The mysteries of powdered milk

From Caroline — Blog by
March 12, 2009

Still haven’t made any homemade yogurt — although I like Sarah’s idea of using a slow cooker, a gadget I’ve been fooling around with lately. (See her comment in the Nancy’s Yogurt blog post, below.)

Mostly I’ve been poking around the Interweb and the library, trying to find out basic information about milk powder. It’s kind of like trying to research atomic scientists during WWII — very hush-hush.

One thing I’ve noticed, on ingredient labels and in the bulk bins at various local grocery stores, is that all the milk powder circulating out there seems to be of the nonfat variety. As Anne Mendelson points out in her book Milk, milk fat causes problems in the dehydration process, specifically the fat’s “tendency to develop spoiled or harsh flavors . . . This is why virtually all commercial brands [of dried milk powder] are nonfat.”

So maybe dried milk powder made from whole milk has more oxidized cholesterol than dried milk powder made from nonfat milk?

Wikipedia’s various articles about powdered milk and spray drying touch on the controversy over whether the process of turning liquid milk into powder creates oxidized cholesterol without really giving much data either way, and without discussing the whole milk/nonfat milk thing.

If you read Nina Planck (Real Food) or hang out on the Weston A. Price Foundation website, you’ll hear a lot about how powdered milk is one of the modern industrial food system’s many evils. But neither Planck nor the foundation backs up their claims with citations of actual scientific studies about the topic.

As one newspaper writer would have it, worrying about dried milk powder is silly, because there just isn't enough oxidized cholesterol in, say, a carton of yogurt to worry about.

On the other hand, I’d like to be able to buy yogurt, kefir, milk, and other liquid dairy products without fretting that they’re full of additives that I wasn’t expecting — milk powder, pectin, corn syrup, etc.

My latest purchase? Goat-milk kefir from Redwood Hill, bought because — shocking concept — it contains nothing more than goat milk and active cultures. The packaging brags that it’s “completely natural — no sugar, artificial coloring, preservatives, stabilizers, or powdered milk.” And why is powdered milk bad? Redwood Hill ain’t saying.

However, I just don’t think the powdered-milk thing is going to go away, especially as folks like the New York Times’ Jane Brody are touting it yet again as a great way to get cheap milk in tough times. Hm. Me, I’ll stick to trying to find good fresh whole milk, like Matthew Amster-Burton.

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1. by Kathryn H on Mar 13, 2009 at 4:09 PM PDT

Can you buy Seven Stars Farm yogurt in the northwest? It certainly wouldn’t be local as it is made in Pennsylvania, but it is delish, and only milk and live cultures. It was my favorite until I started making my own...

2. by Caroline Cummins on Mar 13, 2009 at 6:34 PM PDT

It looks like Seven Stars doesn’t sell its products on the West Coast — not surprising, given how small-scale so many of our independent dairies are. Here in Oregon, we can’t even get the various local milks Matthew Amster-Burton recently wrote about in his column on milk — and those are from dairies just over the border in Washington state.

3. by anonymous on Aug 19, 2011 at 8:29 AM PDT

how can powdered milk be alive with enzymes? what nutritional value does it claim to have?

4. by Caroline Cummins on Aug 20, 2011 at 12:08 PM PDT

Anonymous — Powdered milk doesn’t claim to be “alive with enzymes.” It’s generally used in yogurt, for example, as a thickener.

5. by anonymous on Aug 20, 2011 at 12:29 PM PDT

what nutritional value does powdered milk have?

6. by Caroline Cummins on Sep 4, 2011 at 2:58 PM PDT

Anonymous -- I’m not sure how powdered milk compares to fresh milk in the nutrition department. Its selling points have always been its shelf stability and its cheapness, not its nutritional content.

7. by anonymous on Sep 4, 2011 at 3:55 PM PDT

i guess i’m on the wrong site, then...

8. by Tiffany Hutchinson on Aug 22, 2012 at 7:30 PM PDT

Yup, not the best for nutritionist value, but it will save your wallet.

9. by Kate on Feb 12, 2014 at 3:07 AM PST

To my knowledge, good milk powder retains many of the nutritional properties that the original milk source holds. I use an organic product from http://organictimes.com.au

Quality milk pow is actually high in calcium and has a good deal of protein, including whey protein, and amino acids. It’s also pretty high in soluble vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin B12, and not a bad source of magnesium either which helps transport calcium amongst other things.

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