Pasteurisation v/s Nature

Raw milk essentially is milk that has come straight from the udders of the cow. It doesn’t go through any form of processing, nor any chemical alternations. Touted as a superfood by some and hazardous to health by others, raw milk has become one of the most infamous dairy products of the modern era. With several cases being reported of young children falling ill due its consumption, government bodies in America like the FDA and CDC have issued warning urging people, especially children below the age of 5, pregnant  women and immunocompromised individuals to avoid its consumption as the dangers largely outweigh its benefits.

Unlike in the West, Indians have only recently begun consuming pasteurised homogenised tetra packaged milk. For many generations, as well as a sizeable chunk of today’s population, people consumed raw milk with little to no problem. Be it a lack of development, stronger immune systems or simply better food sense (whichever you prefer to believe), the difference in one population’s ability to digest a particular food item when compared to the other is stark to say the least.

What is Pasteurisation?

Humans first began consuming the milk of other mammals through the domestication of animals during the Neolithic revolution. In 1864, French Scientist Louis Pasteur developed a technique of heating milk to a certain temperature for a set period of time to kill pathogenic microbes and thus prolong the quality of the beverage. Pasteurisation helped in controlling the spread of diseases like E coli, bovine tuberculosis, listeria and salmonella that were associated with dairy consumption.

Why is Pasteurised Milk being considered bad today?

Pasteurized, homogenized, factory produced, packaged milk available in stores today is nutritionally and chemically very different from raw milk. Excessive processing of milk to remove / replace natural butterfat (for skim and low-fat milk), increase shelf life, standardize taste, etc. permanently alters the chemical composition of the beverage. Further, factory cows that produce the milk are fed soy, corn, growth hormones and antibiotics rather than being allowed to graze on natural pastures. This altered diet further affects the quality and nutritive value of the end product, i.e., the milk.

What are the benefits of Raw Milk?

Raw milk comes from cows that have been allowed to grow naturally, graze on pastures of grass rather than corn or soy, and milked in a relatively more humane manner. The external environment, quality of feed, milking process and overall hygiene of the farm is directly detrimental to the quality of milk, which is to say that it’s likely to be better than milk coming from industrial factories.

In India, it is common practice to heat milk that comes home and cool it naturally before consumption. We do so to reduce the butterfat content of the milk (the butterfat is skimmed off the top and stored to be used in cooking or as a natural face pack), kill any possible bacteria and improve taste. This might explain why we suffer less outbreaks of diseases even after consuming so called raw milk.

It is simple to understand that anything produced in a natural, chemical free environment is good for health. However certain practices like applying heat in the form of cooking, steaming and grilling or methods of preservation like curing, salting and pickling have come about in our evolutionary journey with the intention of making food more edible, nutritive and digestible to the human body. Any extreme has dire effects, and its application to milk is no different. A complete elimination of any method to kill bacteria is bad, and nor is the use of excessive processing.  The ideal situation is to find milk that comes from organically fed, naturally raised cows that have undergone minimal processing to ensure it is safe for human consumption.

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