The best-known and most popular is undoubtedly cow’s milk, with dairy cattle providing some 83 percent of the world’s total production. Water-buffalo are responsible for a full 13 percent of global output, with goats and sheep next up, accounting for two percent and one percent, respectively. The remaining one percent is made up of camel’s milk, which takes 0.3 percent of the whole, and the rest comes from mares and yaks.
The world’s milk producers
World milk production has risen by 50 percent in the last thirty years, from 482 million tonnes in1982 to 754 million tonnes in 2012. India is the world’s largest milk producer, contributing 16 percent of total world output, followed by the United States of America, China,
Pakistan, and Brazil.
Italy produces just under nine million tonnes of milk per annum, one part of which is made into cheese, butter, and yogurt, and other dairy products.
Depending on how the milk is processed, it has different characteristics, diverse nutritional values, and longer shelf-life.
From dulce de leche to quindim: milk-based recipes galore
Milk is a basic ingredient of a wide array of recipes. One of the best-known of these is probably dulce de leche, which is a milk and sugar confection, typical of Latin American countries such as Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia and Venezuela.
The sweetened milk is heated slowly, and its distinctive caramel flavor derives from the Maillard reaction, which also makes the color change to a hazelnut-brown. The same treat is very popular in the Philippines, where it is often used as a cake-filling, or is poured over cake and ice-cream.
There are many legends connected to the invention of dulce de leche. One of the best-known tells that this dessert was created by accident in the 19th century in Argentina, when the maid of a famous politician of the time forgot a pan of sugared milk on the stove.
Another milk-based specialty sweet that is much loved in Brazil is quindim, which has Portuguese roots, and is a baked custard. Made with condensed milk, grated coconut, and egg yolks, it has a rich, sweet taste, and can be served hot or cold. In Portugal, almonds are used in place of coconut, and the dish is called Brisas do Lis.
Other milk based sweet dishes are crème caramel, Portuguese custards tarts (Pastel de nata), and any number of rice-base puddings
that each have their own distinctive names.
Milk can also be used in savory dishes, however, since it mitigates salty tastes. Examples here include Pork Roast Braised with Milk, or Portuguese salt cod with potatoes.
Milk is, of course, also drunk on its own, or can be served as part of a milk shake, with fresh fruit, or chocolate.
Some 2,500 years before the birth of Christ, the Persians and the Egyptians, among others, were expert at making fermented milk products, such as yogurt, so they could conserve milk longer. These days, these products are much-prized in that the micro-organisms that they contain are considered to offer health benefits.
From camel to yak: lesser-known sources of milk
While cows provide the majority of milk for human consumption, water buffalo, sheep and camels also do their part. Less common sources include yaks, horses, reindeer, and donkeys.
Sheep’s milk is the only option in the semi-arid areas of the Mediterranean, while goats carry out the same function in areas of Africa where the soil is not very fertile. In the steppes of Central Asia, mares provide milk, and camels do the same in desert lands, water-buffalo serve the identical purpose in the tropical humid zones, while yaks are perfectly well-suited as milk providers at high altitudes, such as the Tibetan Plateau.
Camels are the main source of milk in Africa and Asia, with nomadic tribes being able to survive for an entire month at a time, drinking nothing but camel’s milk. In Central Asia, this milk is fermented and then used to add flavor to savory dishes, or for making a popular drink called shubat, or chal.
In the steppes of Central Asia, and especially in Mongolia, mare’s milk is also prized. Collecting it is very time-consuming: the actual milking process takes time, and needs to be repeated between five and six times a day. In addition, the mare will not produce milk unless she has a foal. Donkey’s milk is also of also rare, and in some African communities is used only for medicinal purposes.
Yak milk, on the other hand, provides essential sustenance to the inhabitants of the Tibetan Plateau. This is because yaks can survive not only at high altitudes, but also at temperatures of forty degrees below zero.
Check out these links for more on the subject of milk:
- Milk Facts
, an infographic published by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)