Updated: Aug 13
For generations, we have been made to believe the healthiness and purity of milk that a doodhwala bhaiyya delivers every morning at our doorstep. Our idea of prosperity is linked with the privilege of having fresh raw milk straight out of farms or tabelas or having a thick layer of cream on the top of it or drinking it straight from the udder at the time of milking. Today, we’ve drifted away from our rural roots and landed in tall buildings of the suburbs. Along the way, it kept becoming difficult to have a fresh and trustworthy supply of this potion.
Though we’ve always had an option of buying pouched milk, have we been able to accept that? It is our deep-rooted belief in the purity of raw unprocessed milk that lands us in a dilemma every time we are buying milk.
How is pouched milk different from raw unprocessed milk then?
To understand that let us break through the labeling on every milk packet. Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has made it mandatory to disclose the category/type of milk there. Three keywords are always mentioned on every milk packet that represents the type and category of the milk.
Heat treatment: Sterilized / pasteurized (Mandatory)
Category: Skimmed/ Double toned/ Toned/ Standardised/ Full cream (Mandatory)
For any milk marketed in India, it has been made mandatory by the law to perform either of the heat processing before packing and selling of the product. Pasteurized milk is heated to 79°C for 15 Sec. and sterilized milk is heated to around 135° C for 4-6 Sec. What are the perks of these heat treatments? Obviously, safe milk! There are possibilities of several ‘zoonotic diseases- In which cattle act as a carrier and pathogen can be transferred through milk’ and hormonal dysfunctionalities through consumption of raw unprocessed milk. The time and temperature combinations of the heat treatments have been derived through years of the scientific study of every possible hazard we can face through milk. Every pathogen is killed in both pasteurization and sterilization but sterilized milk assures no live cells present in the milk after the aseptic packaging. Besides, milk has a number of harmons that can cause endocrinal disorders upon chronic intake. The heat treatments assure the biological deactivation of these harmons alone by heat without the addition of any chemical substances.
The major difference in drinking raw unprocessed and pasteurized milk is in its bacterial count. In the subtropical and developing countries where milking is still a small scale hand-operated task, in the marginal area of farms, the initial bacterial count of raw milk reaches up to 2-3 lacks bacteria/ml. Even though we are boiling milk in the kitchen, the cooling happens at a natural slow speed. In this time the spores (eggs or dormant bacterial cells) again germinate between 55-65°C temperature range. In industrial pasteurization, however, the milk is RAPIDLY COOLED to below 5°C before spores are germinated. this brings down the bacterial population to below 20,000/ml in pasteurized milk and practically ZERO in UHT sterilized milk. FSSAI has made regulatory standards for all food products that allows maximum 20k bactorial cells in milk samples. If any 2 or more samples out of 5 are found above 20k, or even 1 out of 5 is above 50k, the entire batch is compulsoryly reprocessed before it reaches the shelf. COURSE, WE CANNOT ACHIEVE THIS EFFECT IN OUR KITCHEN making it safest to drink only pasteurized/ heat-treated milk.
Homogenization in simpler words is the blending of milk into a much wholesome liquid for a more nourished and fulfilling experience. We often observe the packet milk having a thinner layer of cream as compared to unprocessed milk. It does not mean that pouched milk has lesser cream in it. It is just blended at very high pressure to prevent its separation from milk into a separate layer. The quality standard for Indian consumers for several years has been linked with the thick cream layer and because packet milk does not give a thicker layer, it is often held culprit for the conspiracy of stealing the cream. In some parts, however, full cream Buffalo milk is being sold in an unhomogenised form to cater to the liking for cream in Indian consumers.
The third and most important title on every packet is its category.
There are multiple versions of milk available on the shelf for particular requirements of every consumer. Zero fat to low fat (double toned) mil for fat conscious people, sports players, Toned and standardized milk for regular use, and Full cream buffalo milk for cream lovers. But the real catch is in total milk solids. As per the above table, minimum requirements of milk solids have been defined by the regulators that a milk seller shall offer at a given price range to the consumer. Many times, milk collected from farmers or the same milk that our local vendor offers us at the doorstep falls deficient in the milk solids. Organized dairies make sure the consumer gets a fair amount of milk solids by enriching the milk with preformed milk powder (milk solids) before heating and packing the milk. Yes! It is completely normal and safe to add milk powder into milk. It is the only legal and ethical way to enrich the contents of the existing milk into a more fulfilling experience. It is a mystery how much milk solids are present in unprocessed milk and what compounds one can add to create a similar texture in that milk. The dairies have to follow the legal requirements and abide by all the ethical practices while they ensure the clean and safe supply of milk for every one of us. I’ve met people who are worried about the addition of milk powder into pouched milk when they are consuming milk from an unknown source that might be adulterated with any non-permitted and hazardous substance.
Practically, every drop of milk passes through several quality checks and processing to make it most suitable for human consumption in technically advanced dairy setups by thousands of professionals every day. In the times of a global pandemic when safety and health have become most important for everyone, pouched milk is probably the safest option we can count on for the complete nourishment of our children and family. It might not have that acquired feeling of indigenousness but that would undoubtedly be the best choice you can make when you buy it next time.