What is UHT Milk? – UHT milk, or Ultra Heat Treatment Milk, is a commonly used technique in the processing of milk by milk production facilities to ensure the food safety of the milk. In the UHT process, milk is exposed to ultra heat for a short time so as to kill off any unwanted and harmful bacteria that may be present in raw milk, yet still retaining its nutritional content. The higher temperatures that are used in this process help to ensure that milk is not only safe to consume, but also shelf-stable when packaged. This allows the finished product to be kept in its sealed and unopened packaging at ambient room temperature for extended periods of time. The UHT process is a kind of pasteurization process, although it is carried out at higher temperatures as compared to pasteurized milk.
UHT milk actually plays an extremely important role in the global food supply chain, mainly because of its quality as shelf-stable milk. As it is able to be stored at room temperature for an extended period of time, UHT milk can be stored together with dried goods, with no food safety concerns over its integrity when handled, transported, and stored as an ambient product. This shelf-stable quality of UHT milk thus allows the product to utilised in environments and conditions that fresh milk would never be able to handle as fresh milk would require storage and handling in refrigerated conditions. UHT milk products are commonly used in large scale food service operations like catering, hotels, and production kitchens. Other situations that call for the use of UHT milk for their shelf-stable properties include its use on shipping vessels, in disaster relief operations, in emergency food storage facilities, in the military, as well as in situations with limited or no access to refrigeration. That being said, UHT milk is also widely used as an everyday staple by people living in various environments.
While UHT milk has many qualities that lend itself to be easily used by almost anyone and everyone, there are certain things that UHT milk cannot do. For example, during the UHT process, the whey proteins in the milk do change in their structure, and as a result, cheese and butter cannot be made using UHT milk, as they call for the protein structures that are found in pasteurized milk, whole milk, fresh milk, or even raw milk. Additionally, because of the change in protein structure within UHT milk, the taste of UHT milk is somewhat different and can appear sweeter to certain palates, while sometimes also presenting a “cooked” taste. Depending on the individual using the milk, these traits can be viewed either as desirable or undesirable for the use case. As such, fresh milk and other milk format alternatives still exist to cater for a wider audience.
For example, in the speciality coffee industry, where speciality coffee shops use frothed milk to free pour latte art designs, baristas rely on the fat and protein structures found in fresh milk to produce a rich velvety texture within the frothed milk – sometimes known as microfoam. This process is possible with other types of milk, though fresh milk or whole milk remains the preferred choice among baristas.