Evaporated milk, courtesy of Gail Borden

Cooking time again, as our subject for today is evaporated milk. It was on this day in 1851 that Gail Borden came up with the idea to condense milk through evaporation, after seeing fruit juice being condensed using vacuum pans. He worked tirelessly on the concept, and eventually received a patent for his milk condensing process in 1856.

Created by evaporating the bulk (about 60%) of the water from fresh milk, evaporated milk differs from condensed milk in that the latter has sugar added to help inhibit bacterial growth. Since evaporated milk does not contain added sugar, it has to be homogenised and sterilised to ensure a long shelf-life.

Evaporated milk - still a trusty old stalwart in many a pantry. (© All Rights Reserved)
Evaporated milk – still a trusty old stalwart in many a pantry.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Initially evaporated milk and condensed milk gained popularity at a time when storage and transport of fresh milk was problematic – it could be kept fresh without refrigeration much longer than fresh milk. When water was added back into the evaporated milk it was basically the same as fresh milk, with all the calcium and other nutrients intact, and without the sweetened taste of condensed milk. Interestingly, it was originally thought that it was the condensing of the milk that stabilised it, and only later did it become clear that it was in fact the heating process (to evaporate the water) that killed the bacteria that caused fresh milk to spoil.

Today, with pasteurisation allowing much longer shelf life for milk (even without refrigeration, in the case of long-life milk) the usefulness of evaporated milk as fresh milk replacement has all but disappeared. It is still used, but mainly in cooking, and sometimes as a less rich replacement for cream in deserts. Acknowledging this shift, brands such as Nestle are rebranding the product as “cooking milk” in some markets.

While it may not be a critical milk substitute anymore, evaporated milk remains so useful in the kitchen that you really should always have a can tucked away in the back of the pantry – just in case you need some to spruce up a creamy dessert, soup, sauce, or even a nice casserole or stew.

Related article:
Celebrating Gail Borden and Sweetened Condensed Milk

Milk Day, celebrating milk as a source of human nutrition

Today, according to various food blogs and holiday sites, is Milk Day. Rumour has it that this day is celebrated as Milk Day because milk was first delivered in bottles on this day, 11 January, way back in 1878. I did some searching to confirm this, but was unable to do so – it seems there was a patent for a milk container issued in 1878, but the exact issue date for that patent was 29 January.

While I cannot confirm the milk bottle fact, I don’t see any reason why we should not celebrate Milk Day. Internationally, milk is an important source of human nutrition, and in New Zealand in particular, the milk industry forms the backbone of our country’s economy.

A hanging milker device used in a rotary milking parlor.(© All Rights Reserved)
A hanging milker device used in a rotary milking parlor.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The New Zealand milk industry was started nearly two centuries ago in 1814 when the first cows arrived in New Zealand after being imported by early European settlers. New Zealand milk exports started in 1846, and in 1871 the first dairy co-operative was created in the Otago region. From these early initiatives, the New Zealand dairy industry has grown in leaps and bounds. In 2001, the Fonterra company was formed from an amalgamation of existing co-ops, representing the majority of the country’s dairy farmers. Wholly owned by the more than 10 000 farmers who supply milk to it, Fonterra is currently the world’s largest dairy exporter, exporting to more than 100 countries. It is responsible for about 30% of the world’s dairy exports with revenue of close to NZ$ 20 billion (approx US$ 16.8 billion).

While New Zealand leads world milk exports, India is the biggest producer and consumer of milk. India does not, however, import or export milk – it solely produces milk for domestic consumption.

Beyond being a direct source of human nutrition, milk is also processed into a wide range of dairy products – cheese, yoghurt, cream, butter, ice cream, chocolate and more. While the majority of the milk consumed by humans come from cows, the milk from buffalo (esp in India), goats and sheep are also consumed in significant volumes, especially in processed form.

Over the years, human consumption of animal milk has been linked to a variety of health benefits and risks. On the positive side, milk has been found to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, and it promotes muscle growth and post-exercise recovery. Other reported benefits include improved immune function and relief of hypertension. On the negative side, there has been reports of the casein in milk causing autism spectrum disorders, and excessive consumption of milk has been linked to an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, and potentially prostate cancer.

While there will probably forever be debates about the benefits and risks of milk consumption, as a source of fat, protein, carbohydrates, salts, minerals and vitamins, it continues to hold significant promise in addressing malnutrition and poverty, particularly as livestock management improves in the developing world.

Math Storytelling Day, Einstein and a glass of milk

Today, my sources tell me, is Math Storytelling Day. One of several mathematically oriented holidays, the idea of this specific day is to focus on the anecdotal side of mathematics, to address mathematics in a manner that may be more acceptable to the ‘wordy types’ among us – the ones who prefer a good sentence to a good equation.

I was hoping to come up with an original story for this day, but sadly my muse failed to come to the party, so I will have to resort to sharing an existing mathematical anecdote, from our old friend Albert Einstein. OK, it’s only borderline maths, but what the heck…

A glass of milk – just the thing to explain the theory of relativity.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Apparently, shortly after his appointment at Princeton, Einstein was invited to a tea in his honour. At the event, the excited hostess introduced the great man and asked if he could perhaps, in a few words, explain to the guests the theory of relativity.

Not missing a beat, he rose to his feet and shared the story of a walk he had with a blind friend. It was a warm day, so at one point Einstein said to his friend, “I could really do with a glass of milk!”

His blind friend asked, “I know what a glass is, but what is milk?”, to which Einstein replied, “Why, milk is a white fluid.”

“Now I know what fluid is,” the blind man responded, “but what is white?”

“Oh, white is the colour of a swan’s feathers.”

“Feathers, I know what they are, but what is a swan?”

“A swan is a bird with a crooked neck.”

“I know what a neck is, but what do you mean by crooked?”

Einstein realised the discussion could go on for a while, so instead he seized his blind friend’s arm, straightened it, and said “There, now your arm is straight.” He then bent his friend’s arm at the elbow, and said, “And now, your arm is crooked.”

To which his blind friend happily exclaimed, “Ah! Now I understand what milk is!”

At this point, Einstein politely smiled at his audience, and sat down.