My Beef with Dairy

They put WHAT in my milk?

After 6 days of the family Lent experiment, I can say that so far it’s been very eye opening and very difficult! A lot more so than I was expecting! Day one started off with a bang, I made my special Steel Cut Oats Plus recipe (yummy!), kids and husband topped with maple syrup, honey and nuts and seeds and scarfed it all down. Andy and I then made our morning coffees, he takes his with cream and one sugar (which he switched to honey) and I take milk and a dash of cream. Well, just for curiosity sake I turned the cream over to read the ingredients…why is there sodium citrate, sodium phosphate, carrageenan gum and dextrose in my cream??? Isn’t cream just what’s left over after you separate it from the milk? Why does it need anything in it but cream? I was baffled by this discovery, so I went to the grocery store that same day to see if it was just the brand I’d bought…no all the cream from 5% to 35% whipping cream all contained the same unnecessary additives!! The store I was in didn’t have any organic cream in stock, so I bought a half litre of full fat milk like my Dad had suggested I try and I came home. But of course I had to find out if I could at least buy organic cream for my husband who really didn’t want to go without if he could help it. So I looked it up online and YES! Organic has nothing in it but cream…and honestly why should it?

The rest of Wednesday and most of Thursday went off without a hitch, had lots of delicious meals and started a food diary (which I will be posting on here soon, with recipes!). Thursday evening on my way home from work, I call home and ask my hubby what’s for dinner and what do you need me to get? After we brainstormed a bit, we came up with homemade Ravioli stuffed with leftover chicken, spinach, mushrooms, shallots, red peppers, garlic and ricotta. The only thing we didn’t have in the house was ricotta, so I get to the store, grab the cheese and head home as fast as possible since I was hungry and tired! But in the car I realized I hadn’t read the label…but how bad could it be? Ricotta is a simple cheese made from the whey by product left when making other cheeses. It’s pretty straight forward to make, we once made it ourselves, and so there couldn’t be much in the way of additives in the one I bought from the store right? Well, I got home and read the label and to my surprise, guar gum, mono and diglycerides, locast bean gum and carrageenan! Arrggg! I was starting to get a little angry, why are these even needed in diary? I used to work as a professional food taster for Nestle so I understand gums are put into foods like diary to improve the texture, but I was buying full fat diary, why does the texture need to feel creamier? And preservatives, people expect diary to have a shorter shelf life, it’s dairy for heaven’s sake! We used the ricotta and made the ravioli but I will be finding an alternative to store bought ricotta before I ever buy it again.

Then on Friday I discovered some cottage cheese that was about to expire in the back of my fridge. It was lunch time and I was starving so I pulled it out to eat it (I never waste food!). While munching away I read the side of the package…guar gum, mono and diglycerides, xanthan gum, carob bean gum…this time I wasn’t shocked or mad, just disappointed that my favorite brand of cottage cheese wasn’t as good for me as I thought. Hopefully I can find an alternative, but I am beginning to understand one of the reasons so many people are switching away from all dairy products. And I always thought I was a diligent label reader. But on the bright side, I guess the experiment is truly working, it’s definitely making us more aware of exactly what’s hidden in our food…happy label reading!

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6 thoughts on “My Beef with Dairy

  1. While things like xanathan gum sound like unnatural ingredients… some aren’t. Xanathan is a natural product and is essential for gluten-free baking to hold things together (keeps the baked good from being crumbly). In the cottage cheese it is likely there to prevent too much separation. It is made from a tiny microorganism called Xanthomonas campestris and is a natural carbohydrate. Bottom line… know your ingredients. If it has a scientific name it does not mean it is.

    Also, many of these ingredients are added during the pasteurization process to make food safer (or at least that is the premise).

    • Hi Laurie, thanks for the comment!

      While I wasn’t actually trying to say all those ingredients were artificial or even harmful, I am just wondering were they necessary? While it makes sense that they would be necessary in gluten free baking for example, are they really required in cream? They’ve been making these foods for hundreds of years without them, why now? Organic cream and milk is pasteurized but doesn’t have anything in it but milk and cream. I think if cream or cottage cheese separates too much, stir it, that’s what our grandparents did!

  2. In my humble opinion, it comes down to this. Marketing firms have convinced us as consumers that we should be more concerned that the products we buy to look good, rather than how they taste, what’s in them or if they good for us.

    It is the same reason why the agriculture industry uses so many pesticides and things like Modified Atmospheric Packaging on produce. The public wants perfect looking cobs of corn, crisp green heads of lettuce and smooth unblemished tomatoes. They don’t want anything that might have a hint of blight or insect damage. It doesn’t matter if the pesticides are bad for you, they look better, so they sell better.

    The same goes for other foods. For the most part, gums, diglycerides and emulsifiers are added to make food look better and therefore most aren’t necessary, except to make them look more appealing to the consumer. Think about it, what do you do when your salad dressing separates in the bottle? You shake the bottle right, how hard is that?

    My thoughts are if the only reason it’s there is to make it look better, it’s not a good enough reason.

  3. I’m a label reader too. In dairy, as Andy mentions, they often use product to keep it looking pretty… in other words the guar and xanathan are probably in that cottage cheese because it provides a certain look. I’ll use xanathan gum as the example again (I use this one because I did a ton of research on it when writing book two). It has the ability to add volume while keeping the baked good together. As I mentioned it makes it go from crumbly to chewy. In the cottage cheese it would definitely make it so the product looked more voluminous. This happens a lot because it can improve the bottom line and is completely consumer driven. People want perfection like you say Andy and they want it for less money.

    I grew up on non-pasteurized dairy and it was a much different product. It was so unprocessed that I would bring it home to Mom and she’d let it sit for a few hours, undisturbed, then skim the cream off. We had homemade butter, buttermilk, ice cream, coffee cream, cottage cheese, and such… all from the same product. I’m going back to making my own ricotta, mozzarella, and cottage cheese at home and I will be purchasing organic milk/cream if I can ever find it in stock.

    Another product I like to make at home is yogurt. Many commercially purchased yogurts use gelatin to make them thicker and prettier for the consumer. Vegans especially have to keep an eye on that.

    Even read the spice jar label. Some brands, take Irresistibles (from Metro) for example may contain traces of other products including wheat. I noticed that the other day when I read the label of the cumin seeds I was purchasing for a Libyan Pumpkin Dip. In some ground spices they add tapioca maltodextrin to keep things from caking. You’ll find that in hot chocolate powders and such too. Even some baking powder brands have unnecessary ingredients added to them. Magic Brand is one of the few that is vegan friendly.

    Valarie… I have a question for you about “low fat” and “fat free” products. As you know, I am a very well managed diabetic and with that comes watching every single carbohydrate that goes into my body. How do you feel about products like fat free sour cream or low fat peanut butter where they add a substantial amount of sugars to compensate for the flavor loss that comes with removing the fat? And how do you feel about artificial sweeteners in things like diet pop, etc. Sorry that was two questions.

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