Milk Pasteurization & Homogenization

One of the ironies of the world that brings a smile to my heart is the one surrounding pasteurization and homogenization. The French have long been recognized as the purveyors of all that is good and tasty in the culinary world. From their wines to haute cuisine, their defense of the taste of food has always been seen as one of the more noteworthy French characteristics.

Yet two of the more taste-destructive scientific processes applied to milk were invented by Frenchmen, Louis Pasteur and Auguste Gaulin.

The irony, it is delicious, no?

I’m not denying the health benefits derived by both processes, but it’s fairly clear that pasteurization and homogenization both remove a fair amount of flavor in milk. A drink of raw milk is all that is needed to prove this fact. But as many people do not have access to raw milk, let me explain how this occurs.

Pasteurization is the process in which a product is heated for the purpose of killing harmful organisms (such as bacteria, viruses, protozoa, molds, and yeasts) but retaining beneficial organisms. However, pasteurization is not an exact science, and oftentimes the process destroys organisms that add to a products taste. Conversely, sometimes the process leaves behind organisms that are not so good for us, including the organism Mycobacterium avium subspecies paratuberculosis, long suspected as a causative agent in Crohn’s disease in humans. As any scientist will tell you – short of out and out sterilization, no process of removing organisms from our food is perfect nor 100% risk free.

Homogenization is a process with a different intent altogether — to ensure a longer shelf life for milk. The process works like this: milk is forced under extreme pressure through tiny holes. This breaks up the normally large fat particles into tiny ones and forces the fat to form tiny molecular clusters, thus ensuring that the molecules do not regroup. The end result is that instead of forming a cream layer on top of the milk, the fat molecules stay suspended in the milk. Smaller collections of fat molecules equate to a change in the taste of whatever food your eating, whether it’s prime rib, oil and vinegar, or milk. Whether it tastes better or worse is a matter of perspective.

I’m purposefully setting aside the health benefits of raw milk vs. non-homogenized milk vs. the stuff you find in your supermarket. There’s too much white noise on both sides of the argument and very little in the way of case studies to provide sufficient proofs of any of their claims (aside from the “less exposure to micro-organisms = less risk of disease” which has been around since Pasteur’s time).

There is the matter of economics that one should be aware of. Which is the more profitable model – selling a product that has a shelf life of 7 days, versus selling a product that has a shelf life of six weeks? There is clearly a financial benefit to keeping a product on the shelf longer (less waste to throw away) even if it means sacrificing a product’s taste.

As far as the short term, There’s no doubt which is the safer product after 4 weeks when comparing pasteurized/homogenized milk versus milk that has not gone through both processes. My question is this: Two dairies produce two different milks, one is your typical supermarket milk, the other is unpasteurized and unhomogenized. On the first day that both producta are available on the market shelf, which is the superior product?

It’s a question that I’m quite sure that the dairy industry doesn’t want answered.

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