Common Dairy Products


Chapters 3 and 4 traced meat consumption’s antiquity. Chapter 4 defined meat as mammalian flesh and discussed its derivation from game while humans were hunter-gatherers and from farm animals during the last I0,000years. Animal husbandry’s invention did not end hunting everywhere, though recent millennia witnessed a shift toward livestock. This transition permitted people to interact with animals at close quarters and thereby to tap a new source of nourishment in milk from cows (Bos taurus, Bos indicus, Rangifer tarandus, Camelus dromedaries, and Bubalus bubalis), ewes (Ovis aries), nannies (Capra aegagrus hircus), naks (Bos grunniens), mares (Equus caballus), and jennies (Equus asinus).

Skim milk. (Photo from author.)

FIGURE 7.1 Skim milk. (Photo from author.)

Bos taurus. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Vierling-West.)

FIGURE 7.2 Bos taurus. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Vierling-West.)

Ovis aries. (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/ item/2017771475/.)

FIGURE 7.3 Ovis aries. (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/pictures/ item/2017771475/.)

This activity strikes people in nations with a dairy industry as more natural than it is. All mammalian mothers produce milk, but only for their young. Once weaned, almost all mammals forgo milk. Being mammals, human newborns and infants likewise nurse, but in some societies, weaning ends only ingestion of mother’s milk. In its place, humans are the only animals that transition to milk from another mammal, a habit that may be lifelong. The association with milk does not end with the liquid because humans have learned to convert it into cheese, butter, ghee, yogurt, and other products.

Capra aegagrus hircus. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Vierling-West.)

FIGURE 7.4 Capra aegagrus hircus. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Vierling-West.)

Pigs drinking goat’s milk. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Vierling-West.)

FIGURE 7.5 Pigs drinking goat’s milk. (Photo courtesy of Jessica Vierling-West.)

Chapter 2 stated that milk has the disaccharide lactose, that its formula is (C12H22On), and that the body cannot digest it without lactase. People have not needed this enzyme beyond weaning absent dairying, the norm throughout much of the world and, as noted, among other mammals. The proportion of adults who cannot digest lactose may be between two-thirds and three-quarters worldwide.' Yet wherever dairying has a long history, lactase production is lifelong.

For this reason, the enzyme’s prevalence in an adult population evinces longstanding milk intake. That is, lactase frequency among adults identifies dairying’s extent if any. For example, since animal husbandry arose few Chinese have drunk milk, as discussed later, such that under 5 percent of adults produce lactase.2 Table 7.1 lists the percentage of adults who produce lactase by ethnicity.3


% Adult Lactase Producers by Ethnicity


% Adult Lactase Producers



U.S. White




Australian, White




Northern Indians


Southern Indians


Sri Lankan


African American






Australian, Aborigine


Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino


American Indian, Thai, New Guinean


Japan, South Korea, North Korea, and the Philippines yield similar percentages that imply a link with China. Lactase is virtually nonexistent in adult Amerindians, Thais, New Guineans, and native Australians, indicating dairying’s absence. None domesticated cows, sheep, or goats, though China tamed water buffalos, and it and Thailand now encourage milk consumption, especially among schoolchildren. West and Central Africans also exhibit low lactase frequencies in adulthood. But roughly one-quarter of African Americans produce the enzyme into adulthood, possibly because of exposure to milk in the western hemisphere, where they integrated into European colonial economies and adopted European habits.4 Roughly 80 percent of Europeans—including 94 percent of Swiss—their Australian and American descendants, and at least 70 percent of Pakistanis and northern Indians produce lactase throughout life, underscoring milk’s antiquity.5 Movement south through the Indian subcontinent and into Sri Lanka, however, reduces the proportion to roughly one-third.6 Similarly, Europe’s lactase production is lowest in the south.


Cheesemaking, mentioned in Chapter 2 and invented around 7500 BCE, separates curd and whey.7 Because whey has most lactose, its removal yields cheeses suitable for lactase-deficient people. Because lactose is a sugar, as mentioned, brands with few sugars or carbohydrates in general have little of it. As a rule, the longer a cheese ages, the less lactose it has; hard cheeses have the least. For example, cheddar, parmesan, and swiss tend to contain under 0.5 grams of lactose per 30-gram (1-ounce) slice.8 But other hand, lactose intolerant individuals should avoid fresh cheeses such as cottage, mozzarella, cream, and ricotta. Dieters should understand that hard cheeses have more calories than soft versions because moisture is low and fat high. A later section discusses calories, nutrients, and health.

Like the alcohol ethanol (C2H5OH), cheese is a microbial product. Whereas yeast fungi (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) make ethanol, bacteria produce cheese. These microorganisms, known as lactic-acid bacteria, convert lactose into lactic acid (C3H603). Cheesemakers may add yeast or other microbes for flavor and color. For example, Penicillium—the mold genus that yielded the antibiotic penicillin—is used to create several types, including blue cheese from Penicillium roqueforti and brie and camembert from Penicillium camemberti. Rennet enzymes congeal the milk protein casein, making cheese solid rather than liquid. The primary enzyme in this process, chymosin, forms curds. Preferences govern the addition of salt, pepper (Piper nigrum), garlic (Allium sativum), chives (Allium schoenoprasum), or other ingredients. As implied earlier, cheese has few carbohydrates relative to fat and protein, though the use of skim milk reduces fat.

Butter and Ghee

Also with little lactose are butter and ghee. Among its constituents, whole milk has fat, solids, and water that vary by mammal. Focusing on fat, cow’s milk is 4 percent by mass, though fat furnishes half its calories.9 Milk from nannies has 56, and from humans 59, percent of calories as fat. Lighter than milk’s other components, fat—known as butterfat—floats atop a container, where it may be removed to yield several products. Cream must have at least 18 percent butterfat by mass in the United States and at least 30 percent in the European Union (EU).m Butter is about 80 percent fat by mass with the rest water and solids." Butter has so few carbohydrates that its lactose is minuscule and nutritionists tend to calculate its calories as entirely fat.12 Clarification, the process that removes all or almost all water and solids, produces ghee, the fattiest dairy product. Over half the fat is saturated, a type that Chapter 2 defined. Ghee lacks carbohydrates and lactose; fat supplies all its calories. Butter and ghee satisfy low-carbohydrate proponents.

Butter. (Photo from author.)

FIGURE 7.6 Butter. (Photo from author.)

Ice Cream

Cream may join milk, sugars, and flavorings to yield ice cream. Water in milk and cream becomes inflexible when frozen. Avoidance of this problem requires churning the ingredients to reduce ice crystals. Contents may vary, though the United States requires that ice cream have at least 10 percent fat and 20 percent milk solids. Low-fat brands are labeled accordingly. Concerns about the sugar sucrose (C12H220n) led manufacturers to substitute fruit, high fructose corn syrup (HFSC), or artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (C14H18N205). Chapter 2 defined and Chapter 11 evaluates the sweeteners sucrose, HFCS, and honey.


Yogurt, sometimes spelled yoghurt, may also have scant lactose. Like cheese and ethanol, its manufacture involves microbes. The responsible bacteria, known as yogurt cultures and in the genera Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, and Bifidobacterium, convert lactose into lactic acid, a process reminiscent of cheesemaking. During production, milk is heated to roughly 85 degrees Celsius (185 degrees Fahrenheit) to prevent curdling. Bacteria are added upon cooling to around 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit). Maintenance of this temperature at least four hours permits fermentation, during which bacteria degrade most lactose to yield a product that seldom upsets the stomach. The best yogurts for lactose sensitives have live bacteria. By killing them, pasteurization produces yogurts with more lactose. Yogurts with few carbohydrates supply little lactose. Greek yogurts have little whey and lactose.

Consumption over Nine Millennia

Dairying’s Origins

Dairying’s origins are uncertain. Sub-Saharan Africa may be its cradle, but little is known about livestock taming for meat and milk there. Better attested is goats’ domestication about 7000 BCE in southwestern Asia’s Zagros Mountains.13 Goat’s milk was seldom consumed fresh but instead as cheese and butter. The Hittites in what are Anatolia (Asia Minor or Asian Turkey) and Iraq made cheese from goat, sheep, and cow’s milk. During the seventh millennium BCE, India tamed Bos indicus, water buffalo, goat, and sheep.14 Dairying concentrated in what are today northern India and Pakistan, which pastoralists occupied. The connection between cattle, buffalos, goats, and sheep on one hand and dairy foods on the other strengthened about 2000 BCE, when Central Asian horsemen invaded India, bringing their preference for milk, cheese, ghee, and Hinduism. The religion venerated cows as symbols of motherhood, nurturing, and Earth’s bounty. These associations made dairy products, especially milk and ghee, sources of personal and national strength, vitality, and pride from an early date.

Dairying in Africa

Besides these developments, by 5000 BCE herders in what is now the Sahara Desert were milking cattle, goats, and sheep to derive cheese, butter, and yogurt.15 The climate, wetter than today, supported grasslands suitable as pasture. By 4500 BCE, Egypt had imported goats and sheep from southwestern Asia and herded the now extinct auroch (Bos primigenius), all sources of milk.16 From Egypt, dairying spread west throughout North Africa, today the nations of Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco.

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