There are very few examples of staple food items that shaped human civilization throughout the history like milk, as this nutritious liquid has been vastly consumed for at least 7,000 years at different parts of Earth. Despite the fact that roughly 65 percent of the world's population has lactose intolerance to some extent, making milk partly or fully indigestible, it still has a growing presence in practically any global market. While cow-milk based dairy products are by far the most widespread type in almost every country, sheep, goat and even buffalo milks also play a major role, reflected in the myriad of flavors and aromas this industry has to offer. It might come as a surprise, yet there are parts of the world where other sorts of milks, which some of you might regard as undrinkable, are consumed regularly, five of which are particularly intriguing and bewildering to grasp.
It’s difficult to overstate the cultural importance of Horses in Mongolia and throughout all of Central Asia, as this equine beast is far more than just a low-tech method of transportation, but a major food source, herding assistant and the highlight of many large-scale events.
Perhaps the most exceptional part of this national obsession over horses is the widespread consumption of fermented mare milk, Airag or Kumis as it’s locally known in Mongolia and Central Asia respectively.
Due to the milk’s relative high content of lactose, it can be transformed into an alcoholic beverage by a fermentation process, in which yeasts make the milk alcoholic and fizzy while lactobacillus bacteria increases its level of acidity.
Whereas modern processing is rather industrial and large scale, customarily, after the mare milking is completed, the milk is filtered through a locally woven fabric, then poured into a small container hung on the entrance of a yurt or a ger, where it’s being fermented for a couple of days, occasionally shaken by people who go in or out, insuring the milk is being evenly fermented.
If you are curious about its flavor, it’s slightly sour and carbonated with a much lighter texture when compared with other dairy products, while its alcohol percentage ranges from 0.7% to 2.5%, a little less than an average beer.
This unique beverage is widely regarded as the national drink in some countries, however, not everyone will find it palatable, particularly the ones who never tried it before.
photography by: Scott Presly
Nicknamed as the ships of the deserts, camels served as a reliable method of desert commuting since their domestication around 5,000 years ago, thanks to their incredible ability to move in the scorching heat of the desert for days or even weeks without drinking water.
Thereby, for centuries camel milk has been used as a stable food source among pastoral and nomadic communities across the Sahara and the Middle-East, as camels can generate extremely nutritious milk even during harsh conditions.
Nowadays, camel milk products have spread far beyond their original sphere, with countries as far as Australia and the United States having numerous camel farms, also boosted by their lower ecological footprint in comparison to cow ranching, albeit interestingly, Somalia is still the world’s largest producer of camel milk with roughly one million tons annually.
Due to the milk’s low content of lactose, it is sometimes consumed as a substitute to cow milk by people who have lactose intolerance, as a matter of fact, camel milk is also rich in many nutrients, vitamins, calcium and iron. Bestowed with so many claimed health benefits, the UN consequently branded camel milk as superfood, prompting a global trend around this white gold, expanding its use for applications such as cosmetics and food supplements.
When it comes to the milk’s flavor, it varies depending on many factors such as the sort of pasture or camel’s age, tasting somewhere between sweet and creamy to smoky and nutty, whereas the most common form of camel dairy products are raw milk, ice-cream and yoghurt, though, some countries like Mauritania also produce considerable amounts of cheese and butter as well.
photography by: AMISOM Public Information
In the popular culture lions always crowned as the king of the animals, yet at the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas the only true and undisputed ruler is the majestic beast of burden, the yak. Featuring dark and long fur that almost reaches the ground, this behemoth was, and still is to some extent, the most prominent livelihood source for the local herder communities for the past thousands of years.
Almost every part of the animal is utilized, including its dungs as fuel, nevertheless, by far the most widespread use is of the yak milk, serving as the prime ingredient in a large array of dairy products, ranging from raw milk, ghee, yoghurt and cheeses to clarified butter, burned as a ritual light source in Buddhist temples. In recent years, with the help of Swiss manufacturers, local cattlemen managed to produce a Gruyere style cheese with delicate flavors, praised by every foreign tourist who had a bite of it.
Among the more traditional delicacies are yak milk tea, made of boiled water with tea leaves which then mixed with milk, forming a rather fragrant flavor, a Tibetan staple desert known as yak milk cake, prepared from a mixture of yak butter and brown sugar, and Chhurpi, a ricotta-style cheese made of boiled milk, drained by being left hung in a cloth.
Curiously, when the calf is born, the yak milk is usually pink tinted as it’s slightly mixed with blood, becoming whiter in color as the calves grow up.
With regard to its taste, most people describe it as very rich in flavor, lightly sweet and aromatic, additionally, yak milk contains far more proteins and fats, including omega 3 acids, making it an emerging superfood in many countries around the world, particularly in China.
photography by: Larry Koester
Believe it or not, reindeers are real animals and not just the personal rickshaw pullers of Santa Claus, in fact, for millennia they played a key role in the survival of Inuit tribes all over the Arctic Circle. Since the Stone Age, humans followed the migrating paths of these Nordic beasts, hunting them for their precious meat or using their immense perseverance to cover lengthy journeys on a sled across the snowy terrain.
Probably the least known aspect about this formidable animal is the widespread consumption of its milk among nomadic communities on the far reaches of our planet, providing a nutritious source of food in a harsh and treacherous climate.
Interestingly, the milk output of a single reindeer is relatively low, standing at roughly 100 ML a day and 50 liters a years, making it a rather uneconomic for a large scale industry, even more amplified if taking into consideration the aggressive and protective behavior of a reindeer mother whenever a milking process takes place, thereby, reindeer milk never actually spread much beyond the local use by tribal groups or boutique shops.
Due to reindeer calves limited window of opportunity to get stronger during the short summer time before the arrival of winter, the milk contains considerable amounts of fats and proteins, resulting in a much higher calorie intake than cow milk, reflected in extremely creamy texture, reminiscent of condensed milk.
Traditioanlly, the milk is consumed as butter or curds, while occasionally being frozen for a later use, nowadays however, it’s also processed as an ingredient in several cheeses, most notably Leipäjuusto, aka Finnish squeaky cheese.
photography by: Silverbanks Pictures Image Archive
Possibly the most eccentric example on our list, pig milk was never really mass produced throughout the human history due to a couple of factors, whether it’s the milk’s unpalatable aroma or the entailed difficulty of the milking process, all made the prospects of supermarket shelves full with pig-milk mozzarella or swine yoghurt practically non-feasible.
Having said that, an out of the ordinary Dutch farmer named Erik Stegnik recently launched a project in which sow-milk was processed into a cheese, auctioned for charity at a staggering price of more than 1,500 Euros per kilo, making it by far the most expensive cheese ever sold worldwide.
Erik, who grows free-range pigs roaming freely in his farm at the small town of Bathmen, claimed that in order to make just a mere kilo of this precious cheese, it took 10 people intermittently milking sows for almost two days. This labor-intensive process is the result of the sow’s aggressive reluctance to cooperate and the limited availability of milk, as she can be milked for no more than thirty seconds for every 2 hours, compared with 10 minutes in the case of cows, moreover, a female pig has 14 teats, unsuitable for any existing farm machinery.
As for the flavor itself, pig-milk is much fattier than cow’s and gamier than goat’s, whereas Erik’s exceptional cheese was chalky and salty according to the few lucky people who had a chance to taste it.
photography by: woodleywonderworks