Got Milk

There are a variety of milk-based products available in the store. Just sticking to cow’s milk for the moment, here’s the periodic table of viscous milk products, ordered by decreasing fat content:

  • Butter – 81% milk fat. A stick of butter (8 tablespoons) has 97.2 grams of fat (880 calories!), which breaks down into 62% saturated and 25% monosaturated. Trivia: West of the Rockies, butter sticks are 3 1/8″ x 1.5″ x 1.5″.[4]
  • Heavy Cream – 36 – 40% milk fat.
  • Whipping Cream – 35% milk fat. It’s used to make whipped cream. Obviously.
  • Sour Cream – 16 – 21% milk fat. Like buttermilk (see below), except it starts from cream instead of milk. Low-fat sour cream has thickening agents like carageenan or corn starch. (I was surprised at its fat content.)
  • Light Cream – 18% milk fat, used for pouring into coffee.[1]
  • Half and Half – 10% milk fat, also used for pouring into coffee. Its fat content is insufficient for whipping.
  • Evaporated milk – 6.5% or more. Liquid obtained by the partial removal of water (only) from milk[5]. 1 C condensed milk is equivalent to 1 C evaporated milk plus 1 1/2 C sugar.
  • Whole Milk – 3.5% milk fat[3]. After drinking skim for a few weeks, this tastes soooooo creamy.
  • Yogurt — 3.3% milk fat.
  • Lowfat Milk – sold as 2%, 1%, 1/2%. Sometimes it’s fortified with skim milk.
  • Skim Milk – Usually “0%,” but it’s technically less than 1/2 gram per cup. Sometimes protein is added, making it more viscous.
  • Buttermilk – usually non-fat; “traditional” buttermilk is the tart liquid leftover from churning butter. [2] It can also be made by adding 1 tablespoon white vinegar to 1C low-fat milk, letting it stand for ten minutes.

These amounts are squishy, so your mileage may vary. However, to put the fat content into perspective, a cup and a half of whole milk would be equivalent to a tablespoon of butter. (1.5 cups * 240g/cup * 3.5% fat = 12.6 g fat; 1 Tablespoon butter = 15 g * 0.81 fat = 12.2g fat)

I was curious about the nutritional comparison of the four primary milk sources:[3]


SourceProteinFatSugarsCalories per 100g
Human1.1%4.2%7.0%72 kcal
Cow3.4%3.6%4.6%66 kcal
Goat3.1%3.5%4.4%60 kcal
Sheep5.4%6.0%5.1%95 kcal

Five gallons of milk (42.5 pounds, assuming 8.5 pounds per gallon of milk) will make six pounds of cheese. [6] . It takes 12 pounds of milk to make 1 gallon of ice cream.



1. All About Cream

2. Wikipedia – Buttermilk

3. Wikipedia – Milk

4. “A Better Stick of Butter?”, Cook’s Illustrated (no. 72): 3, 2005

5. “Condensed milk vs. Evaporated Milk,” Slashfood

6. “Cheese Making Illustrated,” David Fankhauser, Ph.D.

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