I love raw milk. Especially un-homogenized raw milk.
I love how cream rises to the top and settles in a thick, luxurious layer. I love that milk is a blank canvas — and yet a food in its own right. And, I love that it can be made into yogurt, and butter, and squeaky Cheddar curds! (Big fan of those.)
I love that people like you and me can raise healthy livestock in a clean environment to produce milk that teems with living organisms.
I also love the chemistry of it. What makes the proteins in raw milk different from the rest of the food proteins? Why does cream rise to the top? What do fin whales have to do with it?
So, in this post, I want to share my excitement with you. What’s going on in your everyday glass of milk?
1. Raw Milk Is Like A Mini Food Pyramid.
Not only is it a complete protein — with all 9 of the essential amino acids — it also has fat, carbohydrates, multiple vitamins, and minerals (source).
2. Bundles And Bundles Of Casein Proteins
Behold, milk proteins. Given a fresh glass of milk, you wouldn’t even know that they existed. But you have seen them.
Ever made a block of cheese? Those are (mostly) the caseins — curdled, squeezed of water, and aged to perfection.
Chemically, caseins are bundled into aggregates called micelles, held together by calcium phosphate which acts as a sort of glue. Another casein — kappa-casein — forms a negatively-charged “hairy layer” on the surface of each individual micelle. As a result, since negatives repel negatives, micelles stay separated and evenly dispersed throughout the milk. (On Food and Cooking, page 19.)
Furthermore, caseins are special among food proteins because — given fresh milk with low acidity and salinity — they are relatively tolerant of heat. This allows them to be utilized in many dishes where other proteins (such as in eggs and meat) would curdle. (On Food and Cooking, page 19.)
Additionally, these micelles allow for the formation of cheese and yogurt as we know them. If you’re interested in learning to make your own cultured dairy and cheese, we have a class entirely devoted to the subject, just for you!
3. The Whey Proteins Are W(he)y Cool, Too.
Coming from someone who practically rates articles based on the level of pun achieved, maybe I shouldn’t have made that pun. 😉
You’ve probably heard of whey. It’s the liquid drained off of cheese or squeezed out of yogurt. Well, that liquid can also be home to the whey proteins — globular proteins that act both in immunity, and as enzymes.
Ever cooked milk and wondered what that smell was? Lactoglobulin, the major whey protein, denatures at 172 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s when it unfolds and exposes its sulfur atoms to the rest of the milk. Consequently, the sulfur binds with hydrogen to create hydrogen sulfide gas. And that is the cooked odor of milk. (On Food and Cooking, page 20.)
4. Cream Rises To The Top Of Milk Via A Process Called Creaming.
This process is evident in cow milk. And the answer is simple!
The cream part of milk is made of fat. As we all know, fat and water do not mix. This means that the fat content of milk is compartmentalized away into fat globules. If they’re big enough, like in cow milk, they happen to be very buoyant.
Whey proteins aid this buoyancy by meshing about a million of the fat globules together. They then rise right to the surface, ready to be spooned off or shaken back in as cream. (Source.)
While we’re on the subject of whey proteins and fat globules, they aren’t always on such good terms. Actually, fat globules are covered in a membrane of phospholipids and proteins, which help emulsify the fat in the milk, and also preserve it from fat-digesting enzymes like whey proteins! It’s a love/hate relationship. (On Food and Cooking, page 18.)
5. Fin Whale Milk Has A Fat Content Of 42%!
On the one hand, this isn’t at all surprising, considering that it’s cold in the ocean and newborn whales need all the help (and blubber, and energy sources) they can get.
On the other hand, for comparison, Jersey cow milk has a fat content of 5.2% and human milk is at a low 4%. Keep in mind that percentages vary depending on the stage of lactation. (On Food and Cooking, page 13.)
6. The Wonder Of Yellow Milk & Cream
Most of us know that beta-carotene is the pigment in cream that makes it yellow (source). It’s a precursor to Vitamin A in the body (a fat-soluble vitamin), so it is compartmentalized away with the rest of the fat-soluble vitamins in the fat globules.
And what makes milk yellow (or even yellow-green)?
Riboflavin — or Vitamin B2 (Food Chemistry, page 498).
As it turns out, beta-carotene and riboflavin are both orange-y yellow substances that lend health as well as color to milk. When changed to its biologically active form, beta-carotene acts as a powerful antioxidant, aids in immunity, and works in the eye to help convert photons of light into electrical impulses that travel to the brain (source).
Riboflavin, also when changed to its biologically active form, acts as an antioxidant in addition to helping the body change Vitamin B6 and folate into useable forms (source).
7. Your Hot Cocoa’s “Skin”
Ever seen a pot of milk on the stove heat up and then sprout a skin? Or have you ever left your mug of hot cocoa for a few minutes, till you returned and had to suck off a film to resume drinking?
Honestly, I liked that funny little hot cocoa ritual. But why did it happen?
When milk heats up, water molecules evaporate. As more and more water evaporates, the proteins in the milk get more and more concentrated. They eventually coagulate, trapping fat globules and calcium, and creating the skin that you see. (On Food and Cooking, page 25.)
Do you have any other fun facts about raw milk to share? What benefits have you experienced from drinking raw milk? Comment below!
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