“Milky white” is a recognized color that you can even paint your walls. The color of the calcium-rich drink is so iconic that it has even made it onto the color palette of interior designers. But why is milk white anyway? And is it true that it makes the bones stronger?

The color of something depends on what it is made of and what structure it has. So what’s in the milk? Milk is about ninety percent water. There are also about four percent fat, 3.5 percent protein and five percent minerals and vitamins, such as magnesium and calcium.

However, milk is an emulsion. This means that the fat contained in the water cannot be chemically dissolved. The fat floats in the water as small droplets, a bit like pouring cooking oil into a glass of water.

It is precisely these droplets that give the milk its white colour. “The drops scatter the light that falls on them and the milk appears white because of this reflection,” explains the Austrian milk producer Tirol Milch. There is even a technical term for this: the Tyndall effect.

But the milk wasn’t always as bright white as it is today. The fat used to separate so much from the water in cow’s milk that it floated on top as a separate layer. At these times the milk was pale in colour. The bright white we know is created by food producers homogenizing the milk. They squirt the milk through fine nozzles onto a metal plate, breaking up the fat droplets to a size of just a few hundred nanometers.

They are then better distributed in the milk. So-called emulsifiers ensure that it stays that way. They wrap themselves around the droplets and separate the fat from the surrounding water. The many small droplets can then scatter the light and make the milk appear white and cloudy. But why white? The droplets reflect all wavelengths of visible light – from red to yellow, green and blue to violet. When all these colors mix, they appear white.

The homogenization also means that the most diverse types of cow’s milk now adopt the same standardized milk white. “Natural color variations that used to occur in the milk due to differences between cow breeds or pastures are now standardized and the light, white color is uniform,” explains Australian manufacturer Dairy Australia.

Regardless of its color, milk has a reputation for strengthening bones due to its calcium content. At least that’s what advertising and the occasional grandparents who give their grandchildren a glass of milk so that they grow up “big and strong” convey. But does milk really make bones strong? The fact is that calcium is important for the body and bones and we need sufficient amounts of it. Since calcium is also found in milk, drinking milk can support our calcium supply.

But milk is far from the bone miracle that it is often touted to be. In fact, a 2014 study led by Karl Michaëlsson from the Swedish University of Uppsala found that too much milk actually increases the risk of bone fractures instead of reducing them. However, the study situation on the benefits and risks of drinking milk is not clear.

But if you drink milk in moderation, you shouldn’t have to fear any negative consequences. Finally, the German Society for Nutrition also recommends consuming “250 milliliters of milk, yoghurt, kefir or buttermilk and 50 to 60 grams of cheese (corresponding to one or two slices)” every day.

According to the umbrella organization for osteoporosis self-help groups, if you also want to do something good for your bones, you should eat a healthy diet rich in calcium and ensure you get enough exercise. The bones only remain stable if they are sufficiently stressed. Too little exercise, on the other hand, causes them to break down.

This article was written by Anna Manz

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The original of this post “The food industry destroyed our image of white milk” comes from scinexx.