Milk is a nutritious beverage that provides protein, vitamins and minerals. It comes in two main forms - liquid milk and milk powder.
Both offer unique benefits, but is one better than the other?
What is Milk Powder?
Milk powder, also known as dry milk, is made by removing almost all the water from fresh pasteurized milk. The water content is reduced to less than 5% through a process called spray drying.
During spray drying, milk is sprayed into a heated chamber as a fine mist. The water instantly evaporates, leaving behind fine particles of milk powder. These powdered milk solids contain the proteins, sugars, vitamins and minerals found in regular milk, but in a concentrated, dry form.
Milk powder comes in several common varieties:
- Nonfat milk powder - Made from skim milk so contains very little fat
- Whole milk powder - Contains the full fat content of whole milk
- Buttermilk powder - Powdered form of cultured buttermilk
- Whey powder - Produced from liquid whey, a byproduct of cheesemaking
Compared to liquid milk, milk powder has a much longer shelf life as the low moisture content prevents spoilage. Milk powder can be stored for 6 months up to 2 years if kept sealed in a cool, dry place.
Key Takeaway: Milk powder is made by dehydrating regular pasteurized milk into a shelf-stable powder. It provides the nutritional components of milk in a concentrated form.
What is Liquid Milk?
Liquid milk refers to regular milk that comes from dairy cows. It has not undergone drying or water removal. The main types of liquid cow's milk are:
- Whole milk - Contains around 3.5% milk fat
- Reduced-fat milk - 2% fat milk is a common variety
- Low-fat milk - 1% milk fat
- Skim milk - Has almost no fat, around 0-0.5%
Liquid milk is pasteurized to kill harmful bacteria and typically homogenized to prevent separation. It requires refrigeration due to its high water content. Unopened, UHT pasteurized milk can last 2-4 weeks beyond its printed expiration date if refrigerated. Once opened, it should be consumed within 5-7 days.
Other forms of liquid milk besides cow's milk include:
- Goat's milk
- Sheep's milk
- Plant-based milk - Almond, soy, coconut, oat and other vegan milks
Liquid milk provides complete nutrition in its natural form, although pasteurization reduces some heat-sensitive nutrients like vitamin C and B vitamins.
Key Takeaway: Liquid milk is regular pasteurized and homogenized milk that comes directly from cows. It has a refrigerator shelf life of 2-4 weeks unopened.
Both milk powder and liquid milk offer a rich source of protein, vitamins and minerals. Let's examine how their nutrition profiles compare:
- 1 cup liquid skim milk has 8g protein
- 1 cup liquid whole milk has 8g protein
- 1 cup reconstituted skim milk powder has 8g protein
- 1 cup reconstituted whole milk powder has 8g protein
The protein content is the same whether you choose powdered or liquid milk. Milk protein provides all nine essential amino acids needed for growth and maintenance.
- 1 cup liquid skim milk has 0g fat
- 1 cup liquid whole milk has 8g fat
- 1 cup reconstituted skim milk powder has 0g fat
- 1 cup reconstituted whole milk powder has 8g fat
Again, the fat content mirrors that of the liquid form. Whole milk varieties provide healthy fats while skim milk has little to no fat.
The carb content is also very similar:
- 1 cup liquid skim milk has 12g carbs
- 1 cup liquid whole milk has 12g carbs
- 1 cup reconstituted skim milk powder has 12g carbs
- 1 cup reconstituted whole milk powder has 11g carbs
The carbohydrate in milk is in the form of lactose, the natural milk sugar. Those with lactose intolerance may tolerate powdered forms better since the lactose is broken down during processing.
Calcium is one of the main nutrients milk is known for. Here is how the calcium content stacks up:
- 1 cup liquid skim milk has 30% DV calcium
- 1 cup liquid whole milk has 28% DV calcium
- 1 cup reconstituted skim milk powder has 30% DV calcium
- 1 cup reconstituted whole milk powder has 27% DV calcium
No matter which form you choose, milk is an excellent source of calcium for building strong bones and teeth.
- 1 cup liquid skim milk has 25% DV vitamin D
- 1 cup liquid whole milk has 10% DV vitamin D
- 1 cup reconstituted skim milk powder has 25% DV vitamin D
- 1 cup reconstituted whole milk powder has 10% DV vitamin D
Vitamin D aids calcium absorption and immune function. Milk is fortified with vitamin D to replace what is lost during fat removal and pasteurization.
- 1 cup liquid skim milk has 10% DV vitamin A
- 1 cup liquid whole milk has 6% DV vitamin A
- 1 cup reconstituted skim milk powder has 10% DV vitamin A
- 1 cup reconstituted whole milk powder has 4% DV vitamin A
Vitamin A supports eye health, immune function and growth. Levels are slightly reduced in whole milk powder due to nutrient loss during processing.
Liquid milk contains slightly higher amounts of certain B vitamins that are sensitive to heat:
- Vitamin B12 - 46% DV in liquid milk vs. 19% DV in milk powder
- Vitamin B5 - 18% DV in liquid milk vs. 10% DV in milk powder
However, milk powder has increased amounts of vitamin B2 and B3 compared to liquid milk.
Overall, both forms provide significant amounts of B vitamins for converting food into energy.
Benefits of Milk Powder
Here are some of the main advantages of using milk powder rather than liquid milk:
- Long shelf life - Can be stored for months or years without refrigeration
- More portable - Easy to transport and requires less storage space
- Lower cost - Eliminating water reduces shipping expenses and storage needs
- Versatile - Can be used as an ingredient in recipes or rehydrated as a beverage
- Reduced waste - Longer shelf life means less spoilage and waste
Milk powder works well for:
- Baking - Adds richness and browning to cakes, cookies, breads
- Smoothies - Provides creaminess and nutrition
- Hot drinks - Mix into coffee, hot cocoa, chai tea
- Creamy soups - Creates luxurious texture in chowders and bisques
- Homemade yogurt - Fortifies yogurt with extra protein and minerals
- Camping/hiking - Shelf-stable alternative to transport and prepare
- Emergency supply - Stores for long periods in case fresh milk is unavailable
Benefits of Liquid Milk
Liquid milk offers its own set of advantages:
- Fresh taste - Has a richer, creamier taste compared to reconstituted powder
- Smoother texture - Powder can have a slightly grainy or chalky mouthfeel
- Higher in some vitamins - Better retained heat-sensitive vitamins like C and B vitamins
- Natural form - Has not undergone drying or rehydration processes
- Wider selection - Comes in whole, reduced-fat, skim, flavored, organic, raw
- Blends easily - Mixes smoothly into hot and cold beverages
- Better for cooking/baking - Provides ideal texture, flavor in recipes
- Probiotic options - Unpasteurized and kefir offer probiotic benefits
Liquid milk fits the bill when you want:
- A cold glass of milk to drink
- The best taste and texture in recipes
- An ingredient that blends easily into smoothies, shakes, coffee drinks
- Organic, grass-fed, hormone-free, or raw milk options
- Milk alternatives like coconut, almond or oat milk
- Kefir or yogurt drinks full of probiotics
For maximum freshness and nutritional quality, opt for pasteurized liquid milk stored in opaque containers over transparent ones.
Milk Powder vs Liquid Milk: Key Differences
|Chalky when rehydrated
|Higher in some vitamins
|Higher in some vitamins
|Baking, smoothies, hot drinks, yogurt
|Drinking, recipes, smoothies
Key Takeaway: The main differences between milk powder and liquid milk are their form, shelf life, taste and optimal uses, although their nutrition is fairly comparable.
Can You Substitute Milk Powder for Liquid Milk?
Yes, you can substitute reconstituted milk powder in place of liquid milk in most recipes. The powder must be mixed with water first before using.
Follow package directions for powder to water ratios. Generally, you'll need around 1/4 cup powder + 1 cup water to equal 1 cup liquid milk.
However, be aware that powdered milk has a different flavor and texture compared to fresh milk. The results may not be quite the same when baking delicate items like custards or pudding where the taste of milk is front and center.
For heartier baked goods like muffins, quick breads, pancakes and waffles, reconstituted powdered milk can typically be swapped in without major changes. The milk taste takes a backseat to other ingredients in these recipes.
Key Takeaway: Milk powder can replace liquid milk in most recipes when reconstituted, but expect some variations in taste and texture.
Milk Powder vs. Liquid Milk: Which is Healthier?
When it comes to nutritional value, milk powder and liquid milk are fairly comparable. Both provide a rich source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, vitamin A and B vitamins.
However, liquid milk contains higher levels of certain heat-sensitive nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and magnesium.
The dehydration process milk powder undergoes causes more degradation of these vitamins and minerals. Conversely, powdered milk contains more vitamin B3, vitamin B2 and certain carotenoids compared to liquid milk.
Ultimately, fresh pasteurized milk is healthier overall since it hasn't been subjected to the drying processes. But milk powder still retains significant nutritional value in a convenient shelf-stable form.
For children over one year old, pregnant women, the elderly and those trying to gain weight, fresh milk is the best choice to obtain as much nutrition as possible.
But milk powder can provide an acceptable alternative when fresh milk is unavailable, or offer portability while traveling or hiking where refrigeration is limited.
Milk Powder vs Liquid Milk: Which Tastes Better?
When it comes to taste, most people find fresh liquid milk superior to reconstituted powdered milk.
The drying process powdered milk undergoes gives it a noticeably different flavor. Many describe it as having a slightly cooked, caramelized or "off" taste.
The texture is also not quite as smooth and creamy. Milk powder tends to have a grainy, chalky or dry mouthfeel unless vigorously blended.
So if you're looking for the true rich dairy taste of milk, liquid milk is the better choice. Powdered milk lacks freshness and has a more muted flavor.
However, in recipes where milk is not the star ingredient, like baked goods, soups, shakes or hot chocolate, powdered milk can work well. The milk taste takes a backseat to other strong flavors.
Beverages like plain milk, lattes, hot tea and iced coffee are best made with fresh liquid milk if you want optimal taste and texture.
Milk powder costs less than an equal amount of liquid milk. By removing the water, you get more servings of milk solids per pound compared to fluid milk.
Powdered milk also has a longer shelf life, reducing waste from spoilage. And without water weight, it's less expensive to package, ship and store.
However, liquid milk requires minimal preparation - just pour from the container and drink or use in recipes. Reconstituting powdered milk takes extra steps and time.
Here is a cost breakdown:
- Milk powder = $0.50 - $0.75 per quart when reconstituted
- Liquid milk = $1.00 - $2.00+ per quart
Over time, opting for powdered milk can add up to significant savings. But the small upfront difference may not outweigh the added convenience of ready-to-use liquid milk for some.
Is powdered milk bad for you?
No, powdered milk has a very similar nutritional profile to fresh milk. It provides protein, calcium, vitamins A and D, and more. However, levels of some heat-sensitive vitamins like C and B vitamins are reduced compared to fresh milk. Overall, milk powder is not unhealthy, simply less nutritious than fresh milk.
Does powdered milk go bad?
Yes, powdered milk does eventually expire and go bad, but its shelf life is very long. Unopened, it can last 6 months up to 2 years past the printed best by date. Once opened, it will go bad within 3-4 months. Store milk powder in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Signs it has spoiled are odor, clumping, change in color, and sour taste when reconstituted.
Is powdered milk better for babies?
For babies under 12 months, liquid milk is generally recommended over powdered. Infant formula powder is specially formulated to meet babies' nutritional needs. But for drinking plain milk, fresh is best to provide the full, natural nutrition infants require. After age 1, reconstituted milk powder can work for older babies and toddlers as long as prepared properly. Check with your pediatrician if unsure.
Does powdered milk taste bad?
Many people find the flavor of reconstituted powdered milk inferior to fresh milk. It often tastes slightly cooked, caramelized or chalky. However, others don't mind the difference or find it unnoticeable, especially when used in recipes where milk is not the main ingredient. Try it yourself and see if you find the taste acceptable or not.
Can adults drink powdered milk?
Yes, milk powder is safe for adults to consume when prepared according to package directions. It provides the same nutrition as fresh milk - protein, calcium, vitamins A and D, phosphorus, and more. The only concern is its lower levels of certain heat-sensitive vitamins. But overall, drinking reconstituted powdered milk is fine for adults, especially when fresh milk is unavailable.
While liquid milk is healthier and tastier overall, milk powder can be a handy item to keep on hand for certain situations.
Try out both and see which you prefer!