10 Weird And Untold Facts About Milk
Milk is one of the most popular and important beverages on the planet. We drink it when weâre babies, and when we get older, we use it in everything from ice cream to coffee. In fact, we drink it so often that most people probably take it for granted. So letâs take a step back and give milk a fresh, new look because this white liquid is really, really weird.
Hereâs an icky question. If you saw a cow eating another cow, would you drink its milk? The next time you go to the grocery store, you might want to mull that over for a bit because that milk youâre about to buy probably came from a cannibal.
Dairy farmers need cheap ways to keep cows healthy, happy, and squirting out milk. To fill up those jugs, bovines need a lot of energy. Thatâs where rendered fat enters the equation. Rendering plants take dead animals and turn those corpses into tallow. Around half of that fat is added into animal feed. So when Bessie starts chowing on her daily dose of grain, sheâs probably eating her cousin.
This sounds like something out of a futuristic horror movie, but cow cannibalism isn’t really that big a deal. It is if youâre feeding them ground-up protein, which can cause mad cow disease, but rendered fat is totally fine. In fact, itâs a lot better than most vegetarian options. Tallow is easier on a cowâs digestive tract than foods like sunflower seeds, increases fertility, and helps cows take milk production up a notch. And if you were to replace animal fat with grain, youâd need three million acres of corn to make up the difference. That would surely affect grocery bills.
So while cows eating cows is a pretty odd thought, perhaps we should just relax and enjoy a nice glass of cannibal milk.
9Cows Enjoy Listening To Slow Jams (Maybe)
The next time you buy a jug of milk, you might want to thank Lou Reed. According to a 2001 study by researchers at the University of Leicester, the Lou Reed song âPerfect Dayâ puts cows in the mood to make milk.
Songs with less than 100 beats per minute can increase milk production by 3 percent. Scientists think these magic melodies relax the animals, letting them produce milk in higher quantities.
Other slow tunes that seem to work are âBridge over Troubled Waterâ by Simon and Garfunkel, âWhat a Difference a Day Makesâ by Aretha Franklin, and âEverybody Hurtsâ by R.E.M. However, this all depends on whom you ask. While the people at Leicester stand by their study, the folks at Canadaâs Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food are skeptical.
According to the Canadians, no one has repeated these experiments since 2001, which is a bit troubling. Also, if the music actually has an effect, it probably has nothing to do with the songs themselves. Instead, the music likely drowns out all the disconcerting sounds coming from those milking machines.
But hey, if youâve got a couple of cows, it probably wouldnât hurt to play âMoon Riverâ by Danny Williams, just in case.
8Skim Milk And Creamy Fabric
Once upon a time, nobody drank skim milk. A byproduct of the butter-making process, skim milk was treated like garbage and dumped into rivers along with buttermilk and whey. In the 1920s, Wisconsin dairy plants were pouring over 18,000 kilograms (40,000 lb) of these untreated milk products into the stateâs waterways annually, and things were getting smelly.
Facing pressure to stop stinking up the countryside (and stop being wasteful to boot), dairy companies started coming up with new uses for skim milk. In the 1940s, they sold it dried to the Allies, and in the 1950s, companies claimed skim milk could help you lose weight. Suddenly, it was a supermarket staple. But perhaps the most interesting use for skim milk had to do with the protein casein.
In the 1930s, scientists in Italy and America extracted casein from skim milk, turned it into fiber, and used it in all sorts of projects. Need to upholster car seats? Casein can do that. Want to make a fake fur hat? Casein to the rescue! In fact, people thought casein was going to be the next big thing in fashion, but interest in creamy clothing began to wane in the late 1940s.
However, in the last few years, casein has become fashionable again thanks to German designer Anke Domaske. Founder of fashion label Mademoiselle Chi Chi, Domaske has taken skim milk clothing to the next level. In 2011, she invented a new fiber called QMilch, or QMilk. QMilch is far more eco-friendly than the casein products of the 1930s and â40s. Itâs made of milk unfit for human consumption, and Domaskeâs process excludes the dangerous chemicals normally associated with textile production.
The casein is taken from dried milk, and then itâs set inside a machine that chops it. Next, itâs heated and then spun into thin yarn. Once the fiber is finished, itâs ready for Domaske to use in her new designs. And donât worry. You can totally wash it, and it won’t go sour. Itâs also easy on the skin, which is good news for people who are allergic to cotton.
7Boys And Girls Get Different Milk
Youâve probably noticed by now, but men and women are different, biologically. Our bone structure is pretty distinct, the plumbing is all different, and unless gynecologists get their hands on some Arnold Schwarzenegger science, men wonât be giving birth anytime soon. And thatâs not all. Women live longer than men, guys are better at handling sleep deprivation, and ladies are pretty amazing when it comes to spotting colors.
We also get different milk as babies.
In a study done on rhesus macaques, a motherâs milk changed depending on whether she gave birth to a male or female. If Momma Macaque had a boy, her milk would contain 35 percent more fat than if sheâd had a girl, and it would be loaded down with proteins. Thatâs probably because young male monkeys are more active and need that extra energy. But if Momma Macaque had a daughter, her milk would be high in calcium to give that girl strong bones. In addition to the extra minerals, female monkeys drink higher quantities of milk than males, and over time, their fat intake eventually equals their brothersâ.
Animals besides macaques make different milk. Cows, gray seals, and red deer do it, too—and so do humans. Scientists from Michigan State University ran tests on 72 Kenyan women and found that they produce fattier milk for boys than for girls. Other differences are even weirder. For example, they found that poor mothers produce creamy milk for their girls, but well-to-do mothers from Massachusetts produce milk with more energy for boys. So not only is human milk different for boys and girls, it also seems to change based on social circumstances.
While multiple theories explain why mothers produce different kinds of milk, scientists have yet to figure it all out. Many researchers think this discovery should influence the way companies produce milk formula for infants. Those early days of milk-drinking have a lasting effect on the way kids develop, and scientists suggest that businesses should adapt their products to suit different sexes.
6Most People Can’t Digest Milk
Pour yourself a bowl of cereal, and take a couple of bites. If you can eat the whole thing without coming down with diarrhea, congratulations! Youâre a mutant.
While many of us take milk-drinking for granted, 60 percent of adults on Earth just canât handle the white stuff. When most humans stop drinking their motherâs milk, they stop producing lactase, the enzyme that digests the key sugar in milk. Without a steady supply of lactase, you become lactose intolerant, and if you take a gulp of milk, youâll end up with cramps, bloating, or nausea.
The other 40 percent, many of whom come from Europe, Africa, and India, are genetic anomalies. Thanks to an ancient mutation, their bodies still produce lactase, and thatâs why they can drink milk after babyhood. Scientists believe this milk mutation popped up around 10,000 B.C., near present-day Turkey.
No one is sure why this milk-friendly gene showed up or how it spread so quickly through Europe. For a while, researchers thought ancient Europeans lacked sunlight and adapted new ways of processing vitamin D. Others think the gene showed up as a way of supplementing European diets, so people could drink milk when crops died. Others suggest it was a way of making women fatter and thus more fertile.
Scientists have a better idea of how Africans developed their milk-drinking mutant powers. While only about 25 percent of people of African descent can digest lactose, scientists think this ability has to do with the problem of drinking water. Originally, African farmers had to drink out of ponds or rivers, and that was incredibly risky thanks to germs. So Africans eventually developed the ability to process milk and thus avoid horrible diseases.
5The Weird World Of Online Breast Milk
While the US government has strict policies on fluids like blood and semen, breast milk is treated as a food. That means you can sell it to whomever you want, however you want. A lot of mothers donate their extra milk to nonprofit banks that pasteurize it and sell it to hospitals for $130 per liter ($4 an ounce). However, more and more mothers are turning their back on FDA-approved facilities. Instead, theyâre going online and selling their milk on sites like Only the Breast.
Founded by California couple Glenn and Chelly Snow, Only the Breast lets mothers sell their surplus milk to women who canât make enough of their own . . . and to the occasional man who wants a few ounces for one reason or another. Sellers hawk their wares with catchy titles like âFresh and Fatty!â and sales pitches like âmostly organic-raised breast milk.â There are sections on the site for specialized milk, so if you need a few bags specifically for two-month-olds or only want milk thatâs bafflingly labeled “gluten-free” or “dairy-free,” Only the Breast has you covered.
The popular site has branched out across Europe. Women sell their milk from anywhere from $1 to $2.50 per ounce, so if a mother sells about 1 liter (30 oz) a day (the standard amount needed by a six-month-old infant) for $2 an ounce, she could easily clear $20,000 in a year. However, some women arenât interested in the money. Mothers who want to help other women for free can join online groups like Eats on Feets, an organization that provides free milk for needy mothers.
The government isnât exactly crazy about this new online movement. Unlike professional milk banks, Only the Breast and Eat on Feets arenât required to screen donors or pasteurize milk. The FDA issued a warning in 2010, stating that it’s dangerous to let your baby drink someone elseâs milk. A study from Stanford University found that 3.3 percent of 1,091 potential milk donors were suffering from sicknesses like syphilis, hepatitis B, and HIV.
4The Wonders Of Bird Milk
Mammals arenât the only ones who make milk. A few birds can, too.
Take pigeons. These city-dwelling ârats of the skyâ produce a thick, milk-like substance for their babies, and itâs a crucial part of a young squabâs diet. Pigeon milk is generated inside the crop, a storage area in the esophagus. The crop works like an internal pantry, and lactating cells in the crop walls release a thick fluid that baby birds find delicious.
Both mothers and fathers produce this milk a few days before the chicks hatch. When the chicks are hungry, the parents open their beaks and upchuck all that creamy goodness. If young wild pigeons donât get their crop milk, they die. Scientists have also found that chickens grow 38 percent faster when they’re fed a diet of pigeon vomit. Thatâs probably because the fluid is rich in antioxidants, protein, and fat. In fact, crop milk has more protein than human milk (or cow milk, for that matter).
Pigeons arenât the only birds that have mastered milk-making. Flamingoes keep their babies happy with a special substance produced in their digestive tracts. And if Mom doesnât make it back in time from her fishing trip, Daddy Emperor Penguin can cough up some crop milk for his newly hatched chick as well.
3Why Is Milk In The Back Of The Store?
You wake up one morning, and youâre getting ready to eat some cereal when you realize youâre out of milk. You angrily slip on a pair of shoes, drive to the local grocery store, and trudge toward the dairy section. But itâs all the way behind the chips and the soda and the items we can safely call ânon-essential.â In many countries, milk is a huge part of the daily diet, so whatâs it doing in the back?
There are two reasons. The first has to do with a little trick called âbuilding the basket.â If you walk to the back of the store, youâll pass frozen dinners, mountains of junk food, and all sorts of products just begging to be bought. Store owners hope youâll notice all these goodies on your long march to the milk, and if their subliminal scheme works, youâll go home with a basket full of food.
The second reason is far less nefarious and has to do with another supermarket expression: the cold chain. Once a cow is milked, the liquid has to stay nice and frosty. Otherwise, it quickly spoils. So the milk is loaded in a temperature-controlled truck, driven down the highway, and dropped off at the back of the store, where itâs quickly off-loaded into a cold room. The dairy section is close to this cold room. This makes the process easy, fast, and keeps the milk tasting great.
So milk’s location is one part convenience and one part conspiracy. Plus, it helps burn of all that fat you get from drinking whole milk.
2The Mystery Of Witchâs Milk
Most people assume that only females can breastfeed, but men are perfectly capable of producing milk. All they need is a lot of prolactin. Thatâs the hormone in charge of making milk, and itâs already in the body. Men just need to boost it up a bit.
There are a couple of ways men can increase their prolactin levels, but most arenât very pleasant. They can suffer from a pituitary gland tumor, screw up their liver by starvation, or take drugs to alter the body chemistry. Or they could start massaging their nipples. Seriously—by stimulating the nipples, guys can get a spike of prolactin that causes the alveoli in their breasts to start making milk.
This peculiar phenomenon isnât exclusive to humans. Scientists have observed male lactation in dayak fruit bats, goats, and guinea pigs.
Human babies can also make milk on occasion. Itâs called âWitchâs Milk,â and it generally occurs three days after the infant is born. The baby’s breasts swell up, and the newborn nipples leak milky white fluid.
While the fetus develops, the motherâs body produces a lot of estrogen, which enlarges her breasts. That estrogen also courses through the babyâs bloodstream, and on occasion, these hormones enlarge the newbornâs breasts and cause infants to make milk. Itâs nothing to worry about. The swelling usually goes away after two weeks—but people didnât always know that.
Back in the Middle Ages, people feared witchcraft. They thought witches used babies to provide milk for familiars, spirits who took the shape of animals like toads. So if your baby started lactating, look out. There were demons about. In fact, some parents were so afraid of familiars creeping into their newbornâs crib that they made baby-sized rag dolls to trick the spirits into suckling a puppet.
1The Man Who Wants To Milk A Pig
When it comes to milk, most Americans rely on the good old cud-chewing cow. On occasion, theyâll pick up a carton of goatâs milk or buy a block of cheese courtesy of Maryâs little lamb. But thatâs as far as it goes for dairy diversity in the US.
But the rest of the planet is far more willing to experiment. Camel milkshakes are all the rage in Abu Dhabi, and in Campania, Italy, cheese-makers use water buffaloes to make mozzarella di bufala. Folks in central Asia enjoy a beverage called kumis, which is fermented horse milk, and in various countries across the globe, people drink the milk of yaks, reindeer, and elk.
But thereâs one mammal nobody seems all that interested in milking. Weâre talking about Sus scrofa domesticus, more commonly known as the domestic pig. We aren’t spreading pig butter on our biscuits or drinking chocolate pigâs milk because swine arenât the most touchy-feely creatures in the world. Grab one of these animals, and youâll have a fight on your hands.
Assuming you can hold one down, youâre going to have a tough time with those teats. Pigs have 14 tiny nipples that are incredibly difficult to squeeze. Making things worse, pig milk doesnât coagulate easily, so itâs difficult to turn into cheese. But that doesnât stop Chef Edward Lee from trying.
Owner of the 610 Magnolia in Louisville, Lee has appeared on shows like Top Chef and Iron Chef America, and heâs kind of obsessed with pigs. Describing pig milk as âviscousâ and âtart,â Lee has been trying to make pig cheese for quite some time. Itâs been difficult. While he did whip up a batch of pig ricotta, that required sneaking up on pigs while they were sleeping, quickly pulling their teats, and taking off when the sows woke up.
Figuring there was a better way, Lee came up with a new game plan earlier in 2014. In March, Lee announced that he was going to spend weeks living in barns with momma pigs, gaining their trust. He was going to smear his clothes in pig feces, hang out with the hogs, and become their best bud. Lee figures that if he can win their friendship, they might let him have a go at their teats.
If Leeâs plan goes well, his restaurant might become one of the first places to serve pig cheese. Want to give it a shot yourself, and beat him to it?