In most areas of the Philippines, as well as many other places in Asia and Europe, UHT milk is the only milk you can buy from the stores. UHT stands for either “ultra-high temperature processing”, “ultra-heat treatment” or even “ultra-pasteurization”, whatever you prefer.
Someone invented UHT milk in the 1960s. It became generally available in the 1970s and I consumed my first “box” of UHT milk in 1983, while I was aboard a U.S. Navy ship.
People of modernized countries don’t realize how bad they really have it. Having lived in the United States most of my life, but with the opportunity to live in other countries, I can understand why no one notices.
Dairy fresh milk has a very limited shelf life requiring refrigeration and usually only for a few days. The reason? The milk is pasteurized and homogenized. UHT milk, however, has a shelf life of six to nine months at room temperature. Once opened and refrigerated, that shelf life drops to a few days, but then it’s already being consumed.
Dairy fresh milk will go bad in the refrigerator in a much shorter time, even if unopened. The modern consumer in the United States tends to throw out more spoiled milk than consumers from developing nations where distribution of dairy fresh milk isn’t practical.
When you live in places like the United States, you tend to get used to the way dairy fresh milk tastes. It’s pasteurized and homogenized cow milk. Goat milk tastes different, as does the milk from other animals.
UHT milk tastes slightly different from dairy fresh milk, but it’s still cow milk. It doesn’t take more than a couple of days to get used to the difference in taste. I still like to drink it cold even if it’s not necessary, so I always keep a few liters in the refrigerator when I’m in the Philippines.
I traveled to the United States multiple times and I drank dairy fresh milk while I was there. Then I traveled to the Philippines and drank UHT milk while I was there. I hardly noticed the taste difference each time.
Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to 72 degrees Celsius (161.6 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least 15 seconds. UHT is the process of heating milk to a temperature exceeding 135 degrees Celsius (275 degrees Fahrenheit) for one or two seconds.
Pasteurization takes place before filling dairy fresh milk into containers to kill most of the microorganisms that cause spoilage. The original taste is normally maintained. Although the UHT process changes the taste slightly, it kills all the spores in milk.
Rumor has it that certain franchises make their deserts with UHT milk. It’s also rumored that UHT milk is the kind of milk served on planes and trains. I can’t confirm either rumor but if a milk product has a label, the type of milk you’re drinking when you inspect the label could surprise you.
There’s nothing wrong with drinking UHT milk. In my opinion, it’s safer to store and drink due to its longer shelf life. The stores in the Philippines import UHT milk from Australia and New Zealand. I prefer Cowhead, imported from Australia and distributed by Ben Foods in Singapore.
Some stores in Hawaii carry milk labeled “ultra-pasteurized” and “organic”. It’s stored in the refrigerated section just like dairy fresh milk. In an attempt to convince shoppers that it’s the same, only better, the distributors charge more for it, up to twice as much.
I’ve read a lot of negative articles about UHT milk. As usual, the negativity is about how the milk changes when it’s heated. Some people say it’s no good for cooking or baking. Well, when you cook, you’re heating the milk beyond the boiling point anyway.
It’s almost as bad as how people say microwaved food isn’t good for you because it changes the molecular structure of the food. Again, when you do any kind of cooking, you’re changing the molecular structure. If you want to have true fresh milk and completely unchanged food, you need to drink the milk straight from the cow (like farm families do) and eat all of your animal products raw. Good luck with that.
Edited and updated. Originally published in April 2018.