Aspen Times Weekly: Got Milk?
MILK LABEL 411
Homogenized: A process of emulsification that prevents fat solids from separating in the milk; lengthen shelf-life. “Cream-top” milk is not homogenized.
Lactose-free: Without a certain milk sugar that can cause intestinal distress in certain consumers. Sometimes, lactase enzymes are added to break down lactose before consumption (Lactaid brand).
Organic: From USDA-certified cows allowed to graze or fed organic feed, not given antibiotics or growth hormones, and treated humanely. Also labeled “eco” or “bio.”
Pasteurized: Heated to minimum 161°F for 15 seconds, to remove 99.9 percent of potentially harmful bacteria; shelf life 5-15 days.
Ultra-Pasteurized: Heated at a high temperature for a short period of time (280°F for just two seconds) to remove 99.9 percent of potentially harmful bacteria. Shelf-life 16-21 days, generally. Some stable to 70 days for refrigerated milk and 6 months for shelf-stable milk.
Ultra-Filtered: Poured through fine filters to concentrate natural protein and calcium while minimizing sugar and eliminating lactose.
rSBT: Recombinant bovine growth hormone, a synthetic chemical used by some non-organic dairy farmers to increase milk production
A1: A type of beta-casein protein in milk, thought to produce symptoms of lactose intolerance in an estimated 1 in 4 Americans. A1 protein is believed to be a result of modern agriculture practices.
A2: The other beta-casein protein in milk, digested differently from A1. Originally, cows’ milk contained only A2 protein. Today, heirloom cows are bred to contain only A2.
Natural: Suggests no additives or synthetic substances, yet undefined by the FDA.
STANDING IN THE CHILLY, fluorescent glow of the modern-day milk aisle, I assess the selection. Organic…homogenized…ultra-pasteurized…omega-DHA…CARBMaster …“Grassmilk”…? I recognize the usual suspects from my three-glass-a-day childhood — plastic gallon jugs and rectangular cardboard cartons — but plenty of slim, shaped bottles fashioned from eco-friendly composite material and plastered with words such as “ultra-filtered,” “sustainable,” and “lactose-free” crowd the dairy case.
That’s not counting two types of goat’s milk in one corner; on the opposite side is an extensive collection of dairy-free “milk” made from soy, almond, rice, hemp, cashew, and coconut. One constant among this multicolored kaleidoscope: the word PROTEIN, in bold lettering on labels featuring cartoon cows jumping for joy, idyllic farm vistas, and graphic outlines of the glass milk jugs of yesteryear.
Since when did picking up milk at the supermarket become a brain-teaser? Even at Aspen’s relatively modest grocery stores, moo juice choices are daunting. Yet cow’s milk consumption has declined 30 percent since 1975, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture — a statistic that has kicked the dairy industry into overdrive. Newfangled milk products attempt to reverse the trend by delivering convenience and health claims in sleek packaging. Dairy allergies in children and lactose intolerance in adults, plus saturated-fat fears, have driven consumers’ thirst for alternative nut milks and lactose-free choices.
“New!” boasts the labels on cartons low in the cooler. “The milk that might change everything.”
The A2 milk contains only A2 beta-casein protein; the more widespread A1 protein is thought to cause intestinal distress in certain consumers. Those who are unable to digest A1 protein, found predominantly in high-yield Holstein dairy cows, often digest A2 just fine. So, Australia-based A2 Corporation conceived of a genetic test to pinpoint cows that produce only milk with A2 protein (Jersey, Guernsey, and Normande are top breeds). Et voilà, the company claims: “healthier” milk.
While scientific testing has proved inconclusive (a 2009 review by the European Food Safety Authority found no link between the consumption of A1 milk and digestive problems) and the company has been accused of “making false and misleading claims about the health benefits of its milk” by the Australian government, the market for A2 milk has grow steadily over the past decade in the Land Down Under and since 2012 in the UK. Controversy has continued apace. Currently, the brand accounts for an estimated 8 percent of the Australian dairy market. Now, disregarding a US distribution flop from 2003 to 2007, the renamed A2 Milk Company has made a successful launch across the pond.
But is it good stuff or gimmick? The jury is out on A2. However, news broke last week that a pair of major studies led by researchers at Newcastle University in England confirm that organic milk and meat contain as much as 50 percent more omega fatty acids than conventional milk. The study authors specify that the high levels of omega-3s are likely due to the fact that organic cattle typically graze on grassy pasture as opposed to less-nutritious grain feed.
Enter Organic Valley’s new Grassmilk: milk from cows that roam organic pastures brimming with alfalfa, clover, and other tasty grasses, minimally pasteurized, not homogenized, and free of additives or animal growth hormones. Shake the carton to mix in the cream that settles on top and consume within five days — Grassmilk is a return to old-fashioned, if less-convenient, ways.
Unlike A2 and most organic milks, Grassmilk is not ultra-pasteurized, a process that heats milk at a higher temp for a shorter period of time (280°F for just two seconds) than traditional pasteurization (minimum temperature of 161°F for 15 seconds) to remove 99.9 percent of potentially harmful bacteria for longer shelf-life — up to 70 days for refrigerated milk and six months for shelf-stable aseptic milk, common in Europe. Some say that high heat negatively affects the flavor of ultra-pasteurized milk; there are slight differences in nutritional value, too.
New to the US market since 2014 is Fairlife, a Coca-Cola product that touts ultra-filtration — the process of running milk through fine filters to concentrate natural protein and calcium while minimizing sugar and eliminating lactose — as the reason why its milk is superior. (Lactaid-brand milk, on the market since the 1990s, is dosed with lactase enzyme to break down tummy-troubling lactose milk sugar before consumption; critics point to an oddly sweet aftertaste and vague green tinge.)
Fairlife milk contains 30 percent more calcium, plus extra protein and half the sugar (13 and 6 grams, respectively) of ordinary cow’s milk and is free of sketchy rBST growth hormones. A Business Insider review concluded that it tastes richer and has a creamier mouthfeel. Like organic milk, it also costs roughly twice the price of conventional milk.
Ultra-pasteurized Fairlife milk also has a shelf life of up to 90 days. The company admits via its website that, “sometimes there is a slight odor that gets trapped inside. It should dissipate after a couple of minutes to ‘breathe,’ and will still taste delicious.”
Other unpalatable tidbits are found during a quick scan of ingredient lists. Take Organic Valley Omega-3 Milk: organic, Grade A milk, indeed — boosted with refined fish oil (sardine, anchovy) and fish gelatin (tilapia). Sneaky, sneaky, marketing department!
It’s no newsflash that grocery staple prices are rising; organic milk, in particular, has jumped by $1.50 per gallon since October 2013. Yet the price that U.S. farmers received for milk dropped in 2015 and will decline again this year as production climbs, according to the USDA. In response, dairy companies are pumping out protein-enhanced milk products in an effort to boost consumption.
Kroger’s CARBMaster—ultra-filtered, reduced sugar, lactose-free, nonfat milk — trumpets 11 grams of protein, 6 grams of sugar, and is also available flavored with vanilla and chocolate. (Regular cow’s milk counts 8 grams of protein and 12 grams of sugar; A2 Milk, 10 grams of protein, 13 grams of sugar.) Hood packages a similar cow’s milk product called “Calorie Countdown Fat-Free Dairy Beverage.” Is this progress?
Clark’s Market in Aspen, however, also stocks relics of another era: Glass bottles. One gallon of antibiotic-free, pasteurized milk from Morning Fresh Dairy Farm in Bellvue — family owned since 1894 — costs $4.94, roughly half the price of Organic Valley’s Grassmilk ($9.53) and, because it is homogenized, lasts up to twice as long after opened. Though not certified-organic, the farm’s cows graze on grass at least 90 days per year.
Choosing from these new, improved milks depends on personal preference: organic milk from grass-fed cows sans antibiotics? Ultra-pasteurized for long shelf-life? Ultra-filtered for enhanced protein and calcium? At least one thing is certain: grass-fed cow’s milk is gluten-free.
Amanda Rae’s grandfathers — both of whom worked in the dairy industry — would be proud of her return to real milk.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.