21 June is the summer solstice. Summer is now officially here – and so is the usual debate about drinks. Fresh milk remains the number one drink; but other drinks are sometimes proposed as alternatives.
We discussed this delicate subject with Sebastiano Porretta, university professor, president of AITA, the Italian Association of Food Technology, and member of the scientific committee of the Zootecniche Cremona International Exhibition, to be held in Cremona this December (Zootecniche Cremona International Exhibition, 1 – 3 December 2022).
How do you explain the popularity of these drinks, which are even said to be healthier than milk?
“These drinks are often promoted as being healthier and more sustainable than cow’s milk. But the marketing behind these claims sometimes quotes unreliable data. This is one reason why the upcoming Zootecniche Cremona International Exhibition will once more be hosting the Milk.it conference, dedicated to the world of milk.”
What are these alternative milks?
“Well, let’s start by getting the terminology straight. The term ‘milk’ properly refers to a product obtained by milking an animal, while other so-called milks are really derivative products (made from almonds, coconuts, soya or rice, for instance). And they are certainly not comparable with milk from a nutritional point of view.”
“Milk is a completely natural product. It provides 3.5g of protein (per 100g) of high biological quality, along with other important micro-ingredients (zinc, magnesium, phosphorus) and vitamin B12. And it is also known as a rich source of calcium. Cow’s milk contains 120mg of calcium per 100g; with vegetable drinks (like almond drink), on the other hand, this macro-ingredient is added artificially – and so the manufacturer can add as much as they want! As for cholesterol (milk is often accused of having a high cholesterol content), it’s worth noting that milk is a product of animal origin and thus contains animal fats. But the processing of milk is very important: whole milk contains 11mg of cholesterol per 100g, while semi-skimmed milk contains 7mg and skimmed milk even less.”
In other words, milk is the most natural product: but it is still sometimes accused of containing traces of hormones and antibiotics. Is this a real concern?
“Cow’s milk contains absolutely no hormones or antibiotics. The former are prohibited in the EU, while the latter are excluded because milk from sick cows being treated with antibiotics cannot be sold for human consumption. A system like ours is made up of professional livestock famers subject to continuous controls, whose products must satisfy the most stringent quality standards.”
So these vegetable drinks are not natural like milk itself?
“These vegetable drinks are really high technology products, made up of a variety of ingredients. One need only look at the list of ingredients on the packaging: water, sugar, salt, almonds, thickener, emulsifiers, added vitamins. These are very different products from milk – products of excellent quality which can be drunk without any concerns. But… raw milk is raw milk!”
This fascinating subject will be discussed further at the Zootecniche Cremona International Exhibition, scheduled for 1 – 3 December 2022 at CremonaFiere.