Cultured Milk Products

Cultured milk products are produced by the lactic fermentation of milk using various bacteria cultures. Some products may also have other fermentations taking place, for example, alcohol. These fermentations lead to the coagulation of milk and the production of typical cultured milk product flavor.

Fermented milk products originated in the Near East and then spread to parts of southern and eastern Europe. The earliest forms of fermented products were developed accidentally by nomadic tribes who carried milk from cows, sheep, camels, or goats. Under warm storage conditions, milk coagulated or clabbered due to the production of acid end products by lactic bacteria. Fortunately the predominant bacteria were lactic types and, therefore, helped to preserve the product by suppressing spoilage and pathogenic bacteria. Humans evidently enjoyed the refreshing tart taste of their discovery and began to handle milk so that this preserving action would be encouraged.

Milk and curdled milk products are mentioned throughout history dating back as far as 4000 b.c.: "He asked for water, and she gave him milk; in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk" (Old Testament, Judges 5:25). There is also remarkable pictorial evidence that the custom of keeping milk in containers for later consumption was already a craft systematically practiced by the Su-merians around 2900 b.c. (1). Through applied scientific principles and advances in manufacturing technology, these early products have developed into a highly diversified group of foods that are popular throughout the world.

Actual figures for world consumption of fermented milk products are not known. According to the International Dairy Federation (IDF), an estimated 1 trillion lb of cow's milk is produced per year that is manufactured into cultured milk products. The northern European countries consume the greatest amount of fermented milk products on a per capita basis with Asian countries and the United States showing rapid increases. Worldwide increases in consumption are leading to advances in the fermented product manufacturing industry. One reason for the continued increase in product consumption is the successful development of functional foods/neutraceuticals that contain health-promoting probiotic cultures.

Throughout the world there are great differences in cultured products. These differences are due to variations in the cultures used and manufacturing principles. Products are most often classified as traditional or nontraditional; however, products can be classified according to culture medium (milk and cream), manufacturing procedure, further processing (packaging and addition of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, or grains), end use (baking and consumption), and microbial action (type of bacteria or yeast and temperature). Traditional fermented milk products have a long history and are known and made all over the world. Their manufacture is crude and relies on ill-defined procedures and nonstandard cultures that lead to inconsistencies in product characteristics (1). The production of non-traditional products is based on sound scientific principles and leads to the creation of products with consistent characteristics. Cultures and manufacturing methods have been standardized to produce the highest quality possible.

Despite some differences, most modern cultured products use the following basic manufacturing steps: (1) culture or starter selection and preparation; (2) milk processing and treatment (eg, pasteurization to kill undesirable bacteria, standardization of composition by separation of fat and addition of ingredients, and homogenization); (3) inoculation with bacterial culture; (4) incubation for culture growth and acid production; (5) agitation to break the coagulum; (6) cooling to stop bacterial growth and acid production; and (7) packaging. Table 1 lists the world's principal cultured milk products including type, location, and bacterial culture used.

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