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EXPLAINED: Why does milk taste different in Spain?

Esme Fox
Esme Fox - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: Why does milk taste different in Spain?
Spaniards drink much more UHT milk than fresh. Photo: The Humble Co. / Unsplash

If you live in Spain or you've spent time here on holiday, you'll notice that the milk here tastes different to what you may be used to back home, but why is that?


One of the main reasons milk tastes different in Spain is because it's UHT (Ultra High Temperature) or long-life milk, stored in cartons, instead of fresh milk stored in bottles in refrigerated sections of the supermarkets. 

You'll notice if you go to the supermarket in Spain that there's a whole aisle dedicated to various types of UHT milk, but when you go to the cold section, you'll only find one or two different types of fresh milk. 

UHT milk gets its name from the ultra-high temperature process it goes through to be sterilised, giving it a shelf life of up to nine months, without even having to be refrigerated before it’s been opened.

During the production of UHT milk, the liquid is heated to above 135C for a minimum of one second. When fresh milk is pasteurised, it is heated to 72C for 15 seconds.

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Spaniards will often have some milk in their morning coffee and kids might drink it with a spoonful of Cola Cao (chocolate drink powder) mixed in, but they rarely eat cereal and would never put it in their tea. Toast or a pastry is a much more common breakfast choice. 

Because of this, they don't use as much milk in general and therefore, need it to last longer. 


UHT milk is very common in Spain. Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

Milk consumption

According to the latest data available from the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Spaniards drink 173 litres of milk per capita per year. This is behind the UK which consumes 204 litres per capita, but well behind the countries with the highest milk consumption in Europe - Montenegro, Finland, Albania and the Netherlands, which all drink over 300 litres per capita, per year. 

These countries also drink much more fresh milk, than UHT. 


Fresh milk is also very common in places like the UK, the US and Canada, but most people in Spain are happy with UHT and this is what they'll even serve in cafes with your coffee. 

EU countries, in general, drink a lot more UHT milk than other Western countries. In the UK for example, only 8.4 percent of milk purchased is UHT, but in Belgium, the figure shoots up to 96.7, followed by Spain at 95.7 percent and then France at 95 percent. This makes Spain one of the world's leading consumers of UHT milk. 

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David Alonso, head of the dairy sector of Unión de Uniones, believes that this higher consumption of UHT milk is down to several reasons - cultural diet and level of production from the cows.

The taste of the milk depends on what the cows eat. Photo: Luís Cardoso / Unsplash

"The first explanation that there is is cultural," he explained in an interview with The Objective. "In Europe, a lot of butter is consumed, so the important thing is to remove the cream from the milk for the butter".

The fresher milk, therefore, is used for butter or other dairy products such as cheese, while the UHT milk is used for drinking. 

There are also various other hypotheses as to why Spaniards drink more UHT milk and far less fresh milk. Some experts believe it's a combination of the hot weather and small living spaces with small refrigerators. Both make it harder to store more fresh milk, but a lot easier to store long-life cartons of UHT. 


UHT milk tastes different too

But it's not just the fact that they use UHT milk here in Spain as to why it tastes different, but Spanish UHT also tastes different to the UHT milk you'll find in other EU countries.

This is because the amount of fat and protein in Spanish milk is lower than the European average According to Eurostat data.

Alonso also points out that the composition and therefore the taste of milk depends on whether the cows are fed with grass or concentrated feed. In addition, in Spain, he explains that the number of litres produced by a cow is usually higher than in other countries, so the density is lower.

But it also comes down to what you're used to, Spaniards are so used to drinking their version of UHT milk, that to them, this is the normal taste of milk and it's the fresh stuff that tastes different. 



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