What is milk?

One of the most widely used ingredients, milk is often referred to as a 'complete' food. While cow's milk continues to be the most popular, other milks, including plant-based alternatives to milk, are becoming more regularly used in cooking, drinks and even cheeses.

Most of the milk we buy is pasteurised, meaning it has been heated to a temperature that removes any potentially dangerous bacteria. However, unpasteurised, or 'raw', milk is becoming increasingly popular as the general preference for untreated products continues to grow.

Babies, young children, pregnant women and the elderly are advised to avoid eating or drinking unpasteurised milk products. Find out more from The Dairy Council.

How to store milk

Check the label when buying fresh milk, and store in the fridge for up to four days. If not refrigerated, fresh milk will go sour very quickly.

Different types of milk:

Whole milk

Gently pasteurised fresh cow's milk, with nothing added or taken away. Whole milk is naturally rich in a range of nutrients needed for growth, development and maintenance of the human body, and has no artificial preservatives or colourings. In Britain, most whole cow's milk comes from Friesian cows, but sometimes also from Jersey and Guernsey cows.

Semi-skimmed and skimmed milk

Milk from which part or all of the fat has been removed. Semi-skimmed milk has a fat content of 1.5 to 1.8 per cent, while skimmed milk has a maximum fat content of 0.1 per cent. Skimmed milk is low in calories and fat, but is nutritionally almost the same.


Buttermilk is traditionally made from the thin liquid leftover from making butter. However, it's now more often made from skimmed milk mixed with milk solids and cultured with lactic acid. It contains just 0.1 per cent fat. Creamy and sour in flavour, it's commonly used in baking to give bread and cakes a moist texture and acidity, which can help activate raising agents.

Soya milk

A non-animal derived milk often used by vegans and those with dairy allergies. It has a thicker consistency than cow's milk and a distinctly nutty flavour. It's made from ground soya beans and can be used to make yogurt, cheese and cream. Use it as you would cow's milk.

Oat milk

Made by soaking oats in water overnight, then blending until smooth and straining. The process creates a very creamy milk that froths well, making it a great substitute milk for use in artisan coffees, on cereals or in smoothies and milkshakes. Learn how to make your own oat milk.

Almond milk

Almond and other nut milks are made by soaking the whole nuts in water, then blending and straining. You can buy these sweetened or unsweetened and fortified, if you like, which provides added calcium. Make your own almond milk at home.

Evaporated and condensed milk

Evaporated milk is homogenised milk with a reduced water content, which means it's almost double the concentration of ordinary milk. It's great for making desserts and puddings. Condensed milk is the same as evaporated milk, but with sugar added to sweeten and thicken it. Use it for making sweets and puddings.

Alternatives to milk

Try cream.