The Skim milk and traditional yogurt
Many people asked why skimmed milk and its variants are not considered authentic for making yogurt. Well, there are two reasons for this:
1. Traditionally, skimmed milk has not been used for human consumption mostly as it only became an everyday product for human consumption in the past 80 or so years.
2. Skimmed milk is actually milk with reduced fat and the fat in the milk is the component that naturally thickens the yogurt. When the milk is skimmed, the yogurt might be liquid because the lactic acid formed during the fermentation would not have the fat it needs to thicken.
People in the past did not consider skimmed milk as something editable and they did not have many reasons to consume it.
Low-fat milk was not a viable product to try in the first place because back when the daily caloric intake was not enough, whole milk would be required. Although, people did consume skim milk under extreme circumstances, such as times of war and famine. Its main use was for animal feed and some even recommended it for fattening pigs.
Later, when farms specialized in dairy production and the quantities of butter grew, the by-product, skim milk, would simply be dumped in the river. But how do we get from a waste product dumped in the river to the largely marketed skim milk variables we have in the stores today?
World War I was the global event that catapulted America’s milk surplus into existence. The US government started sending canned and powdered milk to soldiers overseas, and dairy farmers responded by increasing milk production. They invested in the latest equipment and even abandoned other forms of farming to dedicate their work to the war effort. When the war ended, however, milk production did not—creating a surplus and dangerously low milk prices.
But how did skim milk become an everyday product?
Prior to the 1930s, most of the skim milk was literally sent downriver. Families who drank milk had one option—whole—but skim milk still existed as a by-product of the butter-making process. It wasn’t until the 1950s that skim milk received commercial attention, though this was in the form of a dry, powdered, “just add water!” mix.
The industry also had plenty of skim milk to get rid of, because much of it was leftover from just ended WWII. To reduce this surplus, the industry employed skilled marketers to position skim milk as a weight-loss food. Milk dealers received backing from physicians to pedal this product as a health food, and by the 1950s skim milk had been transformed from a waste by-product to a trendy weight-loss beverage mostly consumed by the upper class. In reality, farmers just needed a way to get rid of (and profit from) the skim milk they had made during the war effort.
After several dairy farmer strikes, the US government put forth extra effort to create a way to artificially increase the demand for milk and spearheaded many programs to attain this goal. Direct subsidies were also implemented to encourage increased demand.
In the USDA's first dietary guidelines, published in 1980, the agency didn't quite dare suggest that people substitute low-fat for whole milk in their daily diets. "If you prefer whole milk to skim milk," the pamphlet read, "you can reduce your intake of fat from foods other than milk." But by 1985, the USDA had officially shifted to a pro-skim stance on dairy, and in 1988, low-fat milk sales exceeded whole milk sales for the first time.
Recently, a few researchers have begun to doubt the nutritional value of the big push to drink skim milk. Some researchers from Boston Children's Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health published an editorial note in JAMA Paediatrics questioning the science behind these recommendations. They argued that drinking low-fat milk leaves people feeling hungry, leading them to eat more—usually carbs. Companies also created sugar-filled, flavoured alternatives to make milk more appealing, which offsets the potential benefits of low-fat content.
At the end of the day – skim or whole milk depends on your personal preferences. However, when making yogurt, the lactic acid bacteria prefer it full-fat, so do not forget to use whole milk for a thick texture and authentic yogurt.
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Credits to Smith-Howard, Kendra. “Hog Slop and Turtlenecks: Skim Milk’s Unlikely Transition From Animal Feed to Diet Product.”
“Historical Timeline – Milk.” ProCon.Org, 10 July 2013,