Is Cultured Milk Pasteurized? [Differences Explained]

is cultured milk pasteurized
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Cultured milk is often recommended for various health benefits, but it can also get confusing. After all, anything “cultured” usually means treated with some sort of bacteria. And if cultured milk has bacteria, does it mean it’s unpasteurized?

Cultured milk is usually pasteurized despite its name. Most manufacturers pasteurize the milk before introducing live culture into the liquid. The idea is to kill the harmful bacteria first before adding the good ones.

If that sounds counterintuitive, don’t worry – I’ll explain this in more detail. I’ve been confused about this, too. So, let’s find out why it’s essential for cultured milk to be pasteurized first.

Cultured Milk vs. Pasteurized Milk: Differences

The main difference between cultured and pasteurized milk is its taste. The contrast is so stark that there’s no mistaking the two once you’ve tasted them, even during a blind taste test.

That’s because cultured milk has a telltale tangy flavor, unlike regular milk’s flowing, creamy texture. If you’ve tasted yogurt before, regardless of whether it was flavored or not, then you know of this signature yogurt “tang.”

Pasteurized milk is pretty much any milk you can buy at your nearest grocery store. The ones you get from the cooler are called “flash pasteurized milk” and are only good for about two weeks. Boxed milk you find on regular shelves is called UHT milk; they’ve been pasteurized at a higher temperature and can last for months.

Cultured Milk Is Usually Made With Pasteurized Milk

Although you might find cultured milk made from raw, unpasteurized milk, the creation of such is usually discouraged. That’s because you’re at a higher risk of contracting food-borne illnesses when consuming raw milk.

That’s why most manufacturers pasteurize the milk before adding the live culture. You’re more likely to find these in any store, especially in areas where the sale of raw milk products is restricted or illegal. [1]

Pasteurized Milk Is Heated to Kill Harmful Bacteria

It’s common knowledge to heat something to a specific temperature to kill pathogens; milk is no exception. Although raw milk can be consumed as is, it increases your risk of illnesses from E.coli, listeria, salmonella, and other germs. [2]

But when the milk is pasteurized, the heat kills harmful bacteria, making it safer for consumption.

Cultured Milk Has Added (Good) Bacteria

Once the milk has been pasteurized, manufacturers introduce a starter culture of beneficial bacteria to “ferment” the milk. Depending on the brand, the bacteria used is usually either Lactobacilli or Bifidobacteria. [3]

The bacteria will then start breaking down the milk proteins called lactose, which ferments the milk. The milk also starts to thicken as it develops a slightly acidic, tangy flavor that we all know from yogurt.


Probiotic Yogurt vs. Regular Yogurt: Differences & Which Is Better?

Cultured Milk Has a Tangy Taste

Unlike pasteurized, regular milk, with its creamy texture and a hint of sweetness, cultured milk is thick and slightly tart. That’s because cultured milk is fermented milk – as we all know, anything fermented turns sour.

That doesn’t mean cultured milk is unpleasant, however. Its flavor profile is nowhere near the taste of spoiled milk, and it’s not as bad for your stomach!

Cultured Milk Is Easier on the Stomach Than Regular Milk

Some researchers and medical professionals suggest that cultured milk, with its lactose already broken down by bacteria, is easier to digest than regular milk. They even go so far as to say that it’s better for those who are lactose sensitive or intolerant. [4]

Cultured Milk Can Also Be Made with Unpasteurized Milk

Because the process of making cultured milk involves introducing bacteria culture into the milk, manufacturers can also use unpasteurized milk. However, don’t expect to find these in stores, as most health regulatory bodies discourage the consumption of raw milk.

If you have your heart set on consuming unpasteurized cultured milk, you’re more likely to find them directly from farmers. Some states in America also allow stores to sell products made from raw milk, while some only allow direct sales from farm to consumer.

Is Cultured Cheese Pasteurized?

Though most cheeses nowadays are pasteurized, you can buy cheese made from unpasteurized milk. However, it won’t be cultured cheese – US FDA requires that all cheese made from raw milk must be aged for at least 60 days. [5] This might be good news for raw milk proponents but not for those looking for raw, cultured cheese.

But if you’re just in the market for some good cottage cheese or other types of cultured cheese, then they are most likely made from pasteurized milk.

Cultured Milk vs. Pasteurized Milk: Which Is Better?

Picking cultured or pasteurized milk as the better one can be challenging, considering their significant differences and applications. Pasteurized milk is suitable for daily drinking and other everyday uses, provided that you don’t have a lactose sensitivity.

On the other hand, cultured milk has a distinct flavor that not everyone prefers. It’s also thicker than usual, which could put off some people. Although some fermented milk products are thin enough to drink, they’re usually loaded with sugars and other flavorings.

At the end of the day, your choice of consuming cultured or pasteurized milk depends on your health and needs. If you need a dairy product that’s easier on your stomach, then cultured milk is the way to go. But sticking to pasteurized milk won’t steer you wrong if you prefer something more familiar.

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