Saturday 21 April 2018

Revealed: 10 weird things you didn’t know about Irish dairy products

Girl drinking glass of milk
Girl drinking glass of milk
Ireland consumes 500litres of milk each year
Irish butter has a yellow flavour because our cows are grass fed.
A tin of premium Irish baby formula retails for €43 in China
Patricia Murphy

Patricia Murphy

A new programme which lays bare the truth about Irish food has revealed some eye-opening facts about the dairy products we are consuming each and every day.

This week’s episode of RTE’s ‘What Are You Eating’ delves into the nation’s love affair with milk, which sees us consume 500m litres each year.

The programme dished the dirt on some of the horrors that lurk in some of our favourite products, but also opened up the the issues that threaten our rich grass-fed dairy herds.

“Milk today is quite a different beast. What happens with the companies is that there’s money for them in taking off the cream and making butter and taking off the fat and making a host of other products. There’s no money in milk. The money is what you take out of milk and that’s what the big companies are after,” revealed food writer John McKenna.

Read more: 10 disgusting things we learned about Hot Chicken Rolls on RTE

10 Weird Things We Didn’t Know About Irish Dairy

  • Large companies have become experts in mining milk to create many different ingredients. One of the most advanced processes is called fractionation, which heats milk at such a high temperature that it turns to powder. This powder ends up in a number of surprising and unexpected products including shower gel and pharmaceuticals as a means to bulk them out.


  • In China, one tin of premium Irish baby formula cost the equivalent of €43. Ireland’s most lucrative dairy export is baby formula which poses a number of ethical issues according to Suzanne Campbell, an author who featured on the programme. “Is it ethical to sell baby powder into emerging countries where perhaps mothers should be more encouraged to breastfeed,” she asked.
milk (1).jpg
A tin of premium Irish baby formula retails for €43 in China
  • Irish butter is yellow for a reason and that is because our cows are grass-fed. A dye present in the grass travels into the milk and impacts butter’s flavour and colour. Real butter is made with just two ingredients, cream and salt.


  • Irish people began to fear the impact of butter on their health after medical professionals began to warn the public about the risk of saturated fat on the body. As an alternative they began purchase butter alternatives, which mimicked butter. “The fat we were told to ignore for years, is actually a very very healthy fat for us. We were encouraged to eat fats that were in fact very unhealthy for us,” said Joanna Blythman.
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Irish butter has a yellow flavour because our cows are grass fed.
  • Margarine and Dairy Spreads are made by getting oil and water to combine and emulsify. “This is a very unnatural process. In a factory setting these ingredients would be combined at a very high power which is difficult to replicate at home,” said chef Hillary O’Hagan. Typical dairy spreads include palm oil, vegetable oil, rapeseed oil which are combined with sodium alginate, citric acid, carotene, water and buttermilk powder. Folic acid, Vitamins A, E and B6 are also added.


  • Lecithin, the ingredient which helps combine water with the oils used in margarine is also an ingredient in some paints and in some motor lubricants.


  • 65pc of the world’s population is lactose intolerant, which means that they have difficulty processing the sugars in milk. It’s much less common amongst Caucasians. However it does not necessarily mean they are allergic. If they stay off milk altogether rather than drink small amounts, it’s likely they will become even more intolerant. “It’s good for people who are lactose intolerant to have some exposure,” says Dr Mary Keogan.
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  • Commercial almond milk contains just 1-2pc almonds. The rest is water, stabilisers, salt, sugar and a whole variety of ingredients


  • To give factory cheddar the taste of mature Irish artisan cheddar, certain starch cultures and enzymes are used. This can give a cheese a mature flavour in just a couple of days.
milk (5).jpg
Ireland consumes 500litres of milk each year
  • Ireland’s dairy future could be under threat with the government’s Harvest 2020 scheme. The government envisions Ireland’s milk production to double which would mean the introduction of 300,000 extra cattle. However food experts and farmers fear this will have a huge impact on Ireland’s environment and ultimately might lead to our grass-fed culture becoming diminished.

“The expansion of the dairy herd as proposed over the next few years will make it almost impossible for us to meet our climate change obligations,” revealed Fintan Kelly of An Taisce.

“You’re looking at an intensification of all the negative environmental impacts that have happened to the landscape over the last 100 years or so. We’re looking at environmental impacts, biodiversity impacts, water impacts,” he said.

Food writer John McKenna said: "Every farmer knows that you can’t manage that amount of livestock because what do you do with the s**t? Is it going to keep going in rivers? Is it going to keep killing fish? Are we just going to multiply our problems?” he asked.

Former Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney stressed that he continues to support the scheme.

“I think we’ll see a lot of herds outside for longer periods as we look at better drainage systems and better grass management. We need to allow farming to modernise and allow farmers to make a profit,” he said.

Catch 'What Are You Eating' on RTE One on Wednesdays at 8.30PM

milk (3).jpg
Girl drinking glass of milk

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