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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Buttermilk: Cultured and Low-Lactose

The Internet is a strange place. Here it is February 6 and I find an article online, copied from my local paper and dated February 7, that isn't available yet from my local paper.

The article is on buttermilk, the modern version.

Buttermilk used to be a totally different product than the one found on store shelves today. The new buttermilk is cultured with bacteria that work on it somewhat like the ones in yogurt do. They look like this:
Remember, you want them inside you. Really.

And from the article, some basic answers to basic questions.

Question: Why is it called buttermilk?

Answer: True buttermilk is the liquid that is left after cream is churned into butter, explains Marcia Swingle, a "foodways interpreter" at Genesee Country (N.Y.) Village Museum, who demonstrates 19th-century buttermaking at the Mumford museum there.

Q: Does today's cultured buttermilk taste different from sweet cream buttermilk made the traditional way?

A: Yes. Mac McCampbell, chief operating officer at Oatka Milk Products Cooperative Inc., says sweet cream buttermilk is similar to milk but is much richer.

Q: Why can't consumers find old-fashioned sweet cream buttermilk anymore?

A: Consolidation in the dairy industry in the 1950s and 1960s turned old-fashioned buttermilk into the stuff of nostalgia, explains David Brown, a Cornell University food scientist and dairy expert.

Once processing was brought to larger plants at centralized locations, buttermilk's perishability (its shelf life was only a few days) became problematic, Brown says.

Q: How is cultured buttermilk made?

A: Cultured buttermilk starts with pasteurized milk. Then a bacterial culture mix is added to room-temperature milk and allowed to incubate for several hours. Salt is often added for flavor.

Q: What are cultured buttermilk's nutritional qualities?

A: Like regular milk, buttermilk is rich in calcium, vitamins D and A and protein. Some people who are lactose-intolerant might find buttermilk easier to digest than regular milk because some of the lactose has been converted to lactic acid.

A caution, here. Just because buttermilk is cultured doesn't mean that you can gulp it down without thinking. Test smaller quantities first to see if you tolerate it well before going for a glassful.

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