Can you guess what food starts us off in life, keeps us going until we can fend for ourselves and is critical for growing vital body parts?
From your teeth to your bones to your immune system and organs, from the moment we are born milk plays an important role in our lives.
Research Scientist and milk expert Dr Skelte Anema says from a scientific point of view milk is one of the most fascinating liquids in existence.
“Milk not only contains exactly the right amount of calcium and phosphate to grow bones and teeth, but it keeps those levels of calcium and phosphate in liquid form. If you took the same amounts and put it in another liquid, for example water, it wouldn’t dissolve.”
Milk under the Microscope
So if we break down milk what do we get? Milk is made up of about 86% water, and 14% fats, proteins, lactose and minerals. It contains essential amino acids and high levels of calcium and phosphate.
Under the microscope milk starts to revel some of its mysteries. At low magnification, the fat will be seen as globules that are encased in a membrane which is made up of complex milk lipids and proteins –essential for things like brain development and gut health.
Increase the magnification a bit more and casein micelles (pronounced My-cells) will be seen – these are the molecules that keep the calcium and phosphate in liquid form. Look under very high magnification and whey proteins become visible. These control things like the lactose concentrations and immune properties which are so vital in an infant’s early days.
And while we know a lot about the properties of milk, Dr Anema says there is still a lot we don’t know.
“We still haven’t discovered the full importance of all the compounds and how they interact and behave to change the structure, texture and flavour of milk. Studying milk may seem straight forward but in truth there is still so much to learn.”
The Future of Milk
The physical properties of milk have changed very little from when humans began drinking it around 10,000 years ago and Dr Anema believes milk’s popularity lies not only in its nutritional value but also in its versatility.
“We are constantly changing the way we deliver milk to the customer, adding more protein or more calcium, using different concentrations of fat and amino acids, adding flavours or taking milk and turning it into a variety of different products.”
But what about plant based options such as soy milk or almond milk? Will these ever drink up some of milk’s popularity? Dr Anema doesn’t think so.
“Consumers have a number of choices these days but the truth is that none of them offer the complete package that milk does. I think there will always be a market for these plant based alternatives but there will always be people who want cows’ milk.”
So this World Milk Day make sure you raise a glass to 10,000 more years of marvellous milk!