Fat content of milk

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Chart of milk products and production relationships, including milk Milkproducts.svg
Chart of milk products and production relationships, including milk

The fat content of milk is the proportion of milk, by weight, [1] :266 made up by butterfat. The fat content, particularly of cow's milk, is modified to make a variety of products. The fat content of milk is usually stated on the container, and the color of the label or milk bottle top varied to enable quick recognition.


Health and nutrition

Fat has more nutritional energy per cup, but researchers found that in general low fat milk drinkers do absorb less fat, and will compensate for the energy deficit by eating more carbohydrates. They also found that the lower milk fat drinkers also ate more fruits and vegetables, while the higher milk fat drinkers also ate more meat and sweets. [2]

Nutrition intake between whole milk drinkers and skimmed or low fat drinkers is different. An analysis of a survey done by the U. S. Department of Agriculture showed that consumers of reduced or low fat milk had greater intake of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber compared to the group of whole milk drinkers, yet zinc, vitamin E, and calcium were all under consumed in each group. The conclusion was that the whole milk drinkers were more likely to choose foods that were less micronutrient-dense, which resulted in their less healthful diets. [3]

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen, in Denmark, found that drinking full-fat milk may actually be better for your heart than drinking skimmed milk. This is because it boosted levels of 'good' HDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. [4]

Methods for reducing fat content

Today, most skim milk is created by spinning whole milk in a centrifuge so that the fat droplets separate out. [5] To make lowfat milk, one can simply mix skim and whole milk in a fixed ratio. [6]

The fat content of the milk produced by cows can also be altered, by selective breeding and genetic modification. For example, scientists in New Zealand have bred cows that produce milk with less than 1% fat content. [7]

Methods of detecting fat content

Milk's fat content can be determined by experimental means, such as the Babcock test or Gerber method. Before the Babcock test was created, dishonest milk dealers could adulterate milk to falsely indicate a higher fat content. In 1911, the American Dairy Science Association's Committee on Official Methods of Testing Milk and Cream for Butterfat met in Washington DC with the U.S. Bureau of Dairying, the U.S. Bureau of Standards and manufacturers of glassware. [8] Standard specifications for the Babcock methodology and equipment were published as a result of this meeting. [9] Improvements to the Babcock test have continued. [10] [11]

Terms for fat content by country

The terminology for different types of milk, and the regulations regarding labelling, varies by country and region.


While regular or whole milk has an average of 3.5% fat, reduced-fat milks have at least 25% less fat than regular milk. Low-fat milk must contain less than 1.5% fat and skim or ‘fat-free’ milk has no more than 0.15% fat. [12]


Fat content by weightCanadian terminology
3.25%3.25% milk or Whole milk or Homogenized milk or Homo milk
2%2% milk
1%1% milk
0-0.1% Skim milk

In Canada "whole" milk refers to creamline (unhomogenized) milk. "Homogenized" milk (abbreviated to "homo" on labels and in speech) refers to milk which is 3.25% butterfat (or milk fat). [13] There are also skim, 1%, and 2% milk fat milks. Modern commercial dairy processing techniques involve first removing all of the butterfat, and then adding back the appropriate amount depending on which product is being produced on that particular line.

United States

Fat content by weightU.S. terminology
100%[ citation needed ] Clarified butter or ghee
69%[ citation needed ] Butter
45%[ citation needed ] Manufacturer's cream
36%[ citation needed ] Heavy whipping cream
30%[ citation needed ] Whipping cream or light whipping cream
25%[ citation needed ]Medium cream
18–30%[ citation needed ]Light cream, coffee cream, or table cream
10.5–18%[ citation needed ] Half and half
3.25%Whole milk or regular milk [14]
2%2% milk or reduced fat milk [14]
1%1% milk or low fat milk [14]
0–0.5% Skim milk or nonfat milk [14]

In the USA, skim milk is also known as nonfat milk, due to USDA regulations stating that any food with less than ½ gram of fat per serving can be labelled "fat free". [14]

In the U.S. and Canada, a blended mixture of half cream and half milk is called half and half. Half and half is usually sold in smaller packages and used for creaming coffee and similar uses.

United Kingdom

Three main varieties of milk by fat content are sold in the UK, skimmed, semi-skimmed and whole milk. Semi-skimmed is by far the most popular variety, accounting for 63% of all milk sales. Whole milk follows with 27% and then skimmed with 6%. [15] Until 1 January 2008, milk with butterfat content outside the ranges defined by the European Commission could not legally be sold as milk. This included 1% milk, meaning varieties with 1% butterfat content could not be labelled as milk. Lobbying by Britain has allowed these other percentages to be sold as milk. [16] Since the change in regulation, all major supermarkets have launched a 1% variety.

Butterfat contentUK Terminology
5% Channel Island milk or breakfast milk [17]
>3.5% (typically 3.7%)Whole milk or full fat milk [18]
1.5%-2% (typically 1.7%) [19] Semi-skimmed milk or 2% milk [20]
1%1% milk
Less than 0.3% (typically 0.1%) Skimmed milk [20]

See also

Related Research Articles

Cream Dairy product

Cream is a dairy product composed of the higher-fat layer skimmed from the top of milk before homogenization. In un-homogenized milk, the fat, which is less dense, eventually rises to the top. In the industrial production of cream, this process is accelerated by using centrifuges called "separators". In many countries, it is sold in several grades depending on the total butterfat content. It can be dried to a powder for shipment to distant markets, and contains high levels of saturated fat.

Milk white liquid produced by the mammary glands of mammals

Milk is a nutrient-rich liquid food produced by the mammary glands of mammals. It is the primary source of nutrition for young mammals, including breastfed human infants before they are able to digest solid food. Early-lactation milk is called colostrum, which contains antibodies that strengthen the immune system and thus reduces the risk of many diseases. It holds many other nutrients, including protein and lactose. Interspecies consumption of milk is not uncommon, particularly among humans, many of whom consume the milk of other mammals.

Butter dairy product

Butter is a dairy product made from the fat and protein components of milk or cream. It is a semi-solid emulsion at room temperature, consisting of approximately 80% butterfat. It is used at room temperature as a spread, melted as a condiment, and used as an ingredient in baking, sauce making, pan frying, and other cooking procedures.

Whey Liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained

Whey is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. It is a byproduct of the manufacture of cheese or casein and has several commercial uses. Sweet whey is a byproduct resulting from the manufacture of rennet types of hard cheese, like cheddar or Swiss cheese. Acid whey is a byproduct brought out during the making of acid types of dairy products, such as cottage cheese or strained yogurt.

Buttermilk fermented dairy drink

Buttermilk is a fermented dairy drink. Traditionally, it was the liquid left behind after churning butter out of cultured cream; however, most modern buttermilk is cultured. It is common in warm climates where unrefrigerated fresh milk sours quickly.

Dairy cattle

Dairy cattle are cattle cows bred for the ability to produce large quantities of milk, from which dairy products are made. Dairy cows generally are of the species Bos taurus.

Crème fraîche

Crème fraîche is a dairy product, a soured cream containing 10–45% butterfat, with a pH of approximately 4.5. It is soured with a bacterial culture. European labeling regulations specify the two ingredients must be cream and bacterial culture. It is served over fruit and baked goods, as well as being added to soups and sauces. It is used in a variety of other recipes. Sour cream is a similar foodstuff, except that crème fraîche is less sour and has a higher fat content. Sour cream may contain thickening agents not permitted in crème fraîche in many jurisdictions.

Whey protein Protein supplement

Whey protein is a mixture of proteins isolated from whey, the liquid material created as a by-product of cheese production. The proteins consist of α-lactalbumin, β-lactoglobulin, serum albumin and immunoglobulins. Whey protein is commonly marketed as a dietary supplement, and various health claims have been attributed to it. A review published in 2010 in the European Food Safety Authority Journal concluded that the provided literature did not adequately support the proposed claims. For muscle growth, whey protein has been shown to be slightly better compared to other types of protein, such as casein or soy.

Butterfat or milkfat is the fatty portion of milk. Milk and cream are often sold according to the amount of butterfat they contain.

Babcock test

The Babcock test is an inexpensive and practical procedure to determine the fat content of milk. It is named after its developer, Stephen M. Babcock (1843–1931), professor at the University of Wisconsin.

George Malcolm Trout An American dairy industry pioneer, author, researcher, and professor emeritus in food science at Michigan State University. Trout is credited with finding the key to the creation of homogenized milk.

The dry matter or dry weight is a measurement of the mass of something when completely dried.

Κ-casein, or kappa casein, is a mammalian milk protein involved in several important physiological processes. In the gut, the ingested protein is split into an insoluble peptide and a soluble hydrophilic glycopeptide (caseinomacropeptide). Caseinomacropeptide is responsible for increased efficiency of digestion, prevention of neonate hypersensitivity to ingested proteins, and inhibition of gastric pathogens.

Otto Frederick Hunziker

Otto Frederick Hunziker was a pioneer in the American and international dairy industry, as both an educator and a technical innovator. Hunziker was born and raised in Switzerland, emigrated to the U.S., and studied at Cornell University. He started and developed the dairy program at Purdue University when such programs were at their infancy. At this same time, Hunziker was heavily involved with the development of the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) and the standardization and improvement of many dairy tests and processes. Hunziker wrote several of the leading dairy processing texts, which continue to be cited. After leaving Purdue University, Hunziker managed research and operations at a large, national condensary, continued to drive ADSA's standardization and publishing efforts, represented the U.S. at international dairy congresses, and facilitated dairy industry improvements across the globe.

The Gerber method is a primary and historic chemical test to determine the fat content of substances, most commonly milk and cream. The Gerber method is the primary testing method in Europe and much of the world. The fairly similar Babcock test is used primarily in the United States, although the Gerber method also enjoys significant use in the U.S. as well.

Pea milk

Pea milk is a type of plant milk made using pea protein, which is made of yellow peas. Commercial pea milk typically comes in sweetened, unsweetened, vanilla and chocolate flavours, and is usually enriched with vitamins. It is marketed as a more environmentally-friendly alternative to almond milk and a non-GMO alternative to soy milk. The two largest brands of pea milk are Ripple Foods and Bolthouse Farms. Pea milk is a plant-based alternative to dairy milk. It is available in several countries including the US, UK and Australia and is vegan, nut free and lactose free. Pea milk is a part of plant milks, which are gaining in popularity due to increased lactose intolerance among consumers and demand for environmentally sustainable products. The plant-based milk industry as per 2019 estimates is worth approximately US$5 billion and will reach a value of US$26 billion in 5 years. There has been research in the role of pea proteins in preparing infant formula, yoghurt and calf mixtures. The colour is off-white and pea milk is made through crushing yellow split peas and mixing the soluble components with water. Pea milk may also be prepared at home. It is perceived to be environmentally sustainable and requires less water than the production of dairy milk. There is limited information on the total carbon emissions and water consumption of producing ready to drink pea milk.

Babcock bottle

A Babcock bottle is a clear glass flask with a long graduated neck, used in the Babcock test to evaluate the cream contents of milk. It is also called a Babcock milk test bottle, milk test bottle, cream test bottle, and other similar names.

Louis Firth Nafis was an American entrepreneur and inventor, best known as the first manufacturer of the standard Babcock milk test bottle. He was born in Jersey City, New Jersey on November 1, 1884, and died on February 26, 1955, in Evanston, Illinois.

Dry cow

A dry cow refers to a dairy cow that is in a stage of their lactation cycle where milk production ceases prior to calving. This part of their lactation cycle is referred to as the cows dry period and typically last between 40 and 65 days. Dry cows are typically divided into two groups: far-off and close-up. Once the cow has entered this stage, producers will seal the cows teat while following a veterinarian recommended, dry cow therapy for their herd. This dry period is a critical part of their lactation cycle and is important for the cows health, the newborn calf and future milk production as it allows the cow time to rest, eat and prepare for birth. During this time the cow will produce colostrum for the newly born calf.


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