The History of Milk

When did we begin drinking milk?

Milk is as ancient as mankind itself as it is produced by all species of mammal, from man to whales as the perfect source of nourishment for their young.

The first reports of human consumption of other mammalian milks date back as early as 6000-8000 BC. At this time ancient man learned to domesticate species of animals initially for the provision of meat, and then later for the provision of milk for general consumption.

Mammals used for milk production included cows, buffalo, sheep, goats, and camels, all of which are still used in various parts of the world for the production of milk for human consumption today.

Milk consumption around the globe

The role of milk in the traditional diet varies in different regions of the world. In general, those in tropical areas where there are high temperatures and no refrigeration consume less than people in colder regions, who traditionally consume far more.

In addition, a large percentage of the human population begins to lose the ability to tolerate milk in the diet during weaning and eventually cannot tolerate it at all. This is due to a decreased production of the enzyme lactase which is required for the digestion of the milk sugar lactose. Therefore, in many areas of the world, consumption of milk ends after weaning is complete.

The persistence of lactase production and activity beyond weaning is a phenomenon seen predominantly in people of Northern European descent. In this area of the world, dairy farming has been commonplace for up to 10,000 years and milk is regularly consumed within the diet.

It is unknown whether the maintenance of a reasonable level of lactase has enabled these populations to use milk and dairy products in the diet beyond weaning, or if it is the continued consumption of milk and dairy products following weaning that leads to the persistence of lactase activity.

Why do we consume milk?
Milk is a supremely nutritious food, providing us with a whole range of nutrients in a single glass.
1 glass (200ml) of milk contains:
Vitamin A for eyesight                                                Calcium for strong bones and teeth
Vitamin B12 for red blood cells                                  Carbohydrate for energy
Magnesium for muscle function                                 Phosphorous for release of energy
Potassium for nerve function                                     Protein for growth and repair
Riboflavin for healthy skin                                          Zinc for immune system

Milk is a convenient food source as it is readily available and can be easily included in the diet in numerous different ways.
For example, milk can be consumed as a drink on its own, as a milkshake or a smoothie with fruit, on breakfast cereals or as an ingredient in a recipe.

Many different types of milk exist including:
Whole milk                  Channel island milk     Condensed milk          Flavoured milk
Semi skimmed milk     Organic milk               Filtered milk
Skimmed milk             Evaporated milk          Sterilised milk

What else is milk used for?
Milk is used to make a whole range of other foods that we commonly consume in our diets.
All cheeses, yogurts, butters, creams and ice creams initially come from milk, and are formed using various different manufacturing techniques.

Cheese has been consumed for thousands of years-it is mentioned in the bible and was enjoyed by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. It is a concentrated form of milk made by allowing the milk to coagulate and form curds and whey through addition of the enzyme rennet. The curds and whey are then heat treated which changes the texture and allows the flavour to develop. Salt is added to preserve the cheese and it is then pressed into moulds to give it shape. The cheese is then left to mature and develop its full flavour. Many different type of cheese are available and they are all produced in a slightly different way.

Yogurt is thought to have originated thousands of years ago in Eastern Europe and Western Asia and today different types of yogurt are eaten all over the world. Yogurt is a fermented milk product made by adding harmless bacteria to milk. Yogurt can be found in a range of varieties and flavours in the UK and the most popular flavours are strawberry, raspberry, black cherry and peach melba.

Cream is the thicker portion of milk and rises to the top of untreated milks. It has a creamier and richer texture than the rest of the milk and has a higher fat content. Cream has many uses in cooking and is also used to make other dairy products including butter, cream cheese and dairy ice cream.

Ice cream
Ice cream first appeared over 1000 years ago in China and it is now estimated that on average in the UK we each consume up to 8 litres a year. Ice cream is made from milk, water, fat emulsifiers, stabilisers and flavours. About 90% of all ice cream eaten is vanilla flavoured.

Traditional butter making has occurred for thousands of years.
Butter is usually made from the cream portion of milk, and the butter making process involves numerous different stages. Traditional butter making involves churning cream until butter forms and modern butter making sometimes involves the addition of harmless bacteria to the cream which produces butter with a slightly different flavour.

Milk Collection
Originally milk was put into churns by dairy farmers after milking and placed on a milk stand for collection. The churns were loaded by hand onto a lorry and taken to the local dairy for processing. Today, the milk is collected in bulk from refrigerated farm vats by tankers, usually every other day.

The industrial revolution brought about a huge increase in population and this created a greater demand for fresh milk and dairy products. The introduction of the railways in the 1860s enabled milk to be carried long distances from the rural producing areas to the growing towns and cities. By 1900 the Great Western Railway was carrying 25 million gallons of milk a year from the West Country to London. Today, milk is transported in large tankers by road to the various processing dairies.

Delivery and packaging
In mid Victorian times milk was delivered direct to the customer. The milk seller carried the milk in a horse drawn float and the milk was ladled into jugs. Glass bottles were first introduced in 1884 and are still used to a small extent today by milkmen delivering milk to the doorstep. Bottles can be washed and re-used 12 or more times and are therefore environmentally friendly. Cartons and plastic containers are more commonly used to package milk today and people tend to buy their milk from shops as opposed to having it delivered.