With so many varieties of milk available in supermarkets, it is easy for anyone to get confused between labels, especially when some of them mean the same thing!
Full cream milk and whole milk, what is the difference? Full cream and whole milk are essentially the same thing. These terms are used interchangeably for regional or sales purposes. Both types are nutritionally equal but may vary from one brand to another.
Read below to learn more about different types of milk, the difference between whole milk and full cream milk, and the best uses for both.
There are a lot of words used to label different varieties of milk, you may have heard a lot of them like “skim”, “whole” or “full cream milk”.
But when it comes to differences, all these milk products have either just one discernable difference or none at all.
How can two things be the same but have different labels?
Milk companies use different terms to market their products. Mostly, these terms are used to differentiate different types of products.
For example, skim milk translates to fat-free milk, similarly, “reduced milk” may refer to a milk product that has around 2% milk fat.
Other times, these terms are used to make a product stand out from the competition.
This is where things can get confusing!
The Milking Process
See, all the milk that comes out of a cow is labeled as “whole milk”, i.e., milk that has no reductions or adulterations.
This pure but unprocessed milk is then filled into containers and sent to processing plants.
The milk is processed according to USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) standards, where the milk is first heated then rapidly cooled, a process known as pasteurization.
Once pasteurized, the milk is screened and then filled in special containers that are then sent off to stores all around the country.
The variety of milk that is only pasteurized and packaged is called “whole milk” or “full cream” milk. These two words are used interchangeably to describe the same milk product.
Both, “whole milk” and “full cream” milk will contain the same fat content and will have nothing removed from them.
Companies use these special terminologies based on focus-group tests and other marketing statistics.
More commonly though, different terminologies can also be used out of geographical habits – as one term may be more familiar and may also have been historically used in a region more than the other.
Whatever the case, the product is more or less the same – at least when it comes to its fat content and basic nutrition.
For example, Company A may want to label their product as Whole Milk while Company B may label theirs as Full Cream because their data support a favorable sales scenario in using one term over the other.
Labeling is different in every region and is based on customer data and focus-group tests where one term may be deemed as more desirable than the other.
Internationally, Whole Milk is the gold standard when it comes to describing “full-fat milk”, which is, again, nutritionally the same as full cream!
In the end, it just comes down to how you perceive the product and its quality.
Some people may instinctively like “whole milk” since it denotes a product that has no additives while others may go for “full cream” just because they prioritize and perceive creaminess to be higher than other desirable characteristics.
Which One Should You Get?
The answer to this question depends on your preference.
Part of this is based on dietary restrictions while the other part relies on the brand and product as well. For example, while whole milk and full cream milk mean the same thing, they might still differ from one brand to another.
Keep in mind, every brand has different techniques when it comes to manufacturing and processing.
Also, most brands source milk from different places, which means that there are bound to be some discrepancies in each product due to the feed of the cows, their health, age, and other characteristics.
This is why the entire milk market is so saturated but still varied. Every milk product tastes different even though it may be labeled as the same and may also be nutritionally identical!
For example, Company A’s full cream milk and Company B’s full cream milk are bound to taste different, even when compared to Company C’s “Whole Milk”—the crazy thing is that all of these products are essentially the same!
How is this possible?
To answer this question, we must get a few basics clear. Milk contains the following ingredients (expressed as a percentage):
- Water 87%
- Solids (proteins, carbs, vitamins, minerals, etc.) 8.25%
- Fat, ranging from 0-5%
The “fat” on this list is what sets every milk product apart.
According to the USDA, whole milk should have at least a milk fat percentage of 3.25%.
This means that manufacturers can use different ratios of milk fat and manufacturing techniques to differentiate the flavor of their products.
Fat is what gives milk the bulk of its flavor and some color too. Of course, this also means that the definitions of whole milk and full cream milk are also different for every company!
This is how milk products are generally differentiated (as per regulatory standards):
|Fat Content by Weight
|Creamy and “fuller” flavor.
|Mildly creamy flavor but not as intense.
|Low Fat Milk
|Watered-down and mild-milky flavor.
|0% – 0.5%
|Bland and runny.
This leeway, along with pasteurization and general processes, allows companies to tweak the flavor of their product, but more importantly, this also differentiates whole milk or full cream milk from other types of milk products too!
We’ll go over each to show how they are different from Whole Milk.
Reduced-fat milk was popularized because it offered a middle ground between full-fat milk and skim milk.
Remember, fat is what gives milk its flavor, texture, and color. By reducing some of the fat content, manufacturers can bring the overall calorie count in each serving when compared to regular milk.
This milk product is targeted toward diet-conscious people who are looking for a more practical solution for their dietary problems, rather than opting for a product that tastes bland and is runnier.
Low Fat Milk
This milk, also called 1% fat milk, is similarly popular in the diet-conscious demographic.
When compared to regular/whole milk, low-fat milk offers some texture and flavor but is largely less flavorful than full cream or whole milk.
This milk has a runnier consistency and is considered to be watered-down. It feels almost as if you are drinking mildly flavored water than milk.
Keep in mind, 87% of milk is just water, so when you reduce the fat, the milk starts to taste less natural.
Skim milk is the most watered-down and bland version of milk. It has virtually no fat and is similarly targeted toward people who want to keep an eye on their fat intake.
Skim milk has no notable characteristics other than it being bland and runny. It is solely consumed for its nutrition, some of which is artificially added in the form of micronutrients.
All types of milk have some degree of additives. This is where things can get a bit more confusing.
For example, you can find “fortified” whole milk or skim milk varieties that have added nutrients or minerals to make them “healthier”.
Whether or not they are is a separate debate, but if we are talking about labels, this does add to the confusion rather than solve a problem for customers.
The truth is, these labels allow companies to diversify their product lines and since there are more products of the same company in the market, customers may want to opt for a brand that has more presence or variations on the shelf.
In the end, all you need to remember is that full cream milk or regular/whole milk has a milk fat percentage of around 3.25%. Beyond this, you can choose any other sub-type of milk that may be different in how it is “fortified” or how it tastes.
You can even choose a specific variety based on the use of the product!
How And When To Use Different Milk Varieties
Milk is used in a lot of recipes. From desserts to general baking, savory foods, beverages, and more. It is at the core of the human diet and is a staple in many regions around the world.
This is why it is no surprise that it is used in so many different ways!
But when it comes to these different types of milk, which is better?
The regular variety of milk can be used in every recipe that calls for milk.
Remember, this type of milk has the highest relative fat percentage—which also gives it the most flavor and texture.
This means that you can use it in different recipes without sacrificing flavor or consistency. For example, in the case of coffee, whole milk can be preferred next to half-and-half milk!
Whole milk also adds a lot of flavor to breakfast cereals as well. There are also some varieties of milk that are specifically designed for cereals!
Breakfast milk products are higher in fat and resemble regular milk more than any other of the lower-fat varieties.
This type of milk is perfect for replacing whole milk in every recipe that calls for regular milk.
Reduced-fat milk has a fat content of 2% which reduces the flavor of the milk but may make it ideal for reaching health goals for certain individuals.
The consistency and flavor of the milk may also vary from brand to brand since every company will use different percentages to make their product stand out.
Overall, this type of milk is the ideal choice, next to regular milk, especially if you want to keep an eye on your diet.
Low Fat Milk
This is where things start to get a bit artificial.
When we say “artificial” what we mean is that the milk will taste less natural than whole milk and even reduced-fat milk.
Averaging around 1% milkfat, low-fat milk is ideal for people who are on a diet and don’t want to increase their total daily fat intake.
Does this milk affect the quality and flavor of the recipe? Perhaps. But if you only use it sparingly, then you may be able to get away with using low-fat milk without it affecting the overall recipe.
For example, low-fat milk can be used in beverages, whereas in cooking it will have a huge difference, since the more milk you use, the more of its characteristics will become apparent.
This is why low-fat milk should ideally be used for cooking purposes unless you intentionally want to use it for beverages or dietary purposes.
A common misconception about skim milk is that some people believe that it is lactose-free. This is incorrect!
Skim milk is made by literally skimming the fat and cream off the top of the milk as it rests, thereby greatly eliminating the total fat content of milk—but not the sugars and proteins, which also include lactose!
The acceptable fat content for skim milk ranges between 0-0.5%. This variation is the least flavorful of all the milk types and is very different from the creamy and lightly thick consistency of whole milk.
Skim milk is largely used as a replacement or substitute for regular milk and can be used in every recipe, albeit with far less flavor and texture.
Storing Full Cream Milk
Storage instructions for whole milk are usually the same as the other varieties of milk. However, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind.
Since this milk is standardized and contains fat, you will have to store it a bit more carefully than the reduced or skim varieties.
Whole milk may oxidize and go bad quickly if it is not stored properly, this is why you will need to keep the milk refrigerated and consume it as soon as possible.
Regular fat milk should be stored at below 40°F for no more than 3 days.
This time limit is dependent on a lot of factors but for the sake of generalization, it is best to store the milk at the back, or the coldest spot, of the fridge for no more than 72 hours.
But in some cases, you may be able to store the milk for about 5 days. Again, you should always follow the proper storage instructions mentioned on the back of the package.
Want the most out of the milk without worrying about stomach problems? Consume the milk within 48 hours so that you get the maximum freshness and flavor.
Whole milk may start to taste slightly differently after 48 hours, especially if you keep it near strong-smelling foods.
To counter this, you can shift the milk into an airtight milk bottle (such as this one), this way you may be able to extend the shelf life of the product to about 5 days.
Never leave milk out of the fridge for more than 1-2 hours. The best practice of using whole milk is to pour the required amount and then store the leftover in the fridge rather than putting it out on the counter while you finish your cereal.
Whole milk can easily be frozen! The best way to do this would be to either shift the contents of the bottle to a freezer-safe bag or to use a freezer-safe storage bottle.
Whole milk can remain consumable for up to 6 months when frozen. But of course, to get the maximum flavor, it is highly recommended that you consume the milk within 1 month of freezing it.
To thaw the milk, simply place it in the fridge instead of leaving it out at room temperature. This will greatly reduce the growth of bacteria!
Also, do not store the milk in the carton it came in.
Milk, like any other liquid, expands when it solidifies, which means that the milk will require some headspace to expand. The box may also become overly damp as it thaws which may affect the integrity and structure of the carton.
This is the way it is best to shift the milk in a separate container to ensure its longevity and freshness!
Whole milk, regular milk, and full cream milk all mean the same thing and contain more or less the same fat content.
The full-fat variety tastes the best when compared to other types of milk and can be used in several delicious ways too!
Now that you know the difference between the two, here are some related questions!
Can you mix different types of milk?
Yes, two different types of milk can be mixed but the resulting mixture will be inferior to whole milk!
The best way to get the benefits of each type of milk would be to consume them separately, especially if you don’t have any dietary restrictions!
What is half-and-half milk?
Half and half may have a higher percentage of milk fat than whole milk. Regular milk has a fat percentage of around 3.25% while half and half can contain up to 12-18% fat!
This type of milk has a mixture of whole milk and thick cream which gives it an ultra-creamy flavor and thicker consistency than whole milk. It also makes it a good but less healthy option for breakfast cereals, coffees, and more.
What type of milk is best for cooking?
The default variety of milk for cooking and baking is ideally whole milk.
For example, using skim milk instead of whole milk to make certain savory sauces may cause the mixture to separate.
However, in other cases, using skim milk over whole milk may be beneficial, especially if you want to reduce your daily fat intake, such as in beverages.
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