Milk and Honey. Symbols of purity and goodness from Biblical times, they are promised in abundance in the Paradise Hereafter.
(Here is) a Parable of the Garden which the righteous are promised:
in it are rivers of water incorruptible;
rivers of milk of which the taste never changes;
rivers of wine, a joy to those who drink;
and rivers of honey pure and clear.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, spoke of milk in the highest terms. When given something to drink, he taught us to pray for blessing from what we drank and pray for better than it in future. But when given milk to drink, he taught us to pray for blessing from it and pray for milk in greater abundance in the future, for nothing satisfies like milk. (Sunan Abu Dawud)
More milk, ya Rabb!
Even Dead President Herbert Hoover recognized the importance of milk to his people when he said:
“The White Race cannot survive without dairy products.”
No really, he said that! OK, forget Hoover. What a tool. Yet for all that, it must be said that no other time do I feel as strongly the bonds of affinity with my fellow omputeh as I do when I partake of dairy and leavened bread. I tried to forsake milk and cheese when I first moved to Malaysia – when in Malaysia, do as the Malaysians do – and I simply could not. Rather, over the last 15 years, Malaysians have begun to consume more and more dairy. Perhaps we’ll meet somewhere in the middle.
The milk that the Prophet drank, peace be upon him, was squeezed directly from the cow (or goat or camel!) and drunk fresh. This is raw milk. It is not available in Malaysia unless you have access to a cow, and in the USA at least, it is illegal to buy and sell in this form. Every step of processing beyond this changes the properties of the milk bit by bit.
Here in Malaysia, the tropical climate is not well suited for dairy cows and we depend on long supply chains to bring milk to us from abroad. The cost and the distance involved affect the milk products that reach the market, some of which are unknown in the States. Since I’m probably not the only one wondering what all this stuff is, a brief guide to dairy products in Malaysia is presented below.
On Milk Standards and “Filled” Milk
Food standards are regulated by an international body under the FAO and WHO. It produces the Codex Alimentarius, a massive set of rules and regulations. Milk is extensively covered. Filled milk, where milk fat is replaced with vegetable oil, is a product developed and championed primarily by Malaysia and Thailand, and was not well regulated until the 2011 Codex [pdf]. Now it has been standardized and incorporated into the codex where it provides a rare glimpse into what these products are since the local labelling laws are so lax.
The milk has been squeezed from the cow, then heated to 72C to kill any harmful microorganisms (pasteurization). This is the standard form of milk in the USA but difficult to find outside of KL because the milk has to be kept cold from production until it is consumed. Air-flown milk from Aus/NZ, GoodDay dairies in West Malaysia, and Desa Dairy in Sabah are some of the major sources. Look for it in the cooler.
UHT Recombined Milk
The standard form of milk in Malaysia is UHT Recombined milk. This is milk that has been squeezed from the cow, then heated to 135C, a process called Ultra High Temperature (UHT) pasteurization. This alters the flavor more than standard pasteurization but allows the milk to be packed in boxes without refrigeration for years. Recombined means the milk has first been dehydrated and separated into milk fat powder and non-fat milk solids. These two components are then remixed with water, UHT treated, and boxed for sale. If the powders are exported dry to Malaysia, the new boxed milk can be called “Buatan Malaysia”. “Buatan Malaysia” only means remixed and packed here. The milk powder is from elsewhere, like New Zealand. Dutch Lady ke Marigold ke Daily Dairy ke it is all the same stuff. Recombined milk particles. Yes, my children swear certain brands taste better than others. But it is the same class of product strictly speaking.
UHT “Fresh Milk”
Dutch Lady has a product that they dare to label as Fresh Milk, in the green box. Dutch Lady is calling this “Fresh” because the milk is not recombined. UHT, but not recombined. Since it has been UHT treated, it can sit on a shelf for years. How this can be called “fresh” I don’t know.
HL “Fresh Milk”
Marigold is the only company I have seen selling this devious product. It sits in the cooler next to GoodDay milk but it is not the same. It is recombined milk from powder but not UHT so it requires constant refrigeration. Recombined, not UHT.
Milk in a tin can
In Bahasa Malaysia, susu pekat and susu cair corresponds to condensed milk and evaporated milk respectively. Nationwide, condensed milk is probably the first thing the majority of people would think of when you say “susu”.
Susu Pekat Manis / Sweetened Condensed Milk
This is milk that has been partially dehydrated with sugar added. This is almost impossible to find in the stores in Kuching any more, and if you do it will cost double or triple the price of the next best thing. It may be made from whole milk, or more often from recombined dry components at a set ratio: a minimum of 8% milkfat and 28% nonfat milk solids according to the Codex.
Susu pekat isian manis / Sweetened Condensed Filled Milk
Same as above, but some milk has been replaced with palm oil (filler). The percentage of milk is greater than the percentage of palm oil but food labeling laws in Malaysia (and the US) don’t require manufacturers to put the percentages. According to the Codex Alimentarius, this product should contain a minimum of 20% non-fat milk solids, with all the milk fat replaced by vegetable fat (i.e. palm oil).
Krimer pekat manis/ Sweetened Creamer
Presumably the same as above but with the percentage of palm oil high enough and/or milk content low enough that they can’t use the word “milk” to describe it. The word “creamer” does not appear in the section of the Codex dealing with milk products. How much dairy is in it? Allahu alam.
Susu sejat @ susu cair / Evaporated Milk:
Milk with some water removed and no sugar added. Minimum 25% non-fat milk solids and 7.5% milk fat.
Susu isian sejat / Evaporated Filled Milk:
Palm oil added in place of milk fat. Minimum 17.5% non-fat milk solids. No minimum milk fat required.
Krimer sejat / evaporated creamer:
Not a milk product.
Other Tinned Milk-like Innovations
Vitaminised: F&N used to sell Sweetened Condensed Filled Milk. Then they rebranded with a product only called F&N Vitaminised. Presumably they adjusted the formula such that they can’t call it milk anymore. So, vitaminised what? Is it a filled milk? Or is it not a milk product by definition? I don’t know, but I get uncomfortable when words that mean things are replaced with brands and slogans.
Teh Tarik Creamer: Undoubtedly the most adulterated of the bunch, this stuff has frothing agents, mounds of sugar and whatnot else for the lethal diabetic brew “pulled tea” that is so popular here. Remember folks, kencing manis adalah pembunuh terbukti.
Milk in a bag
Leaving aside baby formulas, there are a large number of milk-ish products out there marketed to adults. In Kuching, there is only one product I can find anymore that consists of milk and only milk: Fernleaf Full Cream Milk. 26% milk fat according to the Codex. This is essentially the powder from which all the recombined milk products are made. Everything else – “family” milk, “growing up” milk, “kuat” milk – has some other ingredient added, usually palm oil and sugar, vitamins for camouflage, and/or conditioner-type stuff , and has no minimum milk fat requirement according to the Codex.
What milk to buy
That’s up to you. Dairy products are very expensive in Malaysia and budgets are tight all around. But it is important to know what you are getting for your money. Palm oil and sugar are two foods that we all consume far more than we need in our diets – there isn’t much point in paying for another dose with your milk. When ordering milky drinks at the kopitiam, the only way to really get your drinks kurang manis is to order Teh “C” or Kopi “C”. The “C” stands for cair presumably, meaning prepared with evaporated creamer. Same amount of palm oil, but no sugar. You know a great locavore alternative that tastes really good in coffee by the way: santan and gula apong! Try it!
I’m not so good at Bahasa Malaysia. Kalau tuan ingin membaca tentang perkara ini dalam bahasa kebangsaan, teruskan layari Susu Sejat Dot Com.
Milk may be utterly altered and adulterated from its prophetic form but at least we still have honey, right?! Not exactly…