Unhomogenized milk

by John Pope

Most of us buy and consume homogenized milk every day without even thinking about it, but the unhomogenized option has a lot of advantages, as John explains.

Right then, let’s start from the very basics.

Creamy milkThe vast majority of cows milk that we buy and consume in the developed world has gone through two pretty major scientific processes: pasteurization and homogenization.

Pasteurization is done for fairly obvious reasons. Unpasteurized milk does taste a lot better (and has an odd yellowy colour), but unless you live right next to a farm, know a bit about the cows that are producing it, and aren’t going to keep it for long, then it’s probably not the best idea to buy and use it.

Homogenization on the other hand gives no health and few storage benefits. It’s only purposes are aesthetic, and to give the product a slightly longer shelf life, and the fact that you don’t need to shake the bottle to mix the cream. It’s a complex process but the simplest explanation is that the fat particles in the milk are broken down into a smaller size (from 2-4 microns to 0.4 microns) so that the milk looks smooth and has no lumps of cream in it.

I buy unhomogenized milk whenever I can for a number of reasons, which we’ll go into in a minute, but it can be a bit trickier to lay your hands on than homogenized is. When I was living in the UK, I could always get it in the Waitrose supermarket chain, and here in Barcelona I buy it from the local cheese shop. If you can’t find it in a supermarket then you might want to try a farmers market or a cheese shop.

You should buy it because…

So, after hunting it down, what do I get by buying unhomogenized milk?

I get the kind of milk that I remember as a kid. Unhomogenized milk has that cream line at the top, so that everyone (who likes milk) wants to the one who gets to open the next bottle or carton and get the lovely fatty creamy bit.

In the US, homogenized milk has been the standard since the 1930′s and it has spread over time to cover pretty much every developed nation on the planet. The UK was one of the longest holdouts, only making the change en masse to homogenized a few decades ago. When the majority of British milk came from the milkman then it was all unhomogenized, but when we gave up that great institution and started buying it in the supermarket, then we didn’t only change the delivery method but also made a switch to homogenization.

Apart from the creaminess and the nostalgia of it, there are a number of other reasons why I prefer unhomogenized milk.

A lot of people believe that there are health benefits associated with unhomogenized milk. There is some evidence that implies that homogenized milk may be more likely to trigger allergies, but I am not aware of any large scale study of this.

Various studies have shown that homogenized milk may be bad for you for a number of different reasons. One of them links the rise in heart disease in the years following 1932 to the invention of the homogenization process. Dr. Kurt Oster has spent decades trying to prove that homogenized milk has links to all kinds of different disorders, including atherosclerosis, but the fact is that the majority of these links are not widely supported by the scientific community and there is not a large amount of evidence for them.

Whilst none of this evidence is particularly strong, you do have to wonder why we would want to pass any foodstuff through an additional mechanical process that gives absolutely no real benefits, and certainly no health benefits, but may have several negative health effects.

One useful fact in the kitchen, is that because of the bigger fat molecules, unhomogenized cream takes about half of the time to whip that homogenized cream does.

Apart from anything else though, and most important of all, is the fact that unhomogenized milk and cream simply tastes better!

  • http://andrei.md Andrei

    They have to homogenise milk because they separate it first. This gives them 2 basic components to play with: cream and skim milk. When separated, it’s easier to put together to get different proportions and different fat content. When they put it back together, they need to homogenise, otherwise, the cream and skim milk will not combine.

    I’m not saying homogenised milk is good or bad, just explaining why they need to homogenise.

    Ever wandered how you can have different fat contents in milk, yoghurt, icecream or cheese? Because they can control how much cream to put.

    PS: I try to avoid dairy products as much as possible.

  • tester

    But Sharon, the same reasoning can be applied to make so many things seem like they are bad for us! What about flour? Or anything else made from wheat, barley or oats? What about squeezed orange juice? Or anything at all that is not eaten whole from the plant. What about cooked meat? If you want to determine what is *actually* bad for us you need to look for evidence-based scientific studies – not look at what *feels* wrong to you. Remember: you are entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts.

    • rawrscary

      Your logic is flawed to an extent.

      Orange juice is not chemically altered by squeezing it and bursting the pockets that hold the juice.

      Flour is indeed bad from the processing, as modern day flour has over 20 nutrients that are killed/removed in the process. This is why stone ground flour is superior to flour that is milled in a typical high heat machine used now days. Then we have the bleaching process for flour which further ruins it, and synthetic minerals are added back, but not in the same quantity as what they previously were before processing the wheat.

  • Paul

    Homogenised Milk is a real bugbear of mine. I was disgusted when I signed up for a milkman and found that they had switched to homogenised milk in plastic bottles like the supermarkets.

    I miss the top o’ the milk of course this does answer the question as to why glass bottled milk tastes better…its because it is!

  • http://www.facebook.com/barbora.morris Barbora Hornakova Morris

    also Trinity farm nottinghamshire sells only unhomogenised

  • Edward

    I buy unhomogenised Jersey milk from Tesco and it is lovely! Costs £1 a litre, so not too expensive. Raw milk is the healthiest milk to drink though, as pasteurisation kills off all the goodness, so basically you are left with ‘dead’ milk. Raw milk is very safe and one of the best health foods you can consume. Even when raw milk goes off, you can still use it to make other foods i.e. cottage cheese etc, whereas pasteurised milk just goes sour and yucky!!

  • Melissa

    I bought unhomogenized milk, but it has bits floating in it. It doesn’t smell bad, but it worries me a bit, is this normal?

    • Clara

      Those are just bits of fatty cream, they are the best bits! :)

    • porkandgin

      Completely normal, just give it a bit of a shake.

  • porkandgin

    You can buy unhomogenized milk in quite a lot of the US – it gets trickier when you are looking for raw milk though – see here: http://porkandgin.com/ingredients/raw-milk/

  • Julia Dauk

    True, I liked this article. I was milking cows with my hands, beating up butter and making single/double creams and cheese and I can say for sure that nithing tastes better than unprocessed unhomogenised milk. (:

  • Sarah

    I now only buy un- homogenised milk as I was told that homogenised milks fat is a help in the cause of blocked arteries over time. All so in-homogenised tastes so much nicer that homogenised. It cost me $6.80 for a 2 litre. You would think it would be cheaper as it has only been put through one process?…

    • rawrscary

      It’s not about the processes involved, it’s more expensive because dairy farms that produce this kind of milk are not producing the same kind of volume that they are when they sell to a big milk processor like Darigold for example.

  • Sarah

    I buy mine from my local groceries. They sell organic vegetables and all so bio-dynamic un-homogenised milk. Is place is on center rd Bentleigh east Vic. I have all so found it at a few other places. Sunnybrook on north rd. I try and support local retail not supermarkets.

  • Sandy Kemp

    Where can I buy unhomogenised but pastuerised milk in WA? I would like to make my own cheese!
    Lo from sandy

    • Ed

      Hi Sandy the only unhomogenised milk i have seen readily available is Margaret River Organic Creameries. Available in Coles. Although you can get organic milk at Woolies and that might be unhomogenised as well

    • Julie

      I just bought some at Foodland in SA made by Paul’s

      http://www.pauls.com.au/milk/organic/unhomogenised-low-fat/

  • bob1

    homoginizing makes whole milk and skimmed milk look the same then they tell you to drink skimmed milk for health reasons but the use the fat to make cream cheese butter ect so charge you extra to be unhealthy plus the skimmed milk is sold at the same price as the full cream milk