Guest article by Martin MacDonald
So, for about 6-12months now I have been on the trail of unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk, probably more commonly known as ‘Raw Milk’ but enthusiasts prefer the term ‘Fresh Milk’ as they insist you would not phrase it this way with other foods i.e. raw apple, raw banana etc. However, for the sake of this blog, bear with me on the ‘Raw Milk’ tag.
So, what is Raw Milk?
Pasteurization is the heating of milk to a temperature of around 65°C which is held there for around half an hour and then rapidly cooled to ~4°C. I believe there is a faster method than this which involves heating the milk to a higher temperature. Anyway, you get the picture. This rapid heating and cooling kills all ‘disease-causing microbes’. At the same time however, any enzymes or immune factors present in milk will also be denatured or destroyed. This is GCSE biology stuff that no-one disputes. However, some also believe that there are ‘good’ hormones, vitamins and minerals in the milk that are also denatured or destroyed but as far as I have seen there is no concrete evidence that the nutritional value of the milk is heavily impacted from this point of view. So, is there any real need for the pasteurization?! Well, yes and no.
Pasteurization is probably necessary while £$£$ still make the world go round and while cutting corners means more $£$£, it also means sick cows and ‘dodgy’ milk. At the same time however, 1000s of people are drinking raw milk and doing well off it, so long as it is from healthy cows fed on pasture… the way they’re supposed to. Therefore, if you do get raw milk, make sure the cows are organically grass fed, not as is common place today fed on an unnatural diet of grains. Most, if not all farmers who bother to get the license to sell raw milk will be looking after their cows… some even name them and have blogs for them!?!
Homogenization (the method I am least fond of) is the process of forcing milk through tiny holes at extreme pressure which breaks apart the fat globules. This in turn prevents milk from separating and the cream rising to the top. This also subjects the milk to another bought of high temperature. Homogenized milk is much ‘whiter’ than unhomogenized and is therefore more cosmetically pleasing. There is no other reason for homogenization other than this as far as I am aware. However, for me, the homogenization may be the worst of all the culprits. Not only does it heat the milk to a temperature that is sure to denature any natural enzymes present in it, but the breaking of fat globules into an unnaturally small form has me worried. I completed my Masters Research project on ‘The Prevalence of Food Intolerances in an Athletic Population’. Now, don’t get me started on the concept of food intolerances! But, through this research I got a unique insight into immune responses and antibody production in response to different foods measured by Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). What came up time and time again, i.e. in 90% of cases was that individuals were producing antibodies in response to milk consumption despite being asymptomatic with no known intolerance or allergy. So, why would this be happening? My eventual hypothesis was that somehow milk was getting into the blood stream in a form that was not recognised by the body i.e. partially undigested and the body was then treating it like an invading pathogen. At the time I hypothesized that this was probably due to ‘leaky gut syndrome’ which is caused by a number of things, not least the over use of NSAIDS such as ibuprofen. Other foods came up often too but milk was by far the most common. It was not until my research into raw milk that I put 2 and 2 together and got… well, an extension to my original hypothesis that perhaps the smaller than average molecules can penetrate even non leaky guts…
Another area that I am not so clued up on is the presence of a substance called Xanthine Oxidase (XO) which is present in milk fat. There is some information pertaining to the idea that the process of homogenization stops the fat and XO being normally digested and instead allows it to pass intact into the blood (as I have somewhat alluded to above). There is naturally occurring XO in the human liver which is normal and acts (enzymatically) to break down compounds contained within meat. However, in instances of liver damage, this XO can be released into the blood which can contribute to heart failure through damage to artery walls to name but one mechanism. So, herein lies my distaste towards homogenization. Frankly, it is unnecessary and holds the possibility of being damaging to human health.
Finally, the combination of two types of high heat processing may lead to ‘oxidized cholesterol’ or cholesterol oxidation products (COPs). These COPs “have been known to be more injurious to arterial cells than pure cholesterol and are more directly connected to the development of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease..”
Anyway, enough of that, onto more pressing issues. It is currently illegal to sell unpasteurized milk without a license and there are only circa 100 people in the UK with such a license making this natural produce rather hard to come by. So, what is the deal with Raw Milk, why is it so desirable and why is it a ‘controlled substance’ as it were?
What are the benefits of Raw Milk?
Through my searches and discussions with multiple farmers and even clients I have found that there are 1000s of people in the UK drinking Raw Milk with no adverse effects. This may not be hard science, but if someone died from an unpasteurized milk related disease, you can bet it would be all over the news!
Lactose Intolerance – Some individuals who report being lactose intolerant even find they are able to drink raw milk, probably because of the intact enzymes and live bacteria that actually produce lactase – the enzyme that breaks down lactose. I have one such case study of a friend who, through eliminations to her diet found that she was lactose intolerant… a big blow to a cheese and cake lover (butter and milk). She tried some unpasteurized, unhomogenized cheese and had no issues; she then took the plunge and tried raw milk, again with no issues! If you are someone who tries this and finds the same, please do let me know, it makes for much stronger conclusions on my part if I am ever asked.
Now, I’m not sold on the fact that ‘Raw Milk’ is some amazing superfood and medicine and that by drinking it you will heal all ills and become superhuman (as some websites will tell you). However, if we are striving for good health and to live long, health filled lives I think it is always worthwhile looking into how perhaps ‘mans’ love for money has altered what we view as normal. In this case, we view pasteurization and homogenization as ‘normal’ but in fact; it does seem (quite convincingly) that they are unnecessary when healthy animals, bred and fed in the right way are used. I came across quite a shocking piece of literature from 1981 titled “THE PERNICIOUS PRACTICE OF FEEDING DISTILLERY SLOP TO DAIRY COWS” which further led me down the raw milk path. Pretty crazy stuff! It is pretty short, you can read it HERE
So, what to take from this article… well, through my ‘quest’ it has come to my attention that until I become a strict ‘raw foodie’ I am going to struggle to convince people to rely solely on raw milk as, as soon as you add the milk to tea or coffee you are going to denature the enzymes etc anyway! Hmmm… There is also the high cost both financially and in time commitment to get raw milk. So, for me, it means I now buy unhomogenized milk for £2.06 for 4pints. I get it from my local butchers but it comes from Lubcloud Dairy who do not homogenize their milk or cream. There are other dairies that do the same and most butchers will have this kind of milk or can get it if you ask.
So, in the face of this, if you read this and know of a dairy that supplies many retailers in your area or indeed if you are a retailer or butcher, feel free to send the link to me and I’ll pop it in this article.
Where can I buy raw milk in the UK?
Since I started writing this article I have actually been able to get hold of some raw milk without paying £1/pint to have it delivered to my door from south of London. I got my raw milk from Lincolnshire Poacher Cheese who visit lots of farmers markets around the country! To find out where these are go HERE . (Update: I now get raw milk for £1.40/litre from a local farm who has gained a license to sell! If you live in Loughborough and want to try some let me know in the comments below!)
The milk tasted great, not actually as creamy as I expected but perhaps after drinking my full fat, non homogenized I was already pretty used to the cream separating a bit. Oh, and I’ve not fallen down dead after drinking 4 litres of the stuff in 3 days! So, if you’ve got the time and money… I highly recommend giving it a go.
Here is a little spiel from their website: “Fresh milk straight from our Holstein cows is chilled and bottled in 1 litre containers. It is unhomogenized and therefore has a layer of cream – just like milk used to be. It’s hard to believe it can taste so different to supermarket milk – it’s sweet and silky smooth – like drinking liquid ice-cream !! Give it a go!! Our milk is only available to order through Farmers Market. To place your order for collection from your nearest Farmers Market, please contact us.”
A few more resources on raw, unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk:
Map of Raw Milk Farms around the UK! Excellent resource!
Raw Jersey Milk -“Family Dairy Farm on the Suffolk Coast at Hollesley Bay, Woodbridge. Raw Jersey Milk is available from our farm 24/7. If you live in the northern part of London we deliver to you weekly.”
More information on raw milk can be found at: www.realmilk.com