Like a giddy schoolgirl, I shrieked with delight in the dairy aisle at Whole Foods. Not only were they carrying pasture raised cream, but it was only pasteurized - not the usual ultra-pasteurized.
This means the cows are given access to grass. It seems like a no-brainer, doesn't it? However, most industrial dairy cows are raised in confinement, given hay and consume a diet that is largely corn, soy and cottonseed meal. When cows eat lush green grass the nutrition is passed along in their milk in the form of conjugated linoleic acid or CLA. This nutrient is known to fight cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cholesterol, and osteoporosis among a few other diseases. Needless to say, I am thrilled to find pasture raised dairy in the grocery store. See also this article for more information on pasture raised benefits.
[If you are a fan of the Little House on the Prairie books, Laura Ingalls Wilder describes her mother adding some carrot juice to color their butter in winter. This is because in winter, the cow's diet is devoid of green grass and the butter is whiter in the absence of CLA. If your butter is a rich yellow color this is evidence of CLA.]
Pasteurized Verses Ultra-Pasteurized
Many people are shocked to learn that ultra-pasteurized dairy (also known as UHT) does not have to be refrigerated until opened. Yes, you read that right. Ultra-pasteurized dairy does not have to be refrigerated for 6-9 months! In Europe, UHT milk is seldom refrigerated. When you see ultra-pasteurized dairy in the refrigerated section, it is because as Americans, we expect dairy to be cold. This milk or cream has been heated to Ultra High Temperatures of 280* F and killed almost every living thing in it. Thus the long shelf-life. Basically UHT milk is sugar water with calcium and maybe some fat (some would argue because heat destroys the enzymes in milk, the body cannot absorb the calcium.) Cream is so good for the body, in lieu of not having cream at all, I buy ultra-pasteurized cream for my coffee and cooking.
But now Whole Foods sells pasteurized cream!! Watch the sell-by date, the shelf life of pasteurized cream is much shorter than the ultra-pasteurized cream. Once I left UHT cream in my refrigerator for at least 7 weeks, past the sell-by date. It did not smell at all after being opened for SEVEN weeks! Eww.
When milk is simply pasteurized, it is heated slowly to temperatures just below boiling. This process allows some microorganisms to live and is why milk needs to be refrigerated. And why, after a period of time, pasteurized milk will spoil - something living has died.
Be especially careful when buying organic milk. Read the label. Know if you are buying pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized (bad). Producers know that consumers are willing to pay more for organic milk so the producer extends the shelf life of their product by boiling the life out of it, or ultra-pasteurizing it.
I have heard people say, "We don't drink much milk so I like buying this brand of organic milk because it will stay fresh for several weeks/months." The teacher in me wants to scream, "Think about the logic of that. If it stays fresh for weeks/months if it never goes bad - is it good for you to begin with?"
If I had the choice of buying only ultra-pasteurized milk or drinking water, I would skip the milk.
Those with sensitive palates describe ultra-pasteurized milk as having a "burned" flavor. True story: when my first son was 4 years old he could taste the difference between pasteurized milk and ultra-pasteurized milk. He did not like one brand of organic milk because it tasted yucky to him - it was ultra-pasteurized.
I want to challenge you (especially parents) to think twice about buying these cute, sugar filled single servings of milk for children. Confession: my kids drink it on occasion - but it is a treat. I do not think of this milk as nutritious. If given the choice of a soda or this milk, I would choose the ultra-pasteurized milk. But at that point, I think I'm just splitting hairs and need to scoop it all in my 20% that doesn't count. (Read here for explanation of the 80/20 rule.)
So there you have it, the difference between pasture raised, pasteurized and ultra-pasteurized.
Truly, the most nutritious milk is that straight from the cow. Raw and delicious. But that is a post for another day. One that I have tried writing for about 4 years now. If you are curious about learning more, we have a series of educational videos here about real, fresh milk here.