Thoroughly Modern Milk

July 11, 2006

16 Min Read
Thoroughly Modern Milk


In a simpler time, Aunt Bee encouraged Opie to drink his milk, saying, We cant put it back in the cow, you know.

Today, milk doesnt just come from cows. It also comes from soy, rice and almonds, and it has added minerals, vitamins and nutraceutical ingredients. It comes in ready-to-drink beverages, yogurt drinks and smoothie drinks. Its available in the dairy case or on the shelf. Processing and packaging technologies have given rise to ambient temperature, shelf-stable products. The categorys offerings are far more extensive than the products once left on the porch by the milkman.

Soymilk developments

It wasnt very long ago that few could imagine soymilks mainstream presence alongside dairy milk in the average grocery store. The acquisition of White Wave, Broomfield, CO, the countrys largest manufacturer of organic soymilk, by Dean Foods, Dallas, has helped establish the product among average consumers. Yet theres more to the soy category than the choice between vanilla and plain for a cereal topping.

According to Kate Leavitt, international division and marketing, Sunrich Food Group, Hope, MN, there is a huge trend within the industry in private labeling versus national branding.

If consumers are expanding their purchases beyond tried and true brands, they are undoubtedly growing more comfortable with the product. This is further evidenced by the movement of soy into other beverages.

Bill Fenske, vice president of R&D, Sunrich Food Group, sees a tremendous interest in combinations of soymilk with juice, particularly berry or orange juices. Were doing a lot of work now using pomegranate juice and açai juice that are high in antioxidants, he says. Along the same lines, theres a big interest in soy in tea, green tea and red tea. Weve done some work with white tea.

The limiting factor in soy/juice development is cost. Formulations can range anywhere from 10% juice up to 70% to 80% juice. A lot of it depends on the price point people are looking for, says Fenske. The more juice you put in, the more expensive it is.

Though it may sound somewhat illogical to consumers, Fenske says you can create a juice using soymilk that meets the standard of identity for that juice. For example, FDA dictates that finished orange juice from concentrate contains not less than 11.8% orange juice solids. Fenske suggests that by using the water in the soymilk to dilute the concentrate you can create a product that is considered 100% juice because it meets the standard of identity for orange juice.

Perhaps more likely to capture consumers attention is the ability of a soy/juice blend to meet the FDA heart health claim, which requires 7 grams of soy per serving. Fenske says they have made juice drinks containing up to 9 grams of soy protein. Those are more like smoothies, he says. Those are very thick when you get that much soy into it.

Flavoring soy/juice blends is less tricky than one would think. The more juice you have in it, the better tasting it is, Fenske says. When you get to the higher juice contents then you usually dont have to add flavors. When working with the lower amount of juice content then usually you have to add flavors back into it.

Stability, however, can be an issue because of the lower pH of fruit juice. The isoelectric point of soymilk is about the same as milk, Fenske says. Most of the proteins have an isoelectric point of 4.3 and 4.5. To keep the protein stable at a lower pH, he suggests using a stabilizer system. We use things like pectin to stabilize the product.

Coffee drinks such as lattes and frappuccinos are another growing use for soymilk. Leavitt cautions against using ordinary soymilk for this demanding application. They are going to require a slightly different type of formulation that will perform better in that high temperature and high acid application, she says.

Fenske suggests using carrageenans unless the product will be calcium-fortified. Then we like to use a calcium carbonate, which is going to drive the pH up a little bit and make it function in coffee a little better. Sometimes, phosphates such as disodium phosphate or dipotassium phosphate are used to help stabilize the protein. The phosphates tend to keep the pH in a range where the proteins remain stable, 7 to 7.5 pH, he says.

As in many other beverages, there is a trend in soymilk to add nutraceuticals such as antioxidants, calcium, prebiotics and probiotics. These can, however, present additional flavoring considerations.

Steven Keller, manager of applications and product development, David Michael & Co., Philadelphia, says choosing a flavoring system depends on many things, including formula, process, packaging and expected shelf life. We always need to examine consumer perception on aroma and color of product, he says.

When adding calcium above 50 mg, he cautions, the product can suffer from a dry, overmilky effect. We need to enhance expected flavor top-notes and usually adjust mouthfeel/ texture effects, he says.

Formulations using açai require innovative flavor combinations. Keller suggests açai/raspberry or açai/mango in order to present a product with more consumer familiarity.

Adding inulin (a fructooligosaccharide soluble prebiotic fiber) changes mouthfeel in beverages when used over the 20% DV (daily value) level. The texture clings more to the tongue, and we need to standardize flavor level accordingly so to not over flavor, Keller says.

Almond milk 

Almond milk may sound like a 21st-century product, but references to almond milk date back to the Middle Ages.

Sam Cunningham, Ph.D., Cunningham Consulting, Folsom, CA, says: Almond milk is a good alternative to dairy and soy beverages for everyday use. Almond milk is very mild in flavor, and thus can become the vehicle to which flavors and nutrients are added in development of nutrition beverages. There are no off-flavors to cover up, so it makes for a very wide range of possible flavor profiles.

Among consumers, almonds have an upscale, healthy image. Like soymilk, almond milk has no saturated fat, no cholesterol and no lactose. What sets almond milk apart is its high vitamin E content. According to Blue Diamond Growers specifications, one cup of almond milk (240 ml) contains 14.99 IU of natural vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopherol). In contrast, the USDA nutrient database reports one cup of soymilk has 3.31 mg alpha-tocopherol and 1.35 mg vitamin E added.

FDA allows the following qualified health claim for almonds: Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Almond milk has 60 calories per 240 ml serving, compared to 121 calories for 2% milk. Rice milk has 120 calories; plain soymilk has 100 calories. Almond milk has 2.5 grams of fat. Rice milk has 2 grams; soymilk has 4 grams, and 2% milk has 4.4 grams of fat.

Drink your grains 

Rice milk has long been a staple of the natural foods movement. Its been a viable option for those who are lactose intolerant. According to Cheryl Mitchell president, Creative Research Management, Stockton, CA, rice milks are typically made from partially polished rice. The bran layer has long been removed because of the difficulties in making a good-tasting product from whole grain. The high oil content of the bran is nutritionally beneficial but, if not handled correctly, can develop a rancid off-flavor. Also, in typical rice milk production, the fiber and protein will interact with each other, creating what she calls a spongy-like texture. In most of the milk products, they remove the protein and fiber material, she says.

Mitchell speaks from experience. Years ago, she developed a leading rice milk product; however, she says, my goal has always been to try to make it from a whole brown rice. I wanted to make sure that all the constituents were there in the milk itself, so it had the texture of milk but actually had all the particles of the whole grain, so you can actually call it a whole-grain product. She succeeded in developing GrainLife wholegrain ingredients. 

Her cooking and enzymatic process creates an ingredient that compositionally contains all of the whole-grain components while maintaining a smooth milk-like texture. RiceLife is available from Creative Research Management as a concentrate of 30% solids or as a spray-dried form.

Mitchell considers this a cutting-edge ingredient. Its a new category. Its a beverage that delivers a serving of whole grain, she says. The product is a totally new ingredient made from whole grains, and we found that we can make beverages or yogurts or everything that you can imagine from a whole grain because it doesnt have the same textural qualities but it does have all the nutritional components. The product has also been used in baked goods.

The natural oils present in the whole grain rice are sufficient to make a wonderful milky emulsion without having to add any fats, says Mitchell. Like milk, which has its own fat and protein content, so does a whole-grain rice milk. No added oil is needed.

Nutritionally, rice has more carbohydrates and less protein than dairy milk. Traditional rice milk has 25 grams of carbohydrates and 1 gram of protein per serving. Dairy milk has 12 grams of carbohydrates and 8 grams of protein. Whole-grain rice milk powder has 81 grams of carbohydrates and 7 grams of protein. Of this protein, 20% is soluble and 80% is insoluble. Its a very good, digestible protein, Mitchell says. The protein is somewhat responsible for the milky type color and texture. It foams. You can make the best latte. The pH is usually around 6.3 to 6.8, she says. The isoelectric point is in the mid 5s.

If the brown rice is handled correctly, she advises, the flavor is bland and lighter than soy. Interestingly, rice syrup has traditionally been used to mask flavor in soymilk. Now, natural masking flavors are often used, but in earlier years the best selling soymilks were those that were made with rice syrup because rice syrup had a natural masking agent for soy. The syrup added sweetness, which was at one time a positive attribute. Over the years, the taste profiles of these beverages have evolved to a lower sweetness level. Mitchell notes that when developing earlier milk products from polished rice, they strove to create a less sweet product than the soy products. The whole brown rice beverage will have even less sweetness than standard rice milk. I think it will appeal to a lot more people, particularly the male population, she says. Its a breakthrough. Because of the way its done, you can have a strawberry flavor. If youve wondered why theres never been a strawberry rice milk, its because it cant carry the flavor correctly.

Fruit flavors mesh well with the whole grain product. You can blend it with fruit juice and have a fruit juice smoothie, she says, noting that you can have a fruit and grain beverage. Depending on the ratio, you can label a full serving of whole grain or an excellent source of whole grain.

Axiom Foods is taking the whole grain brown rice powder to a higher nutritional level by fortifying the product with natural rice protein. On a dry weight basis, RiceLife Plus has 33% rice protein.

David Janow, president and CEO, Axiom Foods, Los Angeles, notes that the brown rice powder is made nutritionally identical to milk. It has the same functionality as milk. Its hypoallergenic, organic and non-GMO, he says. This can be used just like milk. It has the same creaminess. Most rice milks are very watery. This gives the same texture as a regular milk. With a 10% to 15% savings compared to dairy products, he suggests it makes economic sense as a direct replacement for milk.

Mitchell advises the protein-fortified whole grain brown rice powder would benefit infant formulas, power-type beverages and any other products with higher protein needs.

Dairy and soymilk are excellent sources of protein, with 8 and 11 grams per serving, respectively. However, typically, almond milk and rice milk only have 1 gram of protein per serving each.

Mitchell advises that protein is essential to functionality in many applications. If they dont have the protein, they dont foam like protein. They dont behave correctly in cooking formulations, she says. Of rice milk, she says, if you try to make a starch pudding it will soup out because the enzymes will break it down. Because it doesnt have the protein content, it will not behave as a 1:1 substitute for milk. For use on cereal its perfect. Certainly a beverage is another great place for it to be used.

Udderly milk 

While new types of milk beverages are making consumer inroads, dairy milk is still the mainstay. Americans continue to drink over six billion gallons of milk each year, says Sharon Gerdes, technical support consultant, Dairy Management Inc., Rosemont, IL. This is a relatively stable category. Meal replacement beverages generally contain dairy ingredients. This category has shown steady growth, around 5% per year, and is currently at roughly 125 million gallons per year. Other dairy-based drinks include ready-to-drink coffee beverages, yogurt drinks, smoothie drinks and milk drinks. This group weighs in at about 112 million gallons annually, with a projection to grow to 165 million gallons by 2009.

Gerdes believes the obesity epidemic in America is fueling interest in formulating dairy-based beverages with their perceived healthy halo. This interest has come from a wide variety of beverage companies, including major soft drink manufacturers, she says. We see schools not only replacing soft drinks with milk in their vending machines, but also replacing regular milk with lower-fat varieties.

Longer shelf life and development of more shelf-stable products contribute to a wider presence of dairy products. According to Gerdes, These newer technologies allow milk to be sold in more venues, such as vending machines. They also allow more foodservice operations to include milk on their menu.

Flavored milks are generally targeted to kids and teens. Chocolate continues to dominate with 93% of the market share.

Because carrageenan reacts with milk protein to form a shear-reversible gel, it is the most commonly used stabilizer in flavored milks. Kappa carrageenan at 0.02% to 0.03% will suspend cocoa particles. Other gums such as cellulose, guar gum and xanthan are also used. Keller notes the popularity of vanilla or vanilla cream, and strawberry. Other than strawberry, there has not been much in the berry line, he says. Because milk is more basic in pH, there are more indulgent dessert ideas rather than fruit combinations. Trends have gone more toward adding other flavors to chocolate, like caramel, toffee, mint or other candy bar types of flavors.

A wide variety of sweeteners are used in flavored milk. The standard of identity for milk, however, calls for nutritive sweeteners, so products that use an alternative sweetener must have an appropriate name, for example, Carb Countdown dairy beverage or Slim Slammers, no-sugar added flavored milk, says Gerdes. Common nutritive sweeteners include sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and occasionally corn syrup; non-nutritive sweeteners include sucralose and acesulfame K. In dairy smoothies we have also seen erythritol and fructose. Often a combination of sweeteners is used.

Bravo Foods International Corporation, North Palm Beach, FL, is marketing a line of dairy-based beverages based on licensing agreements with other food companies and intellectual property holders. This allows them to market such kidfriendly products as Milky Way® chocolate milk, 3 Musketeers® chocolate milk and Moon Pie® chocolate milk. An agreement with Marvel comics allows them the use of images of such super heroes as the Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man on their Slammers® Ultimate Milk Shakes. The Slim Slammers® is geared toward weight-conscious moms and consumers with its 1% fat content, 13 added calcium, and vitamin fortification.

The addition of functional ingredients to milk is a growing trend. Omega Farms has recently launched a full line of dairy products containing omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Each serving of Omega Farms dairy products provides 75 mg of EPA and DHA. Considering these two fatty acids are found in oily, cold-water fish, one can imagine that flavoring concerns were a hurdle to development.

We use the purest, odor-free, tastefree omega-3 oil from Denomega Nutritional Oils, used exclusively by Omega Farms for dairy products in the U.S., says Lisa Henry, spokesperson for Omega Farms, Hayward, CA. The imperative thing is to begin with a quality product and ensure proper handling and production protocols throughout production and distribution, she says. Omega-3 oil in products is tasteless and is undetectable to the palate.

FDA allows a qualified health claim stating supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumptions of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. This claim must also carry the statement. One serving of (name of food) provides (x) grams of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. FDA recommends that consumers not exceed more than a total of 3 grams per day of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, with no more than 2 grams per day from a dietary supplement.

According to Henry, other studies suggest omega-3s may reduce the risk or progression of Alzheimers and Parkinsons diseases. Essential fatty acids play many other helpful roles, including keeping your cells strong and enhancing your immune system, she says.

Gerdes has observed a few manufacturers are adding omega-3, fiber, sunflower oil and other vitamins and minerals, including A, B6, B12, E, phosphorus and magnesium. Federal standards specify the amounts of the fat-soluble vitamins A and D that can be added to milk, and we dont generally see fortification of dairy foods above that level, she says. Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Part 131, Section 110, states that vitamin D, if added, must be at levels of not less than 400 IU/quart. Vitamin A must not be less than 2,000 IU/quart, respectively.

Apparently, the single most popular nutrient to add to dairy products is calcium, says Gerdes. A GNPD (Global New Products Database) search of over 800 new fortified dairy products introduced around the world in the past year revealed that nearly 300 claimed added calcium.

According to Gerdes, it might surprise readers to learn that one of the most popular ingredients to add to milk ismore milk. Extra nonfat milk solids, which have been either condensed or dried, are often added to skim milk to make skim milk taste more like 2% or whole milk. Not only do the extra milk solids add a creamier taste and appearance, they also increase protein and calcium content.

With milk, its not always a matter of adding, sometimes it is a matter of subtracting. Newer technologies and ingredients allow food manufacturers to reduce components that may be undesirable for those with specific health conditions, Gerdes says. This includes fat, cholesterol, milk sugar (lactose) or, in some instances, even minerals can be reduced to meet specific nutritional parameters.

For example, she says, there are approximately 375,000 end stage renal disease dialysis patients and approximately 10 million individuals with chronic kidney disease in the United States who cannot drink milk because of its high phosphorus level. One company has developed a beverage with low potassium and phosphorus which can be consumed by these individuals, Gerdes says.

Its clear that far more opportunities for milk abound than could have been foreseen by Aunt Bee. While she whimsically suggested putting milk back in a cow, could she ever have imagined removing key components, adding fish oil, or producing milk from soybeans, almonds or whole grains?

Cindy Hazen, a 20-year veteran of the food industry, is a freelance writer based in Memphis, TN. She can be reached at [email protected]

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