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Home » Sterilized milk vs. Pasteurized milk: Nutritional differences? | Surge in purchases of Imported ‘sterilized milk’

Sterilized milk vs. Pasteurized milk: Nutritional differences? | Surge in purchases of Imported ‘sterilized milk’

  • Food

Sterilized milk

Recent changes in the domestic milk market in South Korea are drawing attention. As the price of domestic milk rapidly increases, consumers are beginning to seek more economical options. In this situation, interest in imported sterilized milk is steadily growing. Along with the rise in milk prices, the misconceptions about sterilized milk are gradually being dispelled, leading to a noticeable shift in consumer interest.

1. In the past five years, the import volume of sterilized milk has increased ninefold

Traditionally, sterilized milk was perceived as a long-term storage product with added preservatives or as having lost nutritional value due to high-temperature processing. However, this is a misconception. Sterilized milk is actually made without preservatives and is processed at high temperatures for a short time to eliminate harmful bacteria. This Ultra High Temperature (UHT) process efficiently extends the shelf life while preserving the nutritional content of the milk, and sterilized milk has been undervalued due to these misconceptions.

Recent statistics show that the consumer price index for milk has risen 14.3% compared to last year, the highest increase since the financial crisis of 2009. According to the Dairy Promotion Board, the price of raw milk has increased by 88 won per liter, leading to a rise in the price of domestic milk. This price hike has increased the economic burden on consumers and, consequently, the demand for alternative milk products.

Especially, the increase in demand for imported sterilized milk due to the rise in domestic milk prices is statistically evident. According to the Customs Service, about 31,462 tons of foreign milk were imported last year, about nine times more than in 2017. This sterilized milk, which can be distributed at room temperature, is manufactured through a sterilization process that eliminates all microorganisms. This process allows for safe long-term storage of milk, offering consumers a longer shelf life and convenience in purchasing.

2. Sterilized Milk: Does It Extend Shelf Life with Preservatives? Unveiling a Common Misconception!

A common misconception about sterilized milk is that it contains preservatives, which prolong its shelf life. However, sterilized milk offers a long shelf life without the use of preservatives, thanks to the sterilization process. There are three main methods of milk sterilization: Low Temperature Long Time (LTLT), High Temperature Short Time (HTST), and Ultra High Temperature (UHT). These methods use combinations of temperature and time to eliminate microorganisms in milk and extend its shelf life.

The LTLT method heats milk at 62-65℃ for 30 minutes, exposing it to a relatively low temperature for a long period. HTST heats milk at 72-75℃ for 15-20 seconds, exposing it to high temperatures for a shorter duration. The UHT method sterilizes milk at 130-150℃ in just 0.5-5 seconds, allowing sterilized milk processed this way to be stored at room temperature for an extended period.

3. Similar Nutritionally, But Different in Taste

Nutritionally, there is not a significant difference between sterilized and pasteurized milk. According to Professor Oh Se-jong from the Department of Animal Resource Microbiology at Chonnam National University, the goal of the sterilization process is to efficiently eliminate microorganisms while preserving the main nutrients in milk. Indeed, sterilized and pasteurized milk do not show a significant difference in key nutrients such as protein, fat, carbohydrates, and calcium. This means that both types of milk play an important role in a balanced diet.

However, some nutrients may be present in lower amounts in sterilized milk compared to pasteurized milk. This includes vitamin C, probiotics (lactic acid bacteria), and certain minerals. This is due to the high temperatures of the UHT process affecting heat-sensitive nutrients. Professor Oh points out that the major differences between these two types of milk lie in taste and freshness. Pasteurized milk typically offers a fresher and purer taste, whereas sterilized milk can have a distinct heated flavor. This taste difference is especially noticeable when drinking milk on its own, and less so when used with other foods.

The taste difference between sterilized and pasteurized milk is associated with chemical reactions during the sterilization process. For example, the Maillard reaction that occurs during UHT treatment, where milk proteins and sugars are heated, creates a distinctive taste and color. This reaction is why sterilized milk sometimes has a slight caramel flavor. Additionally, the heating process can affect the texture of the milk, making sterilized milk feel slightly heavier to some people.

4. Advantages of Sterilized Milk: Easy Long-Term Storage

The safety of sterilized milk lies in its long shelf life and ease of storage at room temperature. This is particularly beneficial in areas where long-term storage is necessary or refrigeration facilities are scarce. However, these advantages are only valid for unopened products; once opened, sterilized milk should be refrigerated and consumed promptly.