What’s in your milk and why permeate is a dirty word

“We only drink milk that doesn’t have any of that permeate stuff you guys add to your milk,” a friend told my husband yesterday.

We don’t add anything to milk. At the farm, milk comes straight from the cows through a cooler into a refrigerated stainless steel vat for collection by the co-op. What happens there is more complex but no more sinister. Basically, fresh milk on Australia’s supermarket shelves has been heated (pasteurised) to make sure any bugs are killed, mixed so the cream doesn’t rise to the top (homogenised) and filtered.

Filtering the milk means you get to choose milk with your favourite protein and fat content – whether that’s skim or milk with an “extra dollop of cream”. It also helps the co-op deal with the natural variation in the protein and fat content of milk over a season. Yesterday, for example, our herd averaged 4.49 per cent butterfat and 3.39 per cent protein whereas, back in October, it got as low as 3.57 per cent butterfat and 3.28 per cent protein.

Dairies have been dealing with this variation in milk production and tastes for hundreds of years by separating cream from milk to make other foods like butter, cream and yoghurt.

So, where does “permeate” come into it? When the milk is filtered to even out fat and protein, the sugars, minerals and vitamins in milk are separated before going back into the milk. Some nerd gave them this ugly name (I think it sounds like plastic) and it’s been used and abused ever since.

19 thoughts on “What’s in your milk and why permeate is a dirty word

  1. So obviously there is no negative side effect of permeate (agree with you on plastic sounding word) because the sugars, minerals and vitamins are going back in, right?
    Thank you for this explination.

      • Every time I have used milk with permeate it smells funny like it smells off or on the verge of going off and I don’t like the taste, I literally have thrown litres of milk down the drain cause I just can’t drink it. I was wondering why just bought milk with a good use by date was like this. I also was brought up drinking fresh on the farm cows milk and i can’t help it it just tastes and smells wrong. I think people should be educated that milk is different at different times of the year just as we do with veggies. I am sure that we are not all stupid but a bit of education can go a long way as they have done to encourage folk to eat ugly veggies.

          • Absolutely. In the 70s we moved to France, the milk there was homogenised and tasted so different from the pasteurised-only milk we were used to that we couldn’t drink it.

            It is still milk though, merely vibrated so that the fat molecules can’t coalesce into cream and float.

        • Many people take a bottle of milk from the fridge and drink from it then put it back in the fridge. Bacteria from the mouth enters the bottle and contaminates the the milk left there in. The next time you go to use the milk it smells off. Don’t think it doesn’t happens, just watch. Men women children teenagers all do it. They can’t be bothered to pour it into a glass.

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  3. It is funny once you actually look past the ‘today tonight’ crap and find out what the world is really about. It is not BAD!!

    Had a great chat to a processor down your way yesterday about permeate and first heard about it 2 months ago at a cheese maker.

    All use it to standardize the milk or cheese becaus for some reason the consumer can not take change very well. As you were saying with your seasonality of your girls there would be no way a consumer would think this difference was acceptable. I guess it is all about how we have taught the consumer to expect the same every time they open a bottle of milk or taste a certain cheese.

    There are a lot more things that I have seen in food factories to be worried about then a little permeate!

  4. The only thing I’d heard about this at all was a sign on the top of the bottle caps that said “permeate free.” Is there an actual reason people think this is a bad thing?

    • The main thing I hear is that it’s not “pure” and the same as it comes from the cow. Not sure what that makes reduced fat milk, milk with added calcium and so on!

  5. The only thing i wish the co-op would stop doing is homogenising the milk! People are concerned with milk not being pure, well I don’t think their is anything pure about “fat droplets are emulsified”. Scoop off the cream and you have the true full fat milk!

  6. I must admit I was concerned when I read the new splash of info on the milk bottles saying “permeate free”, I thought what now? My son has allergies to alot of foods and additives etc and it’s the last thing we needed was something else to be concerned about. Thank goodness this has cleared this one up, Thanks Milkmaidmarian!!!! We are sticking to the A2 and Goat milk at the moment.

  7. Please clarify something for me. You state that permeates are the nutrients in the milk. Therefore, to my mind, ‘permeate free’ translates to ‘nutrient free’? Does ‘permeate free’ mean that the nutrients have been removed & not reintroduced into the milk or does it mean that the milk has not been tampered with at all? Oh for honest, untampered, wholesome food that our bodies were built to cope with & thrive on. Every second child I meet now has allergies. Wonder why?

    • Kath, I have no idea how any milk processor can claim their milk is “permeate free” for exactly the reason you mention.
      It’s more correct to say “no added permeate”.
      By the way, I was brought up on raw milk but still got the allergies!

      • Yes its tempting but dangerous to oversimplifying things. There are usually many complex contributing & interacting factors involved in modern chronic syndromes. As far is possible, I believe that whole & natural food is the way to go.

  8. After my coffee tasted terrible with Lite milk recently, I read the label on the milk to find it was permeate free! Always used full cream milk until permeate lite came into being and had the taste of ‘real milk’. Not Happy Now! Why does our choice have to be dictated by a bunch of whiners?

  9. Does permeate change the smell or flavour of milk? I bought some milk recently which was a long way from its use-by date, but it smelled and tasted strange – slightly sour, almost off. Just like the same brand used to taste like years ago before they went ‘permeate free’. Their current label is silent so what does that mean?

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