4 April 1997

Plenty of scope for novel family milks

SPECIALITY milks can be produced straight from the cow while maintaining her welfare, and the image of milk as a natural food.

Speaking at a seminar on dairy profitability, Bridget Drew, director of ADAS Bridgets Research Centre, Hants, explained that competing retail outlets would continue to be interested in novel milks and milk products fuelled by ever increasing consumer awareness of the link between health and diet.

There was scope for the UK to develop these products and so help to counter what was now a declining market for liquid milk.

ADAS Bridgets is among the world leaders in terms of its research on better "quality" milk products. Dr Drew envisaged that in the future the industry could offer consumers a range of family milks targeted at specific needs.

"We have the technology to produce different milks by altering the cows diet without compromising her health and welfare."

Work at the centre has, for example, shown how to reduce saturated fat levels. Although liquid milk is 96% fat-free, over 33% of the dry weight of milk is fat and 72% of this fat is saturated.

"This level of fat has two disadvantages for the industry; the decline in dairy products reflects the current medical advice to reduce dietary intake of both total and saturated fat and butter will not spread from the fridge," she said. Recent work had confirmed not only the extent to which milk fat can be reduced (to produce semi-skimmed milk direct from the cow) but also that saturated fat levels could be cut, while increasing levels of the more beneficial mono and poly-unsaturated fatty acids, and the very long-chain n-3 fatty acids.

"We can increase the mono-unsaturated fatty acids by 12% and the poly-unsaturates by 60% by altering the cows diet," she said. It was also possible to increase n-3 long-chain fatty acids in milk by 120% – albeit from a very low base – and improve the ratio of n-3 to the n-6 fatty acids in milk.

Changing the fatty acid composition of milk does not only give potential health benefits. It could enable the milk to produce butter spreadable from the fridge. "Spreadable butter takes 6% of the market already and its share is expected to increase," she said.

Current market leader is Anchor spreadable butter, but to produce this the milk has to be altered in the factory; the new Lurpak spreadable product has been achieved by adding vegetable oil to butter fat.

"We have produced milk straight from cows that can be made into butter that is spreadable from the fridge," she said. But she felt this butter may even be too spreadable, and reducing the spreadability of the butter may give scope to cheapen the cows ration but still produce a very acceptable product.

"Whats exciting is that this milk had been achieved by altering the cows normal diet – not by additives as reported in the national press," she said.

Extra cost to the farmer of producing the milk would depend on the cost of the raw materials.

The next stage of Bridgets research would seek to find how to fine-tune the magic "spreadable butter" ration to ensure it can be produced as economically as possible, and to ensure a consistent product which can be produced throughout the year and at all stages of lactation, and that is repeatable over a range of different forages.

At the same time work will continue to develop speciality milks for the family milk range – for children, teenagers, healthy adults and the elderly – together with milks for those with heart conditions and high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.n

Sue Rider


&#8226 Healthy milk range.

&#8226 Spreadable butter.

&#8226 Semi-skimmed milk.