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The mysteries of powdered milk

(post, Caroline Cummins)

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.