07.Diluting our milk
The Food Standards Code allows manufacturers to dilute their milk with “milk components”, as long as the total fat level remains at least 3.2% (for full-cream milk) and the protein at least 3% (for any milk).
Manufacturers dilute milk with permeate, a solution of minerals and lactose (milk sugar) that’s a by-product from making cheese. They also strip milk of some of its cream, yet still sell it as full-cream. Most full-cream milk we found contained only 3.3%-3.4% fat, whereas milk straight from the cow contains about 4%. Manufacturers use the cream they’ve extracted to make other dairy products such as dairy desserts and butter.
Several manufacturers told CHOICE that standardisation ensures all milk has a consistent composition. While this seems unlikely to be the full story, particularly as permeate is a lot cheaper than milk, full-cream milk is much the same price here as in the UK where it’s required to have a higher fat content. The lower fat content of Australian milk has health benefits as it contains slightly less saturated fat and delivers fewer kilojoules – although it may not taste quite like the milk you remember from childhood.
You can still find milk with fat above 4%, but it’s more expensive and is often organic. You can also find milk that hasn’t been homogenised, but these brands are produced by smaller dairy companies with limited distribution and may not be available in your area. Adelaide and Perth residents can even still buy milk in glass bottles – Fleurieu Premium Full Cream Milk (Adelaide) and Avon Valley Dairy My Milk (Perth).