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Sunday Musings: Which Milk Container Gives Best Flavour?

I ran across a post this past week in my online travels in which a foodie reported on her taste test of milk purchased in 4 different types of containers. She claims, “the taste difference was clear.” I have some bones to pick with her…

Cats Like Milk Too - © newsfeed.time.comPlastic? Glass? Cartons? Bags? Some folks prefer their
milk fresh from the cow in a plan old tin pail…

Mira Nabulsi says she tried milk that had been shipped in 4 different types of containers. It was a taste test. She included cardboard cartons, plastic bottles, glass bottles and all-Canadian bags.

But first…

If you’re not Canadian, and never heard of bagged milk before, here’s the scoop.

When Canada officially converted to the metric system in 1970, the dairy industry did something the other folks who sold beverages didn’t. They converted from bottles to plastic bags.

Taste of Home.com expands: “Ultimately, all of those glass bottles weren’t exactly cost-efficient—and, with Canada’s conversion to the metric system in 1970, it was far easier to comply with metric units in bag form than it was to redesign and manufacture new bottles and jugs. So, the plastic milk bag was born.”

So now you get three bags, each containing 1.3 L of milk, together in an outer ‘master bag’. That’s just a hair over 1 US Gallon. The tall, rectangular bags are meant to be placed in special plastic pitcher ‘shells’. This allows you to snip the leading corner off the bag and pour more or less as usual.

My question has always been, “Why didn’t the milk guys just do what the juice and water guys did? They used the containers that were commercially available, and labelled them accordingly, in accurate though oddball ‘ml’ amounts. For instance: 1 US quart = 946 ml.

Anyway.

Having performed due diligence for non-Canadians on the bag thing, we return you now to the regularly scheduled post, already in progress.

What she did

Nabulsi tasted supposedly equivalent samples, all marked ‘2%’ on their labels. She dutifully tasted the different milks she surveyed, under more or less controlled conditions. Using the same tasting glass, and keeping al the ‘samples’ in the same fridge so they would be at the same temperature for tasting.

What she found

The intrepid investigator came to the following conclusions:

Plastic Bottle

Fairlife ultra-filtered, lactose-free

This sample was the least pleasing of all, to Nabulsi’s taste. It was the only example she could find at her go-to supermarket sold in a plastic bottle.

Score: 3 / 10

Bagged

Neilson (One of Canada’s largest commercial dairies)

Score: 5 / 10

Carton

Neilson

Says Nabulsi: “I bought the exact same brand of milk in a cardboard carton and I’m not delusional when I tell you it actually tasted different.”

Score: 7 / 10

Glass Bottle

Organix Meadow

Nabulsi introduced me to a European lobby group called ‘Friends of Glass (FOG). The organization points out that, “Glass is a product from nature that is endlessly recyclable – 100%, forever.” It’s the only beverage packaging material that doesn’t impart some sort flavour of its own to the product, or leech something out of the product.

“It’s no accident that glass containers have been used for over 5,000 years.”

Score 10 / 10

My Take

Now that Nabulsi has given us something to pick away at, let’s get pickin’…

On the up side

I have to congratulate Nabulsi for not falling into the old ‘Organic’ trap. Her glass-bottles sample was an organic brand. But she left that angle out of her taste test altogether. A so she should. Test after test of organic versus non-organic foods has shown there’s really no perceptible difference between them.

I agree that Bagged Milk tastes better than milk packed in plastic bottles. White, semi-rigid ‘bottle plastic’ has a natural porosity that can leech its own ‘flavours’ into a product. Just like Tupperware containers can effect the flavour of the foods you store in them. Does Tupperware leech? Just look at the permanent red stains you get when you use it to store tomato products!

On the down side

I cannot subscribe to Nabulsi’s claim that milk from cardboard cartons tastes better than bagged. To me, carton milk is just slightly better tasting than plastic-bottled. But she’s right when she says, “the exact same milk in a cardboard carton actually tastes different,” compared to milk from a bag.

Nabulsi erred in a big way, comparing filtered, lactose-free milk on the same playing field as the other milks in her test. I thought everybody knew that both filtration and removal of lactose change the flavour of milk markedly. And there’s no way around that. That the sample was packaged in a plastic bottle is secondary to the other factors impinging on its taste.

And here’s one I have to give Nabulsi a metaphorical ‘slap up-side the head’ for: Canadian milk does not contain any antibiotics or growth hormones. Nor does it contain any additives, except vitamins A and D, which are mandated by law. So there can be no additives in Canadian milk sold in cardboard, plastic or bags, which might affect the flavour. I got a distinct impression that Nabulsi thought only milk packaged in glass was preservative-free.

So… My question to you is:

Which kind of milk packaging do you prefer? And why?

Muse on that…

~ Maggie J.

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