killed. Basic pasteurization is required by law in most states, UP is not.
Why is this done? No living bacteria means milk can be shipped long distances and then sit in a warehouse or grocer’s shelf for months without spoiling. You’ve likely noticed that some organic milk has a best-before-date that’s far later than other cartons, and you’ve assumed that means “fresher”. All this extended date tells you is that it’s UP milk and is therefore less fresh (or certainly less alive) than the organic milk with a shorter life expectancy.
So what exactly is the downside of UP milk?
1. For starters, a later date on the carton is not the date when the milk will go bad once you open it (ie once air-born bacteria enters), it’s simply the date when it would go bad if it were un-opened, though you might get an extra 10 days with opened UP vs non-UP.
2. UP kills all the bacteria and that’s not a good thing. The good bacteria found in milk is vital to keeping your digestive track healthy; it’s why yogurt (with live cultures) is so good for digestive health. See post on probiotics.
3. The UP process compromises the proteins and enzymes. At very high heat, the protein structure is changed meaning that the body absorbs less of the protein in UP milk. The enzyme lactase which helps your digest the lactose in milk appears to also be compromised.
4. Flavor is more bland (while some say it tastes “burned”).
So you want to buy organic but you don’t want UP? You can! But it requires good eyesight. Manufactures must note on the carton if the milk is UP, but it will not be prominent. Look for the words “ultra pasteurized”, “UP” or “UHT”, and don’t assume that if you bought a brand that was not UP that it will always not be – some brands sell both, depending on the geographic market and grocer’s demands. Here’s a snapshot of a few brands:
Stonyfield: all are UP
Organic Valley: UP and non-UP (read label)
Whole Foods 365 Organic: UP and non-UP (read label)
Horizon: UP and non-UP (read label)
Natural By Nature: all are non-UP
If in doubt, head straight to a farmer’s market and buy your milk from a responsible, bacteria-loving farmer. (My personal favorite in NYC, RonnyBrook,who pasteurizes at very low temperatures and allow their cows to graze in pastures. You can now get their products at WholeFoods.)
Any favorite brands? What’s your personal experience been with UP and non-UP milk? Any raw-milkies out there want to chime in?
Photo: Deliciously bacteria-rich milk from Ronnybrook Farm. Copyright © Michelle Madden
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