Last week, a friend and I were exchanging e-mails. He is also an American who lives in the Philippines. He is going back to the States soon for a combination of a visit home and a “visa run” so that he can get his soon to be expiring visa renewed. In our e-mail discussion he told me that one thing he was really looking forward to on his return trip was the milk. He told me that one of his first stops after leaving the airport would be at the convenience store where he would buy some milk and chug it down, enjoying every drop!
It surprised me, because in my time of living here, I have never felt that there was a problem with the milk that is locally available. I asked my friend what he meant, and he told me that good milk was not readily available in his area. It surprised me, and I told him so. I explained to him that in my experience, I could go to any supermarket or convenience store in my area and buy milk that tasted exactly the same as the milk in the States. He replied that it wasn’t the case where he lives. Hmm… we talked more, and he mentioned the “irradiated milk” that is available here, but he has not really tried it much, because he didn’t like it the first time he drank it.
When he said that, I knew exactly what he was talking about. Now, people use terminology differently, but in my mind, if you say a food product is “irradiated” that means that radiation is used on it to kill the germs. That is not the case on the milk here, so I did a little research. Soon, I found out that some people use the term “irradiated” interchangeably with Pasteurization. But, milk in the States is Pasteurized too.
In my research, I found out the differences. Milk in the USA is Pasteurized by a different method than the Pasteurization here. The Pasteurization method in the States requires that the milk be heated to 71.7 degrees C (equivalent to 161F) for a period of 15 to 20 seconds. When milk is Pasteurized by that method, it must remain refrigerated and will remain fresh for a short period, maybe 10 days or so. This milk is kept in the store’s refrigerated section, and is labeled with an expiration date. When you buy it, you must take it home and put it directly into the refrigerator, or it may spoil.
The milk used in the Philippines is Pasteurized by a different method, though. It is called “UHT” or “Ultra Heat Treated” milk. UHT milk is pasteurized by the UHT method, which requires that the milk be heated to a temperature of 135C (equivalent to 275F) for a period of only 2 seconds. Milk that is UHT Pasteurized has a shelf life of six months or more, even without refrigeration. Once the package is opened, though, the milk must be refrigerated or it will spoil quickly. UHT milk is kept on the regular (non-refrigerated) shelf of the supermarket, and when you bring it home there is no need to refrigerate it until it has been opened. In my case, I refrigerate it a few hours or even a day before I intend to use it, because I prefer my milk to be cold – it just tastes better to me.
Now… what about taste? In my years of living here in the Philippines, and using UHT milk products, I have never noticed any difference in taste compared to what I used to drink in the USA. However, in doing my research into this, I found that there appears to be a fairly lively debate on this issue. UHT milk is what is used in most of the world. Most of the non-UHT milk appears to be used in the USA, and in Britain (although, I believe both UHT and non-UHT are available in the UK). I have found plenty of forum debates on what tastes best. Many people can’t seem to tell any difference, like me. Some people swear that the UHT is simply terrible tasting. From what I can find, it appears that a large majority find the taste the same, or similar enough that it is not a big deal to them.
Aside from UHT milk, there are other types of milks in the Philippines too. I can remember the day when the most common type of milk used here was powdered instant milk. That is still quite common, but UHT is more popular now, I think. UHT milk is often called “Fresh Milk” here, so if you see Fresh Milk, most likely that is UHT that is being mentioned. Almost all of the UHT milk that I find here is imported from New Zealand.
How about you, do you feel that the milk here is substandard compared to what you were drinking “back home”?