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Milk and its myriad products have been consumed by mankind from the very start of human civilization. It has gradually gained importance as an element of food that not only forms the basis of several food preparations but is also associated with numerous health benefits.

Milk, by definition, is the opaque white fluid produced and secreted by the mammary glands of female mammals for the purpose of providing nourishment to their offspring. The composition of mother’s milk is naturally suited to meet the nutritional requirements of the young one. In fact, for the first few months of life, the newborn is completely dependent on nothing else but exclusively the mother’s milk for sustenance. Breast-Milk is the only complete and comprehensive food that nourishes the progeny with essential macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins and fats, and micronutrients – vitamins and minerals.

Colostrum, the first milk produced immediately following childbirth, has the highest amounts of infection-fighting substances such as antibodies, white blood cells, macrophages and particularly high amounts of certain Immunoglobulin’s like Immunoglobulin A or IgA. This is to ensure that the newborn is able to ward off disease causing germs and gain the ability to fight any infection it is exposed to. Further, these are certain critical components which help build up immunity even as the child grows.

Beyond a certain point in life the child may start feeding on cow’s milk or milk from other sources. In different parts of the world the milk of goats, buffalos, camels, mares, donkeys, yaks and llamas is also used. Cow’s milk however, continues to remain the most popular type, owing to its slightly sweet taste, mild nature and subtle flavour.

Table 1: Nutritional Composition of milk from different species (amount per 100 g)
Nutrient Cow Buffalo Human

Water, g

Energy, kcal 61.0
97.0 70.0
Protein, g 3.2
3.7 1.0
Fat, g 3.4
6.9 4.4
Lactose, g 4.7
5.2 6.9
Minerals, g
0.72 0.79 0.20

Milk obtained from animals usually undergoes a great deal of processing before it is made suitable for human consumption. There are different types of milk produced after subjecting to different processing techniques.


  • Pasteurized Milk: Milk which is heated to specific temperatures that results in eradication of potentially harmful bacteria without affecting its flavour. Pasteurized milk tends to keep fresh for up to 2-3 days when refrigerated. This is the type of milk that is most often used for drinking and in cooking. Some people do enjoy unpasteurized milk too. It is of course recommended that babies, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and persons with an impaired immune system should refrain from drinking unpasteurized milk.
  • Whole Milk: Though usually pasteurized, whole milk being undisturbed in its composition, has a higher saturated fat and cholesterol content.

Semi-skimmed and skimmed milk are fat-reduced versions.

  • Semi-skimmed Milk (low-fat milk) contains 1.5-1.8 % fat.
  • Skimmed Milk has a maximum fat content of 0.1-0.3 %. Skimmed milk has the vast majority of its fat removed, containing only half the calories as full-cream milk, retaining most vitamins and calcium except for fat-soluble vitamins A and D.
  • UHT or Ultra Heat Treated Milk is subjected to high temperatures of 132 C/270 F, that leaves the taste unaffected but dramatically increases shelf-life as a pack of unopened UHT milk may last for up to 3 months even without refrigeration.
  • Dried Milk or Milk Powder: Full-fat or skimmed milk subjected to a process of spray drying in order to improve the quality.
  • Evaporated Milk: Homogenized milk (with fat particles evenly dispersed) with its water content reduced to make it twice as concentrated as regular milk. The application of high heat during processing lends it a highly distinctive flavour and good store life.
  • Condensed Milk: is basically evaporated milk in which sugar has been incorporated in order to thicken as well as sweeten it. This is primarily used in making desserts and sweets.

Tips for Buying and Storing Milk

Always checking the label is important while buying fresh milk. Manufacturers and retailers must have a ‘best before’ or ‘sell by’ date printed on the carton. Unpasteurized raw milk may be identified by a green foil top.

Milk needs to be always stored in the refrigerator, to enhance its keeping quality. It may last for up to 3-4 days this way. If kept outside and especially in a humid, warm environment, it will sour very quickly. Powdered milk must be stored in a cool, dry environment, preferably in an air-tight container.

Culinary Uses of Milk

Milk is a liquid ingredient that has various culinary uses. Not only is the liquid form used in cooking but processed milk products are also widely used in making milk based dishes. Milk recipes often include desserts and baked dishes. Several savory dishes are also made with milk as the main ingredient. Milk adds to the richness of the dish and forms a good base. Few milk recipes include milk powder that is as tasty as liquid milk. Beverages such as tea, coffee and milk shakes are mainly prepared with milk, either in liquid form or in powdered form. Soup, stews, sauces and dips are also some of the commonly prepared milk dishes. Milk is an integral part of making sweets, cakes, cookies and puddings. Almost all ice-creams have milk as the base.

Popular Milk Recipes

Milk dishes are popular across the globe. Listed below are some of the most popular milk recipes:

• Mango shakes – It is very popular milk shake made with milk and mango pulp.

• Milk cake – This dish is a very commonly served sweet in Indian cuisine. It is made up of fresh milk while cooking it until thickens.

• Vanilla ice cream – One of the most popular milk recipes made with cream and milk. Vanilla ice cream is popular around the world as a dessert.

• Khoya – It is an Indian milk recipe made with milk as the only ingredient. It is basically used to make various Indian sweets.

• Milk biscuits – This milk recipe is very nutritious and well-liked by kids.

Cuisines Commonly Making Milk Dishes

Milk is such a versatile and readily available ingredient that it is used by almost all cuisines. The other dairy-products made up of milk are equally used in cuisines across the globe. In Indian cuisine, milk is mainly used to make sweets. Clarified butter or ‘ghee’ is a very common food item in all Indian households. ‘Chaach’ or ‘lassi’ are the Indian cold beverages that are made up of by-products of milk and are considered very light and healthy. Italian cuisine uses cheese extensively in most of the dishes and cheese is the processed form of milk only. American, French and Middle Eastern cuisines are also commonly making milk dishes such as puddings, pancakes, salad dressings, and cream based meat and vegetable dishes.

Preferred Methods for Cooking Milk Dishes

• Boiling – Milk is often used afer boiling. Though boiling doesn’t alter the milk nutrients. Soup and broth dishes are often made by this method.

• Baking – Various desserts and milk puddings are made using the method of baking .

• Freezing – Milk ice creams and desserts are frozen in order to set or solidify them.

• Churning – This is the most common method of processing milk to produce butter. In this method milk is continuously stirred vigourously in such a way as to separate the butter from the milk.

Nutritive Value of Milk

Milk is a complete ‘nature’s food’. It is highly nutritious and provides various health benefits as well. Nutritive value of milk and some health benefits are mentioned below:

• Milk and milk dishes provide high-quality protein.

• It also supplies vitamin B, zinc and phosphorous.

• Calcium is found in abundance in milk and milk products. Calcium ensures healthy and strong bones along with healthy structure of teeth.

• Whole milk also contains iodine, niacin and vitamin B6

• For young children milk is very essential as it helps in building bones.

Apart from containing lots of nutrients, milk product contains few drawbacks:

• Whole milk and especially cream contains high amount of fat.

• Unpasteurised milk is a common cause of food poisoning.

• Some people have lactose intolerance, hence milk is not suitable for them.


For persons who are lactose intolerant or who experience difficulties in digesting regular milk, non-dairy options are available that are steadily gaining popularity. Some of these include-

Almond Milk

Almond Milk is proven to be one of the best milk substitutes as it efficiently replaces milk whether in the morning cup of coffee or breakfast cereal or even in complicated baked dishes and dessert items. It is rich, creamy, mildly sweet and is high in Vitamin E. Plain almond milk supplies 60 calories (per 8 ounces serving). With 0 saturated fat and cholesterol it is heart-friendly and with its relatively low glycemic value, Diabetics may also benefit from it.

Almond milk may be fortified like regular milk to improve its Vitamin A, D and calcium content. Vitamin A is important for healthy vision, Vitamin E and A have antioxidant properties protecting tissues from free radical damage. Calcium and Vitamin D build strong bones and teeth. Calcium also regulates blood pressure and facilitates muscle contraction. Vitamin D enhances immune function.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk has the advantage of being soy-free, gluten-free, and lactose-free. It is rich in taste and creamy in texture, lending itself beautifully to not only desserts but also curries and gravies. Coconut milk is even consumed directly as a milk replacement.

Prepared from fresh and tender coconut flesh, coconut milk is a great option for many dairy-free dishes. The only drawback is that it is high in total and saturated fat. Coconut milk has been tried and tested as a delicious way to enhance creaminess and give more body to most dairy-free and vegan dishes, ranging from curries (especially Thai curries and Asian dishes) to pasta sauces and from puddings ( Asian style desserts) to even dairy-free whipped creams.

One cup of coconut milk ~ 250g of liquid provides about 552 calories, with 479 calories coming from fat. The prohibitively high calorie and fat level makes coconut milk feasible only for occasional indulgence. Of the 57g of fat present in coconut milk, 51g is saturated fat, though it also has 626 mg of essential omega – 6 fats. These days reduced fat coconut milk options are being made available with some of the saturated fat eliminated.

Coconut milk provides 13 g carbohydrates with 5g of dietary fibre. Protein content is 5 g. Coconut milk is rich in iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, copper, zinc and selenium, and. It also contains folate, vitamins C, E, K, and B- vitamins.

Recipes made using coconut milk are-
• Coconut Cupcakes
• Tofu with Coconut Curry Rice
• Harvest Pumpkin Soup
• Pumpkin and Asparagus Curry
• Vegan Whipped Cream
• Vegetable Coconut Curry/ Thai Red and Green curries

Rice Milk

With plant-based diets’ slowly gaining popularity, Rice Milk is being touted as an alternative to cow’s milk. However it lacks some essential nutrients in cow’s milk. Rice milk is obtained from processed brown rice, which is mill-pressed and then strained.

Rice milk is usually thinner in consistency when compared to nut milks or soymilk. It has a lighter, sweeter flavour that works well for using along with cereal or in a cup of coffee. While rice milk may be employed in baking recipes or in dairy-free sauce recipes, it normally requires some binding or stabilizing agent like agar flakes, flour, eggs or gum.

Rice Milk is as such, quite high in carbohydrates, perhaps owing to the fact that it is sweetened with sugar cane extract whereas cow’s milk, gets its sweetness from natural lactose. Rice milk however, lacks in quality protein as well as calcium. Even with fortification, calcium in rice-milk may be inferior in terms of both quality and bioavailability when compared to cow’s milk. Rice milk provides lower levels of other minerals potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc compared to cow milk.

"Horchata" is rice milk popularly used as a Mexican beverage which employs the use of ground almonds and spices like cinnamon for additional flavour.

Soy Milk

Soy milk is an extremely popular dairy alternative these days in the West, whereas it has been a traditional beverage in Japan, China and other parts of Asia since very long. Individuals opt to drink soy milk usually because they are either lactose intolerant or lactose sensitive. Still others drink soy-milk in place of cow-milk or any other animal milk for purely ethical reasons or due to religious influences.

Although soy is one of the principle food allergens, soy milk has been generally accepted as a healthy alternative to cow’s milk. Unlike cow’s milk, soy milk is naturally fat free and has 0 saturated fat content. It is cholesterol free, being of plant origin. Soy milk is also high in complete protein with a sound essential amino acid profile. One cup of soy milk contains about 7-10 g of protein, similar to 8 g in cow’s milk. However, it lacks calcium.

Fortified Soy milk is enriched with Calcium, B-vitamins especially B 12 and vitamins E and D. Whereas an 8 ounce glass of unfortified regular soy milk contains only 61 mg of calcium, the fortified version contains an average of 368 mg.

Phytoestrogens in soy milk are associated with cardiovascular and weight loss benefits apart from cholesterol lowering and anti-cancer qualities.