Fat content of milk

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Chart of milk products and production relationships, including milk

The fat content of milk is the proportion of milk, by weight,[1]: 266  made up by butterfat. The fat content, particularly of cow's milk, is modified to make a variety of products. The fat content of milk is usually stated on the container, and the color of the label or milk bottle top varied to enable quick recognition.

Health and nutrition[edit]

Fat has more nutritional energy per cup, but researchers found that in general low fat milk drinkers do absorb less fat, and will compensate for the energy deficit by eating more carbohydrates. They also found that the lower milk fat drinkers also ate more fruits and vegetables, while the higher milk fat drinkers also ate more meat and sweets.[2]

Nutrition intake between whole milk drinkers and skimmed or low fat drinkers is different. An analysis of a survey done by the U. S. Department of Agriculture showed that consumers of reduced or low fat milk had greater intake of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber compared to the group of whole milk drinkers, yet zinc, vitamin E, and calcium were all under consumed in each group. The conclusion was that the whole milk drinkers were more likely to choose foods that were less micronutrient-dense, which resulted in their less healthful diets.[3]

Researchers at the University of Copenhagen, in Denmark, found that drinking full-fat milk may actually be better for your heart than drinking skimmed milk. This is because it boosted levels of HDL cholesterol in the bloodstream.[4]

Methods for reducing fat content[edit]

Today, most skim milk is created by spinning whole milk in a centrifuge so that the fat droplets separate out.[5] To make lowfat milk, one can simply mix skim and whole milk in a fixed ratio.[6]

The fat content of the raw milk produced by cows ranges from about 3.3% up to 5%. It varies by breed, and by diet, and can also be altered by selective breeding and genetic modification. For example, scientists in New Zealand have bred cows that produce milk with less than 1% fat content.[7]

Methods of detecting fat content[edit]

Milk's fat content can be determined by experimental means, such as the Babcock test or Gerber method. Before the Babcock test was created, dishonest milk dealers could adulterate milk to falsely indicate a higher fat content. In 1911, the American Dairy Science Association's Committee on Official Methods of Testing Milk and Cream for Butterfat met in Washington DC with the U.S. Bureau of Dairying, the U.S. Bureau of Standards and manufacturers of glassware.[8] Standard specifications for the Babcock methodology and equipment were published as a result of this meeting.[9] Improvements to the Babcock test have continued.[10][11]

Terms for fat content by country[edit]

The terminology for different types of milk, and the regulations regarding labelling, varies by country and region.


While regular or whole milk has an average of 3.5% fat, reduced-fat milks have at least 25% less fat than regular milk. Low-fat milk must contain less than 1.5% fat and skim or ‘fat-free’ milk has no more than 0.15% fat.[12]


Fat content by weight Canadian terminology
3.25% 3.25% milk or Whole milk or Homogenized milk or Homo milk
2% 2% milk
1% 1% milk
0-0.1% Skim milk

In Canada "whole" milk refers to creamline (unhomogenized) milk. "Homogenized" milk (abbreviated to "homo" on labels and in speech) refers to milk which is 3.25% butterfat (or milk fat).[13] There are also skim, 1%, and 2% milk fat milks. Modern commercial dairy processing techniques involve first removing all of the butterfat, and then adding back the appropriate amount depending on which product is being produced on that particular line.

United States[edit]

Fat content by weight[14][15] U.S. terminology
100% Clarified butter or ghee (butteroil in federal terminology)
80% Butter
45%[citation needed] Manufacturing cream
36% Heavy whipping cream
30% Whipping cream or light whipping cream
25% Medium cream
18–30% Light cream, coffee cream, or table cream
10.5–18% Half and half
3.25% Whole milk or regular milk[16]
2% 2% milk or reduced fat milk[17]
1% 1% milk or low fat milk[17]
0–0.5% Skim milk or nonfat milk[17]

In the USA, skim milk is also known as nonfat milk, due to USDA regulations stating that any food with less than ½ gram of fat per serving can be labelled "fat free".[17]

In the U.S. and Canada, a blended mixture of milk and cream is called half and half. Half and half is usually sold in smaller packages and used for creaming coffee and similar uses.

United Kingdom[edit]

Three main varieties of milk by fat content are sold in the UK, skimmed, semi-skimmed and whole milk. Semi-skimmed is by far the most popular variety, accounting for 63% of all milk sales. Whole milk follows with 27% and then skimmed with 6%.[18] Until 1 January 2008, milk with butterfat content outside the ranges defined by the European Commission could not legally be sold as milk. This included 1% milk, meaning varieties with 1% butterfat content could not be labelled as milk. Lobbying by Britain has allowed these other percentages to be sold as milk.[19] Since the change in regulation, all major supermarkets have launched a 1% variety.

Butterfat content UK Terminology
5% Gold top or Channel Island milk or breakfast milk[20]
>3.5% (typically 3.7%) Whole milk or full fat milk[21]
1.5%-2% (typically 1.7%)[22] Semi-skimmed milk or 2% milk[23]
1% 1% milk
Less than 0.3% (typically 0.1%) Skimmed milk[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Duyff, Roberta Larson (2006). American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide (revised and updated 3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. ISBN 978-0-470-04115-4.
  2. ^ Lee HH, Gerrior SA, Smith JA (1998). "Energy, macronutrient, and food intakes in relation to energy compensation in consumers who drink different types of milk". The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 67 (4): 616–623. doi:10.1093/ajcn/67.4.616. PMID 9537608.
  3. ^ Lee HH, Gerrior SA (2002). "Consumers of reduced-fat, skim, and whole milk: intake status of micronutrients and diet fibers". Family Economics and Nutrition Review. 14 (1): 13–24.
  4. ^ "Effect of Whole Milk compared with Skimmed Milk on Fasting blood lipids". Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports. 9 October 2012. Archived from the original on 2018-04-23. Retrieved 2018-04-23.
  5. ^ "How Is Skim Milk Made?". Kitchn. Archived from the original on 2021-04-26. Retrieved 2021-02-16.
  6. ^ "How is Milk Made? From Cow to Table #InternSarah". Dairy Carrie. 2019-05-06. Archived from the original on 2021-02-28. Retrieved 2021-02-16.
  7. ^ Leake, Jonathan (2007-05-27). "Scientists breed cows that give skimmed milk". London: Times Online. Archived from the original on 2008-07-20. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
  8. ^ Herreid, Ernest O (1942). "The Babcock Test; A Review of the Literature". Journal of Dairy Science. American Dairy Science Association. 25 (4): 342–343. doi:10.3168/jds.s0022-0302(42)95301-3. Archived from the original on 2023-03-16. Retrieved 2008-06-19.
  9. ^ Hunziker, O F (May 1, 1917). "Specifications and Directions for Testing Milk and Cream for Butterfat". Journal of Dairy Science. American Dairy Science Association. 1 (1): 38–44. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(17)94359-0. Archived from the original on 2023-03-16. Retrieved 2008-06-28.
  10. ^ Bailey, D E (September 1, 1919). "Study of Babcock Test for Butterfat in Milk". Journal of Dairy Science. American Dairy Science Association. 2 (5): 331–373. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(19)94337-2. Archived from the original on 2023-03-16. Retrieved 2008-06-28.
  11. ^ Trout, G M; P. S. Lucas (1945). "A Comparison of Various Modifications of the Babcock Test for the Testing of Homogenized Milk". Journal of Dairy Science. American Dairy Science Association. 12 (90): 901–919. doi:10.3168/jds.s0022-0302(45)95251-9. Archived from the original on 2023-03-16. Retrieved 2008-06-28.
  12. ^ "Proximate Composition of Australian Dairy Foods — Your guide to the nutritional content of Australian Dairy Foods" (PDF). legendairy.com.au. Dairy Australia. 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-10-17. Retrieved 2019-03-10.
  13. ^ "FAQ". NeilsonDairy.com. Archived from the original on 2013-06-25. Retrieved 2013-05-16.
  14. ^ 21 CFR 131
  15. ^ 7 CFR 58.305
  16. ^ "Title 21 § 131.110 Milk - Code of Federal Regulations". CFR. Archived from the original on 2022-05-21. Retrieved 2022-01-22.
  17. ^ a b c d "Skimming the Milk Label". FDA. Archived from the original on May 11, 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
  18. ^ "Bread and milk: the perfect couple". The Grocer. Archived from the original on 2011-07-20. Retrieved 2010-06-23.
  19. ^ Elliot, Valerie (2008-01-01). "Milk producers urged to skim off more fat as EU relaxes rules". London: Times Online. Archived from the original on 2008-07-08. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
  20. ^ "Gold top or Channel Island Milk". Tesco Online. Archived from the original on 2018-04-24. Retrieved 2018-04-23.
  21. ^ "Whole Milk". Tesco Online. Archived from the original on 2018-04-24. Retrieved 2018-04-23.
  22. ^ "Home". milk.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2020-09-19. Retrieved 2020-08-30.
  23. ^ a b "The Milk and Dairies (Semi-skimmed and Skimmed Milk) (Heat Treatment and Labelling) Regulations 1988". Queen's Printer of Acts of Parliament. Archived from the original on 2008-09-07. Retrieved 2008-05-13.